Kolkata Diaries - One Year of Lily & Mortimer

It has been one year since we sold our first bedding set so it was a great time to visit our main supplier's factory, where it all began.

 Flights to Kolkata land early in the morning, as we left the airport the heaviness of the air was arresting. Driving through the streets of old Kolkata in the early hours reveals the desperate poverty many people are living in. A human caterpillar appeared on the pavements, people of all ages sleeping head to foot cocooned in a thin blanket. An issue that is going to take time and the efforts of NGOs, public sector and civil society to address, a stark reminder of why continuing to work towards the global sustainability development goals is critical to so many people.

We are a non sweatshop brand committed to ensuring peoples' human rights so finding like minded, Fairtrade and GOTs certified suppliers to key to us achieving this. It was great to be back and see how the growth in demand for organic had helped to create more jobs at the factory. Rajat's vision for the business ensures that everyone has a full time job, no seasonal or piece workers. They get access to health insurance for their families and for 5 rupee a day lunch is provided to all 700 employees.

 To continue to develop our Sleep Well programme initiative I wanted to visit NGOs working      with some of the most vulnerable communities in the region. The following day we set off to Sonagacchi to meet Freeset, a social business that supports some of the estimated 10,000 women working in the sex industry in Kolkata. Started by an inspiring family, the Hiltons, they left New Zealand to live and work in one of the poorest communities and opened their doors to their neighbours. Women forced into prostitution through trafficking and poverty. They are given new skills, for work and life, finally understanding what it means to be free. The project now employs over 250 women to make apparel goods using only organic cotton. I look forward to building a relationship with Freeset and finding ways we can use their skills to make some of our Lily & Mortimer products. They are a fantastic example of business doing good by doing good. Freesetglobal.com


The next morning, before heading back the to factory to finalise our next collection, we  headed out early to see Kolkata coming to life. Less than 50m from our hotel entrance we met two families, with children under one, living on the streets. We bought food and hot, sweet cha for the families, not a solution to these complex issues but at least they could start the day with some nutrition and warmth. Two western women buying cha and chapati at 7am is not common place so word quickly spread and we were greeted warmly at the street vendors' stalls. It was interesting to see some of the locals reactions to our actions, some so grateful others less understanding, even critical that we would do this.

 I was so grateful to have had the time to visit Mothers House, seeing where Mother Teresa led her missionary and life's work from was very poignant and in her words; 'If you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed just one.'

Staying connected to why you are building a business focused on creating change is so important and trips like this keep it very real. In my last article I talked about creating shared value and believe more than ever the future stars will be the businesses doing this the best. We have started, be it with the farmers we support through the fair trade premium that is dispersed within the communities, investing in education and housing.  Or with our choice of suppliers, who meet Fairtrade standards and our committed to organic. So here's to year two, helping more families sleep well, live well in 100% organic cotton and to our next Indian adventure travelling out from Hyderabad to see the farming practices.

Sleep Well x.

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