If we could pluck a figure from history to have as Arthur & Henry's patron saint, a figure to epitomise our values, a person to look to for guidance, wisdom and inspiration it would be this man - William Morris. An incredible man, an artist, designer, craftsman and entrepreneur; a campaigner on social issues and all round good egg. (And check out that beard.)
“Nothing should be made by man's labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.”
It's not hard to see why he is something of a hero to us, and then there are the designs....bliss...
So imagine our delight when we discovered that the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London (Morris' family home) not only has a fantastic Morris collection but is also engaging with the issues Morris espoused, including issues around labour and exploitation in the production of textiles.
We've taken two Morris prints (more on the history of these prints and why we chose them later) and put them on fine Indian organic cotton, grown by small farmers, woven by machine, sewn by our amazing, skilled tailors in Bangalore. We think Morris would approve.
10% of the sale of each shirt goes to the William Morris Gallery for their exhibition and education work.
We were privileged this week to see the film Cotton by acclaimed Chinese documentary maker Zhou Hao. He records the life of a cotton farmer and his family in Xinjiang as they clear the fields, prepare them for planting (including the laying down of hundreds of metres of plastic film, which block weeds and warm the earth but must be horrifically polluting), the back breaking planting by hand, the migration of hundreds of women to pick the cotton at harvest time and, those who spin the cotton and make the clothes.
It's not the cheeriest film in the world, though the moments of bonding and giggling between the women as they leave their family responsibilities behind and pile into the train that will take them on the three day journey to Xinjiang, climbing in through windows and sleeping under the seats and in the luggage racks, has its endearing moments.
But what it did show, loud and clear, was the hardship of their lives, our privilege in contrast - the well dressed (and well fed) buyers at the Canton Trade Show, were a stark contrast to the farmers and workers - and how little we as consumers generally understand or value the sheer amount of effort* that goes into producing the clothes we wear.
Here's a short trailer for it, well worth five minutes of your time...
*There's a man whose job it is to turn jeans from inside out to right way round. All day. Every day.
Our Clare was a student in Oxford. (We named our Fairtrade Oxford shirts Wadham after her college) and claims she never jumped into a river or danced with hankies and bells, though there may have been some early morning revelry...
Once more unto the breach, dear Morris Dancers once more Jingle your bells, thwack sticks, raise flagons Cry “God for Harry and Saint George!” Gallant knight and slayer of dragons Patron saint of merry England – And Georgia, and Catalonia, and Portugal, Beirut, Moscow Istanbul, Germany, Greece Archers, farmers, boy scouts, butchers and sufferers of syphilis Multicultural icon with sword and codpiece On, on you bullet-headed saxon sons Fly flags from white van and cab But remember stout yeomen, your champion was Turkish So – get drunk and have a kebab
We thank the tailors, cutters, cotton farmers and more who make our Arthur & Henry shirts.
If you too would like to let them know how much you appreciate the shirts they helped to make, why not drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org with a picture of you in the shirt (or with the shirt) and any comments or thanks you'd like to make.
We'll share with them. After all, now you know who makes your shirts, wouldn't it be nice if they got to know who wears them?
Here's what the internet ("Orissa Tourism") tells us about Odisha (formerly known as Orissa - we're not sure the Orissa Tourism people got the memo about the name change):
Geographical area: 155,707 sq. km
Total forest area: 58136 sq. km
Time: GMT + 5.30 hrs
Climate: Typically tropical with three major seasons, Summer (March-June), Rainy (July -September), Winter (October-
Avg. rainfall: 150cm (London is less than 60cm in case you were curious)
Population: 37m (That's about the size of Argentina, or Spain. Not that much smaller than England (53m))
What the good people of Orissa Tourism don't mention, is that the GDP is approx £35bn, that's roughly £1000 per person. (In the UK it's about £24000, and for India as a whole it's about £3000.)
So, it's quite big and not very rich. By most people's definition poor in fact.
It also happens to be stunningly beautiful and well worth a visit should the opportunity present itself. This is however besides the point for today. It is where some of the cotton for our shirts is grown.
Arthur & Henry co-founder Ranga lives with his family in Bangalore and when not masterminding shirt production he spends his time travelling and visiting the people that grow and mill the cotton that ends up in our shirts. This is something he has done long before Arthur & Henry. He tells us that when the farming community that previously worked on what is now a nature reserve were re-housed on poor quality land outside the new "national park" they were struggling. With no irrigation to help farm their traditional crops, and with no farming culture of fertilisers and pesticides, organic cotton was a natural fit.
The farmers have really engaged with Fairtrade. It has brought a sense of solidarity to the village, and it works with them to get things beyond of agricultural assistance such as roads, drinking water and education.
Ranga has been visiting and working with several villages. Let's look at Karisalvanchi. This is a small village; the nearest healthcare is 18km away. The school a simple 10' x 10' room, 35 pupils and one teacher. Few facilities and no computer. Ranga said he would provide a computer, and such is the hunger for education that on the day of its arrival there was a queue around the building. This was no photo opportunity, but a genuine sign of the engagement with the wider Fairtrade mission. The Fairtrade premium in this village and many others is focused on general education and improved farming (via the technical input that comes with Fairtrade).
The point. The wider scope of Fairtrade (beyond decent and stable commodity pricing), is not some bureaucratic SOP to some "leftie" ivory tower thinking back in Whitehall, but there to feed the appetite of what these communities are really wanting. Education and Infrastructure, the vital oil to the machinery of growth.