Emma Watson visited Swallows in Bangladesh with our CEO Safia Minney, to see how People Tree clothes were made. Swallows is a village as well as a workplace for over 200 women.
Profits from their work with People Tree help cover the running costs of a school for 300 children and a daycare centre.
SAFIA MINNEY You studied a lot about Fair Trade before coming out to Bangladesh, and you knew a lot about People Tree’s work, but is Swallows different from how you expected?
EMMA WATSON Even after reading about it and hearing about it from you, seeing Swallows is just so different. It’s amazing how simple their techniques are, how they can create such beautiful items which compete with clothing that’s made in a factory or by a computer – it’s fantastic to see.
SAFIA How did it feel to see clothing made completely by hand?
EMMA It’s incredible all the stages you have to go through and it’s really hard to impress on people what a handmade product really means. Producing the yarn, hand dying the yarn, getting it on the loom, then weaving the fabric by hand, then cutting it, then sewing it, then embroidering it. It’s so hard for people to imagine all of that and what it takes to create something and how special that item of clothing is.
SAFIA What would you say to those who ask why bother making clothing by hand?
EMMA I went to the slums of Dhaka and I saw what the conditions are like for the people who work in factories and it’s just horrible. I don’t think that’s a way to work in the developing world.
The income coming from these garments is a huge proportion of the total GDP of Bangladesh, so making it in a sustainable way that will give workers some kind of decent life is essential. The girl who showed me how to use the sewing machine is 18 years old, she’s 2 years younger than I am, and that really made an impact on me! She was studying as well as earning a living here and really trying to make a life for herself – it’s inspirational.
SAFIA You’ve looked at different areas of Swallow’s production, but as well as that you’ve seen the Swallows’ day care centre for 60 children, from about 3 months to 5 years old. Then from 5 until 12 there is the school for 300 children. And it’s not just the the children of the women who work here, but also for the wider community. What kind of message about Fair Trade do you want to bring to people?
EMMA It’s so hard to get people to care and to realise what a huge difference Fair Trade can make to someone’s life. If, when buying an item, people have the choice to buy Fair Trade or non Fair Trade, they should buy the Fair Trade item. It really does make all the difference – the contrast between Swallows and the slums in Dhaka is testimony to that.
People simply need opportunities to help themselves, to be able to work. I asked a woman yesterday what her hope for the future was, and all she said was ‘I want more work, I want Swallows to be bigger and more women to be involved’. They’re so proud to be Bangladeshi; so proud of their work – and they want it to get bigger.
SAFIA How do you think Fair Trade is going to get bigger?
EMMA If you see something that’s Fair Trade, just buy it… it makes all the difference. The contrast between this and Dhaka is incomparable, and sometimes the difference between Fair Trade and not Fair Trade is just pennies. So if you do care, if you have a conscience and want to help, simply make those small choices each time you have the option – it makes such a big difference.
People can be so trend orientated, after two or three months there’ll be something new and they’ll dispose of what they had before. But I think people should value what they own. If they buy something from Swallows they know that it’s come from a really special place: it’s handmade, it’s gorgeous and I designed it (if anyone cares!). You can keep it forever and it will always be special, because it’s made with love, care and pride.