“There are so many best things, every day”. A visit to Jyoti – Fair Works
Jyoti – Fair Works is located on a quiet side street in Neukölln. Guoda and I arrive just as the store is closing for the day. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly after the day’s work, with the staff on the computer, cutting out patterns or grabbing some pasta for dinner. We meet Caro, who is very involved in the international outreach, and Mareike, who designs the clothes. The store probably looks bigger than it is, showing a really impressively creative use of space. The display space has just been redone, Caro tells us, making more room for the rainbow of garments which hang from tree-branch railings along the left wall. The right side makes up the office and design space, complete with a sewing machine and pictures of the women who work with the designs.
The store used to be all online, but due to customer demands to try on clothes, this beautiful space was born. We sit among the hanging fabrics to do the interview, huddling our chairs together so that we can all be heard on the recording. I imagine that we are as close together as the community that makes up Jyoti.
Jyoti – Fair Works was founded in 2010, after the founder, Jeanine, spent a year in India volunteering with a local NGO in Chittapur, which provides social services to women and children in the area. Together with the NGO Jeanine and a very motivated group of women from the Chittapur developed the idea of connecting beautiful indian fabrics and artwork with german customers and at the same time give a professional education to the women. Originally, they sewed bags, fabrics and scarves, made with textiles from the local market, which were sold to consumers in Germany. Production gradually expanded from there, with production of clothing beginning in 2014; dresses, shirts, and trousers. The designs were first created by a rotation of German and English designers, but now Mareike is the permanent designer.
One of the main objectives of the business is that there is a full awareness of every step of production, and a will to ensure that the products are sourced fairly and without a profit-making middleman. This involves everyone in the shop knowing the manufacturers and producers personally. This makes a fascinating chain of events which goes into producing the garments.
First of all, the fabric is hand-woven by small, community-run collectives. In 2015, Jyoti was established as a fairtrade fashion label and wanted to ensure that the textiles were sourced sustainably as well as the labour. A number of the fabric suppliers have access to GOTS certified cotton, ensuring that those cotton farmers receive a fair price for their work. The weavers all use hand looms to weave different kinds of fabrics, including cotton, wool and peace silk. Caro or one of the team go out to negotiate with them at least twice a year. Fair prices are set by the weavers themselves, and it is clear that this is a collaboration at all levels.
Different dyes are used depending on the region: many are completely natural, made from onion, turmeric or another local plant. The weavers create fascinating designs, for example in a centuries-old tradition where the dye is applied to the thread based on mathematical calculation of how the pattern will appear once woven. All the fabrics that go to the workshops are produced at the highest standard of local and community based sustainable weaving.
In preparation for each new collection, the sewing workshops in Chittapur and the one more recently opened in Londa are visited about twice a year. The designs are brought from Germany, and all the women, German and Indian, sit by the sewing machines to work out the designs together. The affection and sense of community that exists both in the workshops and across the world to and from Berlin is very clear throughout this conversation. Caro says that one of the highlights of her job are the Whatsapp messages they receive every day from the women in Chittapur. The Jyoti website details the biographies of each of these women and how their strengths contribute to the group.
The NGO where the women work is the only one in Chittapur. It has a school catering for children from rural areas, and helps women with things like setting up a bank account and getting a job. Joint programmes between Jyoti and the NGO have grown organically, for example, there are systems of moneylending so that the women can buy a gas stove, or send their children to school. As Caro says, “As long as we have the capacity to give it, it is the perfect way to use the money.” The goal of the whole business is to generate a circular, accountable product, where at every step of the chain, everyone is treated fairly and everything is used as well as it can be. Although this is obviously tricky when setting up a new business, it is not something that Jyoti is concerned by.
“If you wanted to make a significant profit, you wouldn’t go into sustainable fashion.” But putting the profits into projects like these ensures that the women can have a better standard of living and enjoy the work more, put more love into the clothes and end up with an amazing finished product which is completely unique.
The clothes are clearly meant to last, a factor which is incorporated into the design as well as the production. Mareike explains that this is carried out by making the sizes adjustable, for example using elastic, or making wrap dresses: “We think about the fitting, but more often about the not fitting,” Caro laughs. Creating a timeless design which will not go out of fashion in a couple of months is important. This is obviously a huge part of sustainable fashion in general, and although this is a tough line to tread – wanting people to keep the clothes while also wanting to sell clothes – and is very well explained in the Jyoti blog on the “Buyerarchy of Needs.”
Upcycling and zero waste designing is also an important part of each stage of production. When first cutting the designs, waste pieces of fabric are used to make jewellery, bowties and other items. Similarly, any spare pieces of fabric in the Indian workshops are used, for example stuffing mattresses. In a “sustainable fashion hub” like Berlin, there are often other upcycling companies or businesses to turn to for collaboration on this or other issues, and the opportunities to connect are inspiring.
Jyoti share their space with a sustainable make-up artist, and often host pop-up markets with sustainable food and cosmetic brands. They have collaborated in the past with a feminist artist collective “Crafts and Cramps,” putting the slogan “Empowered Women Empower Women” on a t-shirt made by the Jyoti employees: empowered women earning a fair wage and supporting their families.
However, there is lots of room to grow, even in a place like Berlin. A lot of this involves consumers opening their minds and being willing to compromise slightly; as Caro says, the occasional crooked seam is a tiny price to pay for good working conditions and fair pay. It is time consumers thought the same – and no doubt many of them will, when they experience the beauty to be found in sustainable stores like this one.
It’s obviously a hugely rewarding place to work. The community-based ethos shines through every discussion topic, making it clear that it is indeed possible to have fun while saving the world. The best thing about Jyoti? “There are so many best things, every day.”
More info on: https://jyoti-fairworks.org/
About the blog authors:
Deirbhile Brennan is from Ireland, has a degree in English Literature and believes in saving the world through the power of words. She is also something of a fashion icon, although her friends would disagree. She finds Berlin completely fascinating, in particular its sustainable fashion and upcycling scene.
Guoda Treciokaite grew up in Luxembourg and studies Materials Science in Dublin, Ireland. She is passionate about textile design and sustainable garments. Her dream is to combine her scientific knowledge with her creative aspirations to make the world a better place.