By Shea Parton
Photos by Atish Saha
A manual sewing machine allows one artisan to make around six market bags per day, while an electrical sewing machine helps an artisan produce up to double that daily amount. Several years ago, thanks to Apolis supporters across the world, as well as actress Sophia Bush, we were able to crowdsource $7,500 for a sewing academy for our Bangladeshi partners—and today, I got to see those 30 new sewing machines in action. These new machines don't just increase efficiency and speed, they also help the user dramatically. A manual sewing machine wears on the body—it's like you're pedaling a bike for hours on end—but an electrical sewing machine takes that stress off your body with the help of a battery motor.
Today I also got to learn about the quality control process for approving a completed market bag. First, the women here meticulously measure the dimensions of the bag—they've memorized every little detail of this bag, and when one element isn't perfect, it's sent back for adjustments. After that, the Quality Control Inspector, a sweet lady named Ruskhsana, reviews the threads and jute fibers, making any final trims and ensuring a clean finish. I loved seeing these mothers' dedication to excellence in craftsmanship, and all I can say is that I dare you to search for a legitimate inconsistency in one of these bags. The QC here is like Fort Knox!
Something else I noticed on the bags was a small tag with a number on it. I found out that just like a cutting-edge Silicon Valley start-up, Saidpur Enterprises supports remote employment for employees who need it, and so some moms work from home so that they can be with their kids. These moms only stop by the factory to drop off their bags and get paid, and each bag has a small tag containing a number identifying the artisan who made the bag. Though currently the tags are removed before shipping, I am hoping to eventually make sure the tags are left on so that our customers can look up the number and learn about the person who crafted their bag.
After spending the last four days at the market bag facility (which is doubling as my hotel each night), this was my last day in Saidpur. I don't want to sound too corny and predictable, but I am truly sad to leave this place. This business relationship has turned into a friendship, and as our car finally rolled out for the airport, I kind of felt like I was saying goodbye to family.
That night, as I sat next to our manufacturing partner Ghayasuddin on our evening flight back to Dhaka, I reflected on how technology has connected our world and made that world seem smaller. Most of my interactions with Ghayasuddin prior to this trip were remote connections via technology (in addition to the event he hosted at our LA flagship a few years ago), and we've built trust over the years. More than being just a business partner, I consider Ghayasuddin a friend—and I love that our friendship is focused around the goal of using business to benefit the community of Saidpur through these market bags.
Upon arriving at the Dhaka airport, we were picked up curbside by Tanjim, who sources the jute fiber which the bags are made from. Every month, he sources over 10,000 meters of jute fiber—the raw material for over 5,000 Apolis market bags a month, helping meet the growing customer demand which enables us to continue this partnership. Tanjim drove us from the airport, skillfully weaving through the controlled chaos of downtown Dhaka to take us to the ECOTA Forum for Fair Trade companies, where we're staying for the night. Tomorrow, I'll be heading back home.
Just as technology has enabled us to forge a bond of trust with Ghayasuddin and the Saidpur Enterprises team, I'm thankful that technology has also enabled me to share this trip with you. Stay tuned as I continue these Bangladesh updates over the last two days of the trip; I'll be throwing my final shakas while broadcasting live on the Apolis Instagram and uploading daily photo stories right here on the Apolis Journal. Below are some images from Day Eight, along with links to my favorite travel essentials from the trip. Thanks for reading!