How do I get started?
What do you actually mean by ‘partner designer’ or ‘partner label’?
The word ‘partner’ is an indicator of the collaborative working relationships we have with designers who choose to develop their labels with us.
For the work done at our workshop we take responsibility, of course, but when working with small volumes things work a little differently. We are working with artisans, not multi-nationals. In addition, transparency is a key element of how we operate. We don’t hide problems and faults from our partners, building these inevitable costs into a higher price structure, but share the decision-making about how to solve problems. We’re honest about what we can and can’t do and we don’t make promises we can’t keep.
For all the materials and skills required in addition to what we do ourselves, we assist as much as necessary, but we don’t take responsibility for other suppliers. We don’t add sourcing or handling costs onto, say the cost of fabric, and we won’t guarantee quality or timeliness for others. However we do share our opinions about which suppliers we’ve found good to work with, and we do our best to help sort out problems on behalf of the designer.
For designers based outside India, starting small and on limited funds, we can help by sharing our own resources and knowledge, and by researching and learning when a new challenge is presented. For us there is no other way but to work closely and interactively with the designer at each stage of the development process.
We also host a closed Facebook group exclusively for designer partners, so we can share problems and issues. This way our partners know who else is working with us, what their product is, and also that the information we give to one is the same for all.
Working with small producer groups in a developing country will inevitably involve compromises, so it would be unrealistic for us to work contractually. Those wanting to specify a product and a delivery time, with no other interaction, will not choose to work with us.
What is the product development process?
Textile products generally follow a basic process of 1. design/specification, 2. pattern-making and 3. sampling before they’re ready for 4. production: simple, but rarely straightforward. Don’t underestimate the time this will take, especially when dealing with suppliers in another country.
What does the workshop in India actually do?
Team India is skilled in high-quality stitching/tailoring and hand-done embroidery. Our Master Tailor has learned pattern-making in the traditional style, but not at a modern fashion school, so we discuss pattern-making needs individually with designers.
Around these core skills we facilitate the acquisition of fabrics, notions and accessories, outsource any work we can’t do in-house and generally share the management of the product development process with the designer, from concept to production run.
How do I source my fabrics, buttons and accessories?
For the meterages required for small production runs, finding fabrics can be difficult. We can help with sourcing fabrics from Indian suppliers, though we can’t pull rabbits out of hats. We have a growing list of suppliers we have dealt with, generated by the needs of our designers, including cottons and silks, hand-loomed and organic fabrics, block-printed fabrics and knits.
We’ve also helped our partners source buttons and beads, printing and dying, label and tag-making.
It is usually easier for us to deal with suppliers than it is for an individual, partly because we’re a local Indian company and partly because, though small, we’re bigger than an individual. We often organise payment for fabrics, accessories etc through our own account, on behalf of our partners.
However, we’re delighted when designers find and organise these things themselves and we love receiving suggestions of new supply contacts.
What will it cost and how do I pay?
We only charge for work done in India. All your conversations with Penny or Harry are free. That’s because our aim is to find work for the people we started this for.
Work done in India is charged in two ways. Pattern and sample making are charged by the hour for hours spent on that task. At the conclusion of sampling we give a detailed costing of the item and quote a unit rate that will remain unchanged for that calendar year. We publish an annual list of our workers’ daily rates.
If we are going to purchase fabrics on your behalf, you must transfer funds to our Indian account in advance. Those goods, once delivered to the workshop, are yours and any meterage you don’t use can be sent to you if you wish.
Payment for work done is due on despatch of the goods from India, and is made by direct electronic funds transfer to the company account in India.
Because of the fees involved in these transfers, most designers have chosen to transfer lump sums that will cover all their costs for some time, including fabric purchase, sampling and production charges. They receive a monthly account showing all transactions made on their behalf and a running balance, so they know how much of the sum they transferred remains. However, we don’t require you to do this. So long as we are not outlaying any funds on your behalf, we are happy for you to make payment on completion of the work.
For a ballpark figure on what it might cost to sample and manufacture your product, contact Penny. She’ll show you similar items and let you know what their costs were.
How can I be confident my money is safe when I send it to your account in India?
Talking with Penny or Harry can be reassuring, but we will also put you in touch with someone who is already working with us, who can talk to you independently. Ultimately, though, there is no way we can prove our honesty and we acknowledge that it’s risky to leap into such a financial situation.
How do I know what is happening with my work when I’m not there to see it?
We send detailed progress reports on both sampling and production every week. In addition, we exchange stacks of emails, asking questions, letting you know about problems we anticipate or experience with your work, and attaching photos to illustrate them.
You can email any time with your own questions. You’ll find us very responsive!
Can I visit the workshop in India?
You certainly can. Our partner designers are most welcome to visit for a day, or a week. If you’re on a tight budget you might choose to stay in our spare room, where you pay only your expenses, not for accommodation.
It’s definitely easier, at certain stages of the development process, to be onsite and interact directly and immediately with our Master, enjoying the challenges of the language barrier, or perhaps select traditional Indian embroidery motifs directly from the market. And it is a delight to experience the vibrancy of our little team as they sing and laugh and squabble their way through the working day.
What is the minimum order quantity?
Easy. We don’t have one. Develop just one design, make just one sample. Take it as slowly as you need to within your own time and budgetary constraints. That’s OK with us.
How do I get my patterns made?
If you make your own patterns, or have a pattern-maker for a best friend, fantastic. If your pattern is complex and we agree it’s wisest to have it made by a professional pattern-maker you can interact with personally, that’s a good, though expensive, option. There is no facility in our entire city in India for printing digital patterns, so we rely purely on paper. Send your patterns to the workshop by post or courier, keeping a copy with you.
Our Master can make patterns, but he is not trained by a modern fashion school and he has limitations. The best thing to do, if you don’t have any other pattern-making resources, is to discuss it with Penny, because we can usually find a way.
What happens if my direct competitor contacts you to make an identical product?
We haven’t come across this problem, but we know it can be a big one for major labels. It is probably more prevalent in larger scale situations than ours. Still, we value the designers who work with us and whose ongoing production orders represent the future of our workers. We won’t jeopardise that. Given our open communication system, it would be hard to cheat anyway. We just won’t accept work from someone new that is closely copying the product of one of our established partners. If one designer’s product looked dangerously like another’s, we expect the best thing to do would be to raise the problem between us all and work it out from there. Our own little copyright system.
What is the relationship between Zenana Women and the workshop in India?
Zenana Women is the Australian business that has two arms; a non-profit arm facilitating the relationship between partner designers and the Indian workshop, and a wholesale arm for our own clothing label, Zenana. Zenana Women is a trading name of Penny and Harry’s Australian registered company.
The workshop in India is operated by an Indian registered company, of which Harry and Penny are directors. That’s why you’ll see the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ in reference to both companies.
You can gain a greater understanding of the relationship by reading How We Began.
Any further questions?
Just contact us.