A challenging year that helped me put life in perspective.


If you'd like to do something small this Christmas, which will make a big difference to Bambooties and really help us out, please skip to the bottom of this article for a few ideas! Thank you! A few people suggested I write this here, in bold, just in case you don't have time to read the whole article! ;)

Over the last year I’ve been finding it really hard to write. Life’s been overwhelming, with so many bewildering surprises. I never thought I'd be in a position to say this, but I’ve almost had too much to write about. My brain has felt like a spaghetti junction, taking in several channels of seemingly quite transformational information. I’ve been trying to process it all. It's been hard to focus and even harder to prioritise sitting down to write. I’m just about beginning to make sense of my thoughts, so I thought this might be a good time to start writing again.

This year I've been hit by a series of challenges. We moved house twice. Our second baby, Orson, arrived just before lockdown. We wanted to avoid going into hospital, so he was born at home. Grandparents were desperate to meet him, but couldn't. Nurseries closed. So our 2 year old, Layla, was stuck at home with me in a newborn haze.

My partner found himself working all hours of the day and night to keep his business afloat. Every day there was a question around whether his business would survive the Corona downturn. I tried my best to cook, clean, wash clothes and keep the kids alive. Layla started acting up because there was nobody to play with. She found it hard to understand. How do you explain a global pandemic to a 2 year old?

Bambooties was going from strength to strength, with orders coming in most days and lots of wonderful feedback. It made me unbelievably happy each time a new pair was ordered. It meant a new baby had entered the world! I would imagine the parents celebrating their new arrival, sharing the photos around and spreading much needed joy to all their family and friends. Another order meant another baby's toes could be kept warm, with their socks firmly on! It meant I could give more work to the wonderful seamstresses in India. It meant I could make another donation to ActionAid, to support women in need.  Wrapping up each box and taking it to the post office felt like therapy.

Towards the end of lockdown I received a package from the seamstresses with a large order of booties. I'd asked them to send me some more stock. I opened the package and was delighted to find their beautiful creations inside. They’d made the booties in a range of colours and fabrics this time, so we’d have more variety on the website.

I always felt so lucky to be working with these seamstresses. They're immensely talented. They understand my desire to keep the booties as sustainable as possible, they source offcuts from local manufacturers, and they cut and sew the fabrics together to the precise measurements to fit tiny baby feet. They pair the booties together and wrap them up so carefully before sending them over to me.

Unfortunately this time we’d got the measurements slightly wrong. The velcro needed to be adjusted. For Bambooties, the length of the straps and the placement of the velcro is the most important part. The straps need to be perfect. They need to close round baby ankles snugly, so they hold in place, but they can’t be too tight. They need to be comfortable around their precious little achilles tendons.

I wrapped the package back up and sent it back to India via Parcelforce. I tracked the parcel daily, to make sure it would reach their studio safely. It was moving very slowly.  There were so many stages - Despatched, Collection depot, Prepared for export, Checking at customs, Arrived in delivery country, At delivery depot, Out for delivery, Delivered. Each stage seemed to take weeks. I assumed the social distancing restrictions were causing a huge backlog. And then the parcel got stuck at “Checking at customs”. For two weeks Parcelforce tracking told me it was being checked at customs. I kept checking back hoping to see some progress, only to find the same result. 

Towards the end of week two, I contacted the seamstresses to ask if they could call customs in India, to find out what was happening. The response was that the parcel had been stopped and was being checked, but they couldn’t gather any further details. About a week later, they received an update. The parcel was still there but it hadn’t passed customs, so could no longer be delivered. It was hard to understand their reasoning, but the seamstresses told me that customs in India can be quite corrupt. I thought the safest thing would be to ask them to send the parcel back to me. I was told I would have to pay for the parcel to be returned. I’d already paid £300 for the parcel to be sent to India. I’d have to pay another £300 for it to be sent back to me. Not ideal, but I had no other choice as the parcel contained £2,800 of stock.

I waited to receive instructions either from customs or from the seamstresses. But then we received some terrible news. One of the seamstresses had contracted Covid-19 and had been in hospital for 10 days. They’d had to close the studio and all ten seamstresses needed to isolate. This of course meant they could no longer help me locate my parcel; understandably, they had more pressing issues to be dealing with. The closing of their studio meant they could no longer take on work, which meant they couldn't earn any money, which would have serious consequences for their families. I felt so sad for them. I couldn’t believe how quickly their lives could change.

It suddenly seemed so pathetic to be worrying about the parcel. There were far more important things to be thinking about! But I had to at least find out where it had ended up. So I sent a claim form to Parcelforce asking for the parcel to be resent to me. Two days later, I got a standard response saying they couldn’t find the parcel and their 30 day return policy had ended. 

WHAT?! 30 days! Nobody told me I had only 30 days for the parcel to be delivered. We were now on day 60 and the last update I received about the parcel was on day 55. The seamstresses were discussing the parcel with customs only a few days ago. How is the parcel somehow considered “lost” after 30 days? It isn’t “lost”! It’s at customs! And there is £2,800 of stock in that parcel! Where is it?! Surely, the point of paying for a tracking service when sending a parcel is so that the parcel is being TRACKED! All those stages, Despatched, Collection depot, Prepared for export, Checking at customs, are surely meaningless if you can’t find the parcel at the end?!

URGH. I’m just so angry right now, on so many levels. I’m mad at Coronavirus for causing such a destructive collapse in the global economy and ruining the lives of so many people, including the incredible seamstresses I work with. I’m mad at our democratic systems for leading people into power who are primed to care more about themselves than the knock on consequences of the restrictions they enforce on people. I’m mad at rich developed countries, for letting so many people in poorer developing countries live on the brink of collapse for so long that when the tiniest thing goes wrong, their lives are in pieces and their families are pushed to near starvation! I’m mad at our education systems for continuing to let us all believe that we are doing the best we can!

9 million people still die of hunger every year, and it’s totally avoidable. Why haven’t we been doing enough to help those people?! Why, when Covid-19 arrived, did rich countries suddenly find trillions of dollars they could use to help people. Why not before?! There is so much we need to change about this world. SO much. 

We’ve tried so hard with Bambooties to do things the right way. We give work directly to women in need, even though it makes it harder to communicate, it makes the product lines harder to keep consistent, and it makes it harder for us to deal with jumps in demand. If the booties were made by a big corporate manufacturer we wouldn’t have any of those problems. We pay our seamstresses properly, even though it means the end product has to be more expensive, which of course makes it harder to sell. We use reclaimed cotton, so we’re not contributing to the mass production of fabric and its terrible impact on the planet, even though it’s really hard to convince factories to stop burning their excess fabric and even harder to find reclaimed cotton that is good enough quality for baby feet. We use minimal packaging made of recycled materials, which can be recycled again, even though many people still have a preference for things to be wrapped beautifully in expensive packaging. And on top of all this, we donate £5 from every sale to charity. So even though this business has not yet turned a profit, we consistently give money to charity every time we make a sale.

I don't mean to moan. I wouldn't do this project any other way. It wouldn't sit right. But sometimes it just feels like the whole system is stacked against us. Why is trying to do the right thing so hard?! In every part of this business, when we’ve tried to push the boundaries and help both people and planet just a tiny bit more, it’s made our lives more difficult. I have the same issues in my personal life, trying to reduce waste, travel less and buy local/organic etc. It’s no wonder the world is in such a mess.

I’ll try sending an appeal to Parcelforce. Fingers crossed they can help locate the parcel.

I'm no longer getting any response from the seamstresses. The last thing they said to me was that I needed to find another manufacturer. But what about them? I can’t bear it! I keep thinking about how awful it must be for them. I’m not their only client. They will have been forced to give up work from many other clients too, work that is literally vital for their survival. If they ever make it back into business, it'll be unimaginably difficult for them to build up long standing relationships again.

I need to get outside and go for a long walk in the forest. Deeeep breaths and caaaalm. It's bath time with the littles in two hours.

Part of me wants to just curl up under a tree and cry. The other part of me is trying so hard to get a grip, cheering...

"Come ON! Keep going! We've got to make this work! Power to small business. Power to the most vulnerable. Power to future generations. Come on mother earth, let's do this!"

Got to find that parcel and start the search for a new manufacturer. And, if you're feeling the Christmas spirit, and in a giving mood, I'd love your help too!

How can you help this Christmas?

Every little thing makes such a big difference, to me, to the women who make the booties and to the women we support via ActionAid.

Can't thank you enough for your support.

Lucy

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