Day 1 – Arrival, KMWSC & Jess's Birthday
After a full day of traveling, we landed at Kolkata International Airport bright and early. Our Indian ex-intern-turned-travel-guide, Shubam, was waiting for us to whisk us away on this incredible adventure. After settling in we went on to tick off the first item on our huge India to-do list: a visit to Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre (KMWSC), a non-profit doing remarkable work for the local community. Welcomed with open arms and a beautiful flower ceremony, we were shown presentations highlighting the many achievements made possible with the support of O My Bag. One project that particularly tugged at our heartstrings was the Brickfield schools, providing education for migrant workers in the brickfield factories. Seeing the harsh realities of poverty, we felt immensely grateful for the chance to make a difference. Our visit also included empowering vocational training sessions for young girls, setting them on their path to a brighter future.. The dedication and numerous projects undertaken by the KMWSC staff left us in awe, and we couldn't be prouder to be associated with them.
As the sun set, we gathered at a trendy Kolkata restaurant to celebrate Jess's (our Product Manager) birthday in style. With amazing food, fancy cocktails, and a run to the dance floor, it was a night to remember!
Day 2 – Shee Sen Tannery, Water Treatment Plant, Dinner with our partners
Our fabulous Indian-style private bus, Spring Time, awaited us at 10 o'clock sharp. Any remnants of hangovers were quickly forgotten as we set off for the Kolkata Leather Complex. Our first stop: Shee Sen Tannery, where the ever-calm owner, Sean, warmly greeted us. The tour kicked off with a cozy tea ceremony, followed by an immersive exploration of the tannery. Guided by Sean and Kenneth, we marveled at the intricate process, gaining a deeper appreciation for the complexity involved in treating the leather, making it a sustainable material. After enjoying a delicious home-cooked Chinese lunch and trying fermented enzyme drinks, we bid our farewells.
Refreshed and inspired, we ventured forth to the Effluent Treatment Plant. The change in scenery caught us off guard. Our conversation with the management was brief but left us chuckling at phrases like "Women cannot be as skilled as men" (in a room full of women!) but also thinking about how much change still needs to be done. Despite this, we couldn't help but appreciate Kolkata's efforts to filter water and combat pollution in the leather complex.
Time flew by, and we found ourselves freshened up and ready for the grand Dinner Event organised for all of our partners in India. Our partners were thrilled and honored by the invitation. As guests introduced themselves, Paulien delivered a heartwarming speech and we raised our glasses to O My Bag and the future. The dinner was a success and we were ready to finally go to bed. Can you believe all this happened in just one day?
Day 3 - STC
Saturday arrived, and we found ourselves back at the Kolkata Leather Complex, eager to meet our first producer of this trip, STC. Ipshita, Utsav, and Sanjay greeted us with warm smiles, leading the way to their impressive sample room. Before diving into the factory tour, we kicked things off with a brief presentation introducing the OMB team.
Our journey began with a visit to the newly installed solar panel roof on the upper floor, showing sustainability in action. Then, it was off to the factory floor, where the skilled artisans behind our bags brought their craft to life. STC, our largest producer, had mastered the art of bag, wallet, and accessory production. At each assembly station, we looked at the efficiency and meticulous quality checks in place, gaining a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship displayed. We were particularly captivated by the zipper puller manufacturing room. Could you guess how many steps it takes to create a zipper and stitch it to a bag? 17! We couldn’t believe it.
After the tour, we joined the STC employees for a gender equality training session led by our partner organization, Swayam. Despite the language barrier and the big size of a group, engaging with the workers and discussing this important topic was invaluable.
Team visiting our producer STC
Day 4 - Sightseeing
Sunday greeted us with the sun and an early morning alarm at 6 a.m. Eager and ready, we boarded our “Spring time” and set off downtown. Our first stop: a roadside stall, a favorite chai place of Shubam and Shivam, where we enjoyed local snacks and, of course, the most delicious chai ever. The streets were already buzzing with locals. After a quick breakfast, we embarked on a leisurely stroll through the vibrant streets of Kolkata, immersing ourselves in the city's diversity. Our path led us to the iconic flower market, a bustling paradise housing over 2,000 sellers. We were immersed in a kaleidoscope of colors, crowded spaces, slippery floors, and a riot of marigolds.
To escape the midday heat, we regrouped in the afternoon and made our way to "Café 108," owned by Sean's enterprising sons from the See Shen Tannery. As we stepped inside, we were captivated by the smell of the tastiest coffee in all of India. Those who preferred tea followed Sean to his home above the cafe for a traditional ceremony, and some of us even decided to do acupuncture treatment by Sean. He’s really a man of many talents.
Wrapping up the day's adventures, we paid a visit to Kumortuli, a traditional potters' quarter renowned for its artisans who sculpt clay sculptures and idols for the Durga Puja festival. The streets were teeming with shops offering vibrant decorations and accessories, providing a glimpse into this joyful and festive tradition.
To cap it off, we were warmly welcomed into Ipshita's parents' house, where they treated us to a wonderful authentic Indian dinner.
Day 5 – Springfield
Halfway through our trip, we visited Springfield, one of O My Bag’s production partners since 2014. The reception we received was nothing short of extraordinary. The workers insisted on decorating the entrance, adorning the stairway with strings of the Indian Marigold flowers, and lining up to greet us with beaming smiles! They even put up balloons and signs saying “Welcome O My Bag”, the sweetest gesture.
As we embarked on the factory tour, our bags were in sight everywhere, a testament to the craftsmanship unfolding before our eyes. Lexis, Georgias, Stellas and more were present at every corner. Some of us even attempted to join the production team on the floor but our unskilled hands were met with side-eyes, headshakes and laughter, although accompanied with words of support. In the afternoon, we participated in smaller groups for more gender awareness trainings.
Day 6 – Dust Bag Ladies, EMA
Our day kicked off with a heartwarming visit to the dust bag ladies, a beautiful group of women crafting our dust bags in a small rural village two hours away from Kolkata. We were able to visit their expanding sewing shop and hear the soar of new machines. The entire village came alive, eager to greet us, taking us on a tour of their village, asking for selfies and showing us their homes and pet goats. The local kids were just as excited to meet us, as we were to see them. Lots of chats, laughs, smiles and drawings on our hands, this was an experience that will stay with us forever.
Next on the agenda was EMA, where we were greeted like celebrities with a beautiful ceremony. The employees recognized us from the photos in our look books and were delighted to talk to us. We joined another gender equality training session as well as the factory tour, all the while trying to escape from some very determined mosquitos. As a token of our appreciation, we presented gifts to all the employees – saris for the women and thermal bottles for the men.
Day 7 – Joyya, The Cup
On our final day, we made a brief but impactful visit to Joyya (formerly, Freeset Global) in Kolkata's red-light area. Joyya, a fair-trade organization, passionately provides sustainable employment for marginalized communities, particularly women and former sex workers. We were warmly greeted by the management of Joyya and given a tour of the facility. During the tour, we saw the production of t-shirts, tote bags, and small textile accessories across different floors. We were amazed by their thoughtful inclusion of a small daycare area for employees with young children. After that, we made our way to The Cup, one of our earliest giving back projects. This cozy café serves as a safe space for women from at-risk groups, providing a place for socializing and vocational training. Some of the women who are frequent visitors of the cafe came to meet us. Our e-commerce specialist Emily organized a fun activity for us – making small bead bracelets for each other, which turned out way more difficult than expected. Although we were losing beads, ripping threads, and simply struggling with long nails, we still had so much fun with the women there. The joy on their faces was priceless, and we're already planning to send them more materials for such activities in the future!
Each day of our incredible journey overflowed with excitement, personal connections, and the profound realization that our ambitious mission to change the world, one bag at a time, is making a tangible impact. Leaving Kolkata filled with cherished memories and an unwavering commitment to our partners and the communities they support, we knew that together, we were unstoppable.