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How the PROCESSIONS scarves were made: an interview with Geetanjali Sayal

Geetanjali Sayal came to London from India two and a half years ago to study, and then started a work experience placement at Artichoke. Here is the story of how she came to be involved in the production of the beautiful scarves for PROCESSIONS, which we’ll be handing out at the assembly points on 10 June. The scarves will then be worn by each participant to create the visual effect of a human banner – a tricolour river of green, white and violet through the streets of Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and London.

How did your family end up managing the production of the PROCESSIONS scarves?

GS: ‘It all started with our team at Artichoke looking at suppliers. The brief was that we needed 400,000 scarves in three different colours: purple, white and green. Each scarf needed to be 2m by 0.5m. My mother [Sangeeta Sayal] used to run a small boutique in our house in India 15 years ago, and she still has friends and connections in the industry. So it started like that. We thought it would just be a matter of her placing the order, but we quickly realised that it wasn’t as easy as it initially seemed. It was loads of fabric, which had to be sourced from several different locations across India, in Rajasthan and Gujarat.’ 

Tell us more about the dyeing and production process

GS: ‘The dyeing happened in the villages in Rajasthan and Gujarat. We weren’t involved in that side of things. My mother was mostly responsible for identifying the fabric suppliers, outsourcing the work and finding solutions when things were not working out.

‘We employed 150 women for the project, working in the factory, sewing, mainly involved in the overlocking process. We also employed about 100 men, who were mainly prominent during the cutting stage and as drivers working to get the material to and from the factories. My mother was mostly managing the project but my father was also supporting her because it needed a lot of management – there were so many people involved.

‘The thread we used came from the south of India, where it was also dyed. It was then sent over to New Delhi, which is where most of the production was happening. The production was basically split across New Delhi and a place nearby where my family house is. As the scarves were being created in the factories, we realised that the factories were not big enough to accommodate that amount of fabric. So we ended up installing lots of the workers in my family house because of the lack of space. Lots of them stayed there for a few days. The women also did most of the packaging, as well as the ironing and the counting. Before the scarves were shipped to London, they were put into plastic bags and then packed into boxes.’

How did you ensure that the workers were treated ethically?

GS: ‘Usually what happens with these kinds of projects is that there’s a middleman who takes care of things. He gives work to the workforce and deals with the person who is involved with the money side of things. In this case, my mother was the ‘middleman’.

‘We created a system where we could actually be physically present in the factories. It was all done through my mother and we were able to make sure that, when the money came in, we distributed it equally, because we were dealing with them directly. So there were no layers, as such, where something unfair could happen. Everyone was paid for what they worked. Also, all of the women were at least in their thirties. I was in constant conversation with my mother so I’m confident about this and we knew it was important, as this industry is often associated with exploitation. This normally happens when the middleman doesn’t treat people properly, taking a lot of commission, which was not the case here. We also made sure that we employed more people than we needed so that they wouldn’t have to work really long hours. And we made sure they got enough breaks during the day and we had people who were sorting food for the workers.’

Did the women have a sense of what they were making the scarves for?

GS: ‘The production ran for about two months, and obviously the women were completely clueless about the project at the beginning because they had never been involved in a project like this before. But while they were working on it they were having conversations with my mother and she was trying to explain to them the magnitude of the project. They knew that the scarves were going to London and that people will be wearing them for an event. And we have promised to share images with them of the processions after they’ve happened, and how the scarves are used. 

‘I’ve also never done anything like this before. I got involved because we [at Artichoke] were trying to explore different options of where we could source the scarves from and so I asked my mother, who had experience in this industry, as I explained before. In the end my family was pleased with the outcome and with the relationships that they built with those women. Many of the women have since called my mother to ask about more work. So it was a very positive outcome.’ 

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