Last updated: 25 May, 2022

The Colours of Nature: masks made for Village Action - Auroville and Covid 19

The Colours of Nature update: Masks Made for Village Action, supported by Nest COVID-19 Grant

By Petra Mo, 18 May 2020 / 02:09 pm

With the arrival of the coronavirus on the global stage, the situation that we found ourselves in, almost from one day to the next, was that we could no longer produce nor ship any products to our clients. This combined with the Indian government’s stated obligation of ours to continue paying the salaries of some 70 employees, even though they are not allowed to work onsite, served up some food for thought.

Soon, we found out about the Nest COVID-19 Relief Grant, via their newsletter. Nest (www.buildanest.org) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to help artisans in different ways. Aiming to preserve important cultural traditions, they focus on all handworkers and on the well-being of women in particular. We learned of the existence of Nest some years ago and became members.

Jesus met the Nest founder when they were both Levi Strauss & Co. Collaborative fellows (https://www.levistrauss.com/2016/06/01/introducing-the-levi-strauss-co-collaboratory) and travelled to San Francisco as part of the program. As Nest members, The Colours of Nature receive the periodical Nest newsletter and the Auroville unit was delighted to read about a grant to produce masks. Nest’s idea was to use their network of artisan members, both to be of use to society and these crafts-based organisations. And as we were looking to be of service both to our staff and to others living in our vicinity, we got into talks.

After some brainstorming and communications back-and-forth we agreed that The Colours of Nature would supply surgical type masks to Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG, https://villageaction.in). Nest, through a grant, would pay for the production of the masks and the masks would be given for free to the villages nestled around our facilities and Auroville.

We have ourselves observed that saliva drops are emitted when people speak and know that we can count on particles being carried by the air, we are convinced that this grant not only supports us in paying salaries but will also help protect people from the coronavirus. As there are cases of COVID-19 active in the villages in our vicinity it made a lot of sense, also noting that the Village Action outreach work covers the villages that The Colours of Nature staff members tend to live in.

Nest proposed that we use left-over pieces of our eco-friendly naturally dyed woven organic cotton fabrics, but we suggested another approach. Not only do we already upcycle most fabric pieces left over from production - one of our main customers, Story Mfg. (https://www.storymfg.com), cleverly designs beautiful patchwork, which helps ensure that there are not many cut-offs – but we also found that woven fabrics are not the best choice.

The only non-woven fabric suitable for the manufacture of masks, that we could find, was synthetic. Obviously, it is not an ideal choice, considering the micro-plastics applied tend to end up in our oceans. But in this case, the type of cotton we had in mind not being available, we had to put the immediate health of people first.

As we guess many people have experienced lately, now is not a time to be dogmatic, but we do hope that there will be some advances made towards developing biodegradable non-woven fabrics, and making them available in South India.

Once the Nest agreement and the fabric were in place it only took us three days to stitch the agreed upon 1500 masks. Clarity on the number of workers depending on The Colours of Nature was important. The project was never about doing business, but about trying to support the survival of the unit. This in turn is of huge importance to the people employed by us.

When the lockdown started, from one day to the next, some 70 people could not come to work on our premises. Soon, however, we obtained permission to have 2-3 people come every few days in order to maintain the fermented indigo pots.

Whilst we had managed to complete some of the work before the lockdown, the bulk of it happened once some easing was coming into play. Having received the needed permissions from the Auroville authorities, who liaise with the Indian government, we managed to complete our delivery to AVAG by May 9th.

With the Nest COVID-19 grant work completed and with more of our staff coming back to work, we have plenty of our regular work pending and needing to be caught up on, and specific challenges that we face on a daily basis.

All who work at The Colours of Nature wear masks and regularly wash their hands. In addition, we have spread people out, sometimes by separating out specific tailoring subunits. One person has been assigned to rotate, fulltime, to check that mask-wearing, hand-washing and distancing are practiced at all times.

We disinfect the premises twice per day. Unfortunately, we feel that we have no choice but to use non-natural disinfectants. It goes completely against our nature, but so does this virus, in our view. And again, with people’s health at stake, this is not a time to be dogmatic.

Many people and companies are facing a mask-shortage and for this reason we are open to receiving additional mask orders (Email colnature@auroville.org.in).

Most of our clients face much uncertainty with regards their markets during the months to come. It is very difficult to predict the demand, and this might impact us. And so ensuring production of any kind makes sense.

But even if we have to fast track the training of additional tailors to meet the demand for masks we will do so. It is very important for us to do our part when it comes to beating the spread of the coronavirus.

We do hope that we can soon start to send ready dyed fabrics and garments to our customers again soon, especially to Story Mfg. our number one client, based in London. Do check out their website and share with your friends (repeating here: https://www.storymfg.com).

We also wish that you all stay healthy during these trying times.


See also https://thecoloursofnature.com/