I wonder if you have ever been to Shanghai?
I went, for the first time ever, to meet my supplier, work on the new silk clothing range and visit the factory where the Silk is made. I admit, I was a little nervous before I went.
Reader, I loved it!
I have been curious about China for as long as I can remember. I have wanted for years to go and see Shanghai and having the business was a very handy excuse to finally go. I was so in love with China when I was younger that I started studying Mandarin at university before I realised that I had years of rote learning ahead of me and bowed out to do Law. Also, the food is incredible… it bears absolutely no relation to the ‘Chinese’ food we have here.
The Chinese and their Silk
Before going over, I must admit, I had wondered how the Chinese handle their silk. Whether it was a commodity mainly for export, whether they themselves wore or used it.
And it was so lovely to learn that they really revere their Silk. It is as precious to them as it is to us. Silk is woven into their history and everyone involved in the Silk trade spends many years learning about it. I visited the shrine of the Silk Goddess and spent many hours talking about it with my supplier, and managed to visit two different Silk museums. I thought I knew a lot about Silk, but it seems there is still much to learn.
Here is the Silk Goddess, sporting a silkworm on her head and with offerings at her feet. An unusual place to put a silkworm, you might think, but its position above the head signifies the status they enjoy in Chinese culture and history.
Did you know that the silkworm is ‘bivoltine’? It means that they produce two broods a year; in Spring and in Autumn and that the cocoons are typically better in Spring.
I have been drawn to Silk for many years and quite intensely, and it is the same with my supplier. There is a Chinese phrase to describe when someone has been ‘bitten by Silk’ which was a relief to me. I am not alone!
The Chinese value their Silk so much, that they do not waste a single bit of it. The most prized cocoons (typically small) are used for the finest silk for clothing, and slightly lower grade cocoons are typically exported to India, where they are apparently less discerning. (The supplier’s words, I hesitate to add, not mine!)
The larger cocoons, usually of a lower grade of silk, make the filling for duvets and they recycle as much silk as they can. The proteins removed in the processing of silk (the sericin) are used for skincare, haircare and the silkworms are used as food or animal feed. In between, there are vast industries such as paper processing and medical products which all have silk as a necessary component.
The concept of zero-waste is certainly something we could do more of here! It really was a lesson in sustainability and respect for natural resources.
The This Is Silk Factory
I am delighted to be able to show that the factory is a good place to work. The premises are very clean and there is a lovely atmosphere there. The workers have clearly formed bonds and although I do not speak Chinese, a decade spent in courtrooms means I can assess an atmosphere pretty accurately. I thought it was warm but professional.
In other words, your products are fairly and ethically made. The workers are paid well, and better than average, because the factory spends a lot of time recruiting and does not want to lose them. The workers are provided with a freshly cooked lunch each day and I saw that they are allowed to listen to music when they work.
The factory supplies both woven Silk (the pillowcases) and knitted Silk (the new Fynery clothing) and here is a photo of them sewing the new clothing. (coming soon)
Amusingly, the cook was very flustered and nervous when I said that I would have lunch in the canteen with the workers. Chinese hospitality is legendary and they had expected to take me out for lunch, but as I prefer simple food and wanted to experience life in the factory as much as possible, we all ate together. It was nice to see that the meal they receive everyday is delicious and nutritious.
Their standards of production are reassuringly high and I look forward to revealing more products to you very soon!
Some random snippets of my time in Shanghai.
If you have not been to Shanghai I highly recommend it. It has the most incredible energy to it and there is something very romantic about it. It used to be called ‘The Paris of the East’.
Here is a photo of a beautiful cat with blue eyes I met in a shop in downtown Shanghai. I don’t think I have ever seen a cat like that before.
Here is a photo of a friendly man standing on a busy street with his beloved (and very colourful) birds! In case you were wondering, the cat was not near the birds.
And finally, a photo of the most delicious dumplings I have ever eaten.
I am writing this because I believe in personal connections, and I am quite old-fashioned at heart. If I had a bricks and mortar shop, you could get to know me and say hello. The only way I can do that online is by opening up in my blog. The other reason is that I am completely obsessed with Silk and think it has a beautiful part to play in our lives. It is naturally good for our skin and hair, is natural, breathable, very comfortable and sustainable. It also has a fascinating story, which deserves to be heard.
Stay tuned for further blogs about silk.