A Short Story on Chai and Making Clothes

A Short Story on Chai and Making Clothes
by Daniella Samper

I pull into the driveway and get off the car. As I walk upstairs to the third floor, I wonder what the building used to house before, as all the walls around the open staircase have really fun colorful wallpapers with a 70’s vibes– large polka dots, arches, squiggles, all in fun contrasting colors and patterns. I feel like I am walking into a world of 70’s nostalgia. I knock on the door and anyone close to the door opens and greets me with a Namaste. “Namaste” I greet back and turn my head to the left to greet the ladies and gents working on the finishing tables to my left. The colorful wallpapers also decorate the walls behind them, giving the place a fun backdrop and a dynamic vibe to their work. I nod and say “Namaste” to the finishing team and to the guys working on pressing the garments right behind them. They all nod and smile back. I head to the main office and Sohi and Tahir meet me halfway there as they notice that I had just walked in. We walk together to the office passing by the pattern making table, where Vinod is in charge. He is the pattern master, or Masterji, how everyone (and I) call him. I nod with a Namaste. I glare behind him and smile in acknowledgment to the tailors. As soon as I put my bag down, Sohi and Rohit offer me something to drink “ Would you like coffee, tea, water, coke?”  “I’ll have chai” That’s the indian tea and it’s very hard to refuse because it’s incredibly delicious and it brings a very comforting feeling in what could be a stressful day. Chai comes in very tiny cups and I’m always tempted to order two because 3 sips doesn’t do it for me, but I stick to one because I know there will be a Chai break within an hour or so.

As I sip on my chai, Sohi begins to walk me through the progress of our samples, production, and any questions she might have regarding any style being worked on at the moment. Sohi is always on top of it and she knows everything happening- I am always in awe at how she keeps everything so well organized because she is not only handling our production, she is also handling other designers production. And it’s a lot! From ordering production fabric, sampling fabric, to cutting, making trims, ordering trims, dying the fabric, picking up, dropping off, changes in a garment, etc.. She coordinates it all. Basically she has all the answers. She first hands me a sample we had talked about making some changes, I explain to her the changes I wanted to make and she hands off the sample to Mohd, the garment cutting master, who will hand it off to a tailor for a quick alteration on the spot. Then, she asks me about a change I emailed her about a week ago– I wanted to make a change on a pair of pants so they would fit more comfortably by moving a seam forward and adding and reducing a bit here and there. As she finishes her question she gestures me to follow her to the pattern making table. We walk over to Vinod, Masterji, just a few steps from the office, and as we approach the table Sohi asks him to look for the pattern. I greet Vinod again with a nod and a smile, he greets me back while pulling out the pattern in question from under the table. He unfolds it, and as I begin to explain the changes I want to be done I pull it lightly towards me and with my finger I trace over  where I want the changes to be made. He picks up the pattern from the table and creases the area where I had just outlined with my fingers. Mohd, the garment cutting master (and also great sense of style!) is standing nearby us and hears us talk and approaches our table with a concern regarding this change. Sohi translates it for me to which I take a second to try to find a solution. In this moment of thinking Masterji jumps in with an alternative, and Sohi translates back to me. When we are at Masteji’s table, it’s usually Sohi (merchandiser), Tahir(merchandiser), Mohd(cutting master),Vinod(pattern master) and me. We always find a solution together and it feels very productive to be in India mid production.

We spend approximately 2 hours going through designs, patterns, solutions, problems, obstacles, things that went wrong, things in process, fittings and my brain begins to feel fried. I glance up from the table and I see the Chai Walla ( The guy that makes and brings the tea for chai breaks or tea breaks) coming through the door with a tray full of tiny chai cups. It’s Chai break. Everyone looks forward to chai break in the factory. I look forward to chai break. Machines off, lights off and everyone begins to gather around the Chai Walla to grab a cup. They all gather by the entrance where there’s open space away from fabrics and machines. It’s a good pause and a mental break for everyone and I am always grateful for the Chai Walla. It’s a little boost of energy. Chai is essentially black tea with milk and sugar infused with spices, the most prominent is cardamom. It’s a true delight. Break is over and it’s 12pm and everyone head back to their respective jobs. Lights on, machines on. We continue our walk through around “our” table and we see someone walking in through the main door with a big bulge of fabric on his shoulder. It’s our fabric that was sent out yesterday for laser cutting. He comes to us we lay the panels on the table to inspect the cutting. As we check the panels, Rohit receives an email from customs asking for some paperwork required to release a fabric from customs. Rohit communicates it to me while Sohi approaches me with the dress sent out earlier for a quick fit alteration. I walk into the bathroom to try it on, walk back outside and give my approval. It looks good, it fits and we can proceed to cutting. When alterations go well the first time there is a sense of satisfaction on everyone and it’s a good boost of things going the right way.

Lunch time happens at about 1pm. I am sitting in the office and I hear all the machines turn off all at once, the lights go off and everyone gathers by the entrance to each lunch together. It’s also a sign for me to take my lunch out. I begin to take my tins out from my homemade lunch made by my mother-in-law. Rohit comes into the room and asks me if I need anything. “I am all good, thank you” I tell him and he goes to have his lunch. I am having Aloo methi, my favorite. It’s potato with a type of spinach found in India and it’s my absolute favorite thing to have as I associate it with comfort food. I think it’s the potatoes. I break a piece of Roti (the bread) and pick up some potato with it and eat it. Lunch is followed by Chai time again. Chai Walla comes in and offers us all a cup of chai. I cannot refuse. Re-energized we pick up where we left off. More samples sent off for a few fit alterations, we go through techpacks, quality checks of pieces that are ready, fittings of altered samples, sometimes it’s good at first, sometimes they need a second alteration. They are all very patient and accommodating to my needs and wants and never ever make me feel like anything is too much work. They also want to see a perfect fit. It’s been a long day and before I call it quits Chai Walla comes back in at around 4pm to the rescue. Machines off, lights off, and gather around to have chai. With my chai next to me I sit with my computer for a bit to do some work while I slowly sip it to make it last. In the background I hear chatting and laughing and and the atmosphere is light and calm, the sun is beginning to set and the weather is beginning to cool. I finish my chai, walk over to Sohi to ask her if there is anything else for me to see before I head out and she pauses. She asks Vinod if anything is ready for me to see. Vinod walks over to the machines and brings 2 pieces ready for fittings. I do one last fitting and luckily they are good. I finished the day feeling accomplished. I say my goodbyes. Smile back at everyone and walk down to head back home. Traffic is hectic and I know it will take about two hours to head home. I plug into my phone and listen to podcast all the way through. Tomorrow I will be going back.

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