A big milestone has been achieved this week: the first MISOGI DOGI uniforms are being delivered these days. The uniforms make a wonderful first impression. So far, we received great feedback. We look forward to get further impressions. Contact us here..
I got in touch with Emir by a friend who works for a fair fashion network. The owner of a family business in Bosnia & Herzegowina (BiH). Specialised in manufacturing small fashion designers’ collections from Switzerland, Netherlands, and Scandinavia, he had contacted my friend in search for a fair-trade certification for his company. After comparing a few further offers from various countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Serbia, Turkey, Greece, Germany and the Netherlands, it became evident: Emir’s company made us the best offer in terms of product and service quality.
The sewing workshop is on the ground floor of Emir’s parents’ large, peach coloured house in the calm sub-urbs of Banja Luka. With 200.000 inhabitants, Banja Luka is the second largest city of BiH. Located between Sarajevo and Zagreb, it is a very green city on the shores of the majestic river Vrbas, an affluent of the Danube. Small hills sparkled with small houses surround the city.
Marko, Lucile and Emir
The neighbourhood - a kindergarten in the pink house
city centre of Banja Luka
view from the surrounding hills
A mysterious meteorite landed here - a local curiosity
Emir’s parents, Junuz and Sena, spent 30 years in Switzerland. He was a doctor – she was a teacher. At their retirement, they moved back to their home place. But it’s not the same anymore:
The neighbourhood has changed a lot. Before the war, I would meet many old friends in the streets. Now, they are all strangers.
In Banja Luka, most Bosniaks and Croatians left the city and were replaced by Serbians during the war. Many families have lost everything.
Junuz and Sena owned a textile manufacture in Banja Luka before the war already. BiH has a long tradition of textile and garment industry. The Bosnian garment manufacturers used to be a top address for western European customers seeking quality, reliability and productivity. However, this favourable market position was lost with the war. Still, the sector is of vital importance for the Bosnian economy: more women than ever need to make a living and the export of clothes accounts for a third on the country’s trade balance sheet. (1)
Emir, together with his sister and mother, has brought the family business to a new life. Sena visits the workshop every day and makes sure everything works fine and everyone is happy in the company. Emir and Aida still live and work in Switzerland. Next to their main jobs, they manage the family business and find new clients in central Europe and Scandinavia.
The first time Marko and I visited the manufacture in 2016, Emir was there too. I was very impressed by how friendly Sena and Emir would communicate with their workers. Emir explained:
When I enter a room, I knock. The women are here everyday. I feel like a guest.
This attitude was confirmed in our long discussions about working conditions and definitions of fair-trade.
Emir’s family business is driven by a wish to promote a region severely hit by wars, floods and earthquakes: The city was devastated by an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude in 1969 and by floods and landslides in 2014.
The city of Banja Luka has nonetheless become the economically strong centre of the country. However, the whole country suffers from corruption, a large trade deficit, and an unemployment rate of 25%. Youth and female unemployment is at a staggering 60%. The average income is 300 EUR/month, and a third of the population lives under the poverty line.
In such an environment, Emir and his family cannot just apply Swiss standards. They have to adapt to local conditions and improve them step by step:
- They refuse to feed the corruption system.
- They create a safe work environment.
- They offer slightly higher wages than comparable companies.
- They build a relationship of respect, trust and support with their employees.
- They do their best to grow their company and recruit more staff.
- They try to avoid over-hours.
The whole team is composed of about 20 textile workers. Their age average is like in many aikido dojos: late 40s, stretching from mid-twenties to well over 70. The oldest, Rebija, used to be the director of a team of 300 seamstresses during 30 years. She is in charge of calculating the prices. She is calm and friendly and her sparkling eyes show that she enjoys her activity. Anka, the master seamstress, makes the first prototypes and teaches the best way to the others. The world of textiles seems to have no secrets for her anymore.
The team doesn’t have an official workshop director. The women coordinate the work amongst themselves and share the tasks according to their skills and capacities: some seamstresses are better at sewing heavy winter coats; others are better at light summer dresses. Here, each seamstress is fully skilled and produces a piece of garment from A to Z. It’s not like in a sweatshop where workers work in a line and do only one particular seam all day long.
This year, I came alone to help launching the production of the gis. I mainly worked with Igor, the key account manager, and Maja, the pattern maker. Igor is a friendly, bright young man. His current job is a great opportunity to acquire a solid work experience. This January, he discovered Berlin’s fashion week. Fascinated by the German capital, he dreams of once moving there and working for a fashion magazine. Maja studied fashion design and would love to also work on her own creations.
Maybe one day… but meanwhile, making patterns is nice too.
While the seamstresses work in silence and with full focus, the two 15 minutes breaks are their occasion for jolly talks and jokes. For me, it was the opportunity to get to know the seamstresses a little bit. Most of the women would gather at the long table in the kitchen and enjoy a salty snack at 11 AM and a Turkish coffee prepared by one of them for all at 1 PM. Each seamstress has an individual cup of coffee. During my stay there, we also enjoyed one of the seamstresses’ son’s 14th birthday cake. And I was very glad to see how much they enjoyed the Swiss chocolate and cookies I brought.
Maja & Lucile
Milka, Rada, Stojanka & Lucile
The Misogi Dogi uniforms are made by a team of three: Stojanka, Rada and Milka. Stojanka always welcomed me warmly in German:
The Bosnians learn German at school. But as they have little opportunity to practice the language, and my Bosnian is yet very poor, our conversations were limited. Milka is very calm. She would mainly observe with a friendly look and listen to the others. She already sewed a few of the Misogi Dogi prototypes.
Rada is the jolly fellow of the team. She speaks only Bosnian, so we needed a little help from her colleagues to communicate. At the breaks, she would smile all over at me and offer me a little sip of one of her home-made fruit brandies:
Try this one, just a little sip, to awake the blood circulation!
Pear, walnut and strawberry, the brandies were excellent and did a good job. During the weekend I spent there, Rada celebrated her son’s wedding. Finding out my age and the fact that I am engaged, her comment was:
I could be your mother. I’ll come to your wedding too!
Spending a week working with such a wonderful team was a great experience. I am looking forward to going back and spending more time with the ladies. But first, I’ll need to improve my Bosnian language skills!
What does “made fair-trade in Banja Luka” mean? We asked Emir, the director of the manufacture that produces our gis:
Is your company fair-trade certified?
The company is not fair-trade certified for various reasons: One is that the certifying organisations are not established in Bosnia & Herzegowina (BiH). Fairtrade for instance has a seat in Macedonia, but not in Bosnia. Some organisations such as fairwear.org certify brands and not the manufactures. To fill this gap, we offer a maximum transparency: for example, the designers are welcome to visit the company whenever they want, even without telling ahead.
Do you offer written work contracts?
When we look for a new employee, we start with a test period to check the abilities and if the new employee fits well into the team. In our company, each seamstress produces a piece from the beginning to the end. It’s not like in a factory where they would do only one part all day long. Thus they need some more capacities. After 10-14 days, they receive a written contract for 3 or 6 months. Some employees have long-term contracts.
You need to know that Bosnia is a corrupt country. As the law system doesn’t work properly, a trust relation with the employees is key for a successful business. One important element is that we pay the wages regularly, on the 10th day of each month. The wages in our company are about 20% higher than in comparable companies, around 300-600 EUR per month. The bus tickets are also paid by the company. In 2016, we could even pay a bonus of 50 EUR before the summer holidays.
What are the working hours?
Working hours are from 7:00 to 15:00. This is business as usual for the sector. Two breaks are included. The ladies decided to take them at 11:0 and at 13:00. We would like to offer them a hot lunch meal, but we can’t yet. The ladies are happy to spend a part of the afternoon taking care of their children or of their garden. Tending for food is an important complement to their revenue. The children go to school in the morning for two weeks, and then in the afternoon for the following two weeks. We wish to adopt a two-layer rhythm as well.
What about over-hours?
High peaks challenged our company in 2015 and made over-hours unavoidable. The last bus departure is at 15:30 and doesn’t allow for over-hours on workdays. But the ladies are very committed and come to atelier on Saturdays during peak times. They want to finish the garments in time. They can compensate by taking days off during less busy weeks. The support by the employees impressed us especially in 2014, when the river flooded the region. The employees rushed to the workshop to help before taking care of their own flooded homes. To reduce peak times in the future, we are orienting towards no-fashion-labels and continuous collections such as Misogi Dogi. The customers can also contribute to diminish peaks by allowing for a longer delivery time.
How much holidays can the employees take off?
There are two weeks of company holidays in august. One reason is the high temperatures, reaching 38°C+. This is too hot to work in the workshops. Beyond this, the employees take off during religious holidays depending on their faith. Once, this led to the curious situation that one employe was alone at work for several days in January while all her colleagues were celebrating sacred holidays.
What about social security?
The social security charges are rather low: 30%. They cover health insurance and a pension fund. Women have a right to 18 months paid maternity leave. However, the countries finances are ailing, and the services accordingly.
What would you like to do to make your company more sustainable?
Electric power is very expensive in Bosnia. We wish to install solar panels and LED lamps. We also would like to buy new glasses for Anka, our master seamstress.
(Zurich, July 2016)
Lucile will share our motivation and insights related to Misogi Dogi at the upcoming tele-summit “Aikido At The Leading Edge” along with an impressive line-up of 40 aikido teachers. You are all invited to join this free online event and get inspired by collective wisdom about aikido, practice and life with practitioners from around the world.
1000 Dank an Thomas Christaller für sein Loblied im Aikido Journal!!
“…Und da bekam ich doch runde Augen: Die Kimono waren aus Waffelpiqué, meinem Lieblingsstoff für Handtücher und Bade-/Morgenmäntel! Weil sie schön weich sind, viel Feuchtigkeit aufnehmen und warm halten. Der Griff in den Stoff bestätigte es mir: sehr angenehm. … Der Anzug fiel weich aber war im angenehmen Sinne unauffällig…”
Ganzer Artikel in der aktuellen Nummer 90 DE des Aikido Journals (www.aikidojournal.de)