Work Space Mumbai Special: A Kapdawalla's Story.
Part 2: Lokmanya Tilak Terminus to Khotwadi, Santa Cruz (W)
When you get off a 36 hours train ride at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus from Coimbatore to set up a garment manufacturing business and limited funds in your pocket, the size, the buzz, the smells and the sea of people that makes up Mumbai can make the task seem a bit daunting. It's probably easier to come here with a skill and then look for job. (No skills? Read "where to start, when you land in Mumbai, with only a shirt on your back")
But we also need people who can create jobs and invest in our city, even though the sweat the city extracts for setting up a business is high. Here's the long story of how Nalin is setting up his establishment, cut short for you.
The Textile City.
The mills of Mumbai that attracted thousands of workers and probably made Mumbai what it is after the boom following the American Civil War, when we cashed in on the Cotton. That basic cloth business may have moved or continues in other cities of Maharashtra and India. But today, the Kapda business employs more people than the mills ever did in Mumbai.
From the Dongri to Malad, Dadar to Antop Hill, the whole city is filled with large pockets where people, communities, organised industries and even zoppadcities with population of a sizable towns are engaged in clothing India. It's the kind, quality and the market they cater to that differ.
For example, in pockets around Worli, you find the highly skilled workers who make clothing for the high-end designer markets. Jogeshwari, Antop Hill/Wadala and Bandra (E) produce very affordable and cheap Bombay Fashion for all Indians. Parts of Dadar produces Ethnic Style clothing. And then there are the people who bring in and sell Tiruppur Maal by the truckloads.
Nalin had to choose where he had to set up his business. Off the train, the first thing he did was map the city.
Luckily for Nalin, he knew exactly the kind of skills and resources he was looking for. He also had distant relatives, the Biradari system that's the lifeline of all Indians, that helped him with contacts. Within a few days, he got a crash course in Mumbai geography and textile skill map and since the clock ticks two times faster in Mumbai than the rest of the world, he zeroed in on a place called Khotwadi where he found a small shop manufacturing street fashion that could scale up their production and had people with the skills to make clothes for his label - Gamma.
The other brand the work-shop makes.
So why did a man from Coimbatore come to Mumbai to restart his label? Why not continue in Coimbatore? Or why not go to what seems to be the more organised Garment Industry in Bangalore?
Before he landed in Mumbai, Nalin did his research across South India. You do get everything you get in Mumbai there too, but it's all spread out across the city and towns down South. Since he will be using different skills from different people, he wanted a place where he gets everything close by.
Skilled labour is a major problem down south. In Mumbai, people with skills land on the same platform in Kurla Terminus and look and find work the moment they land. You also find people with different and new skills.
Since Gamma sells in the South, these different or new skills, a special kind of botton or stitch, for instance, can make his label stand out in a crowded market. Plus, he does not have to run around to look for them.
He wanted to be one extra step ahead of his competition and he hopes to get that edge here in Mumbai.
We are Mumbai Indians.
If the Mumbai Kapda business could be visualised as the hands of a skilled workers, each finger would represent a different region of India. From Gujarat to Midnapore, Madurai to UP. And that's not mentioning the generations from Mumbai itself, the foundation on which the business that employs over a million in this city alone functions.
And here's Nalin's label, Gamma taking shape.
In the next part of this story, I will take you through a tour of Khotwadi. The sweat shops, the workers, their sweat, their brands.