Cristiana Noaptes - Verona*
Xiwikj is a project providing sustainable clothing. Begun in 2013 in Verona, it is the brain-child of Bali Patwalia, a young man originally from India, and Federica Cristofori, originally from Italy’s Aosta Valley region. The couple, who met in Paris because of work and later married in 2016, opened a clothing and accessories store in Verona and a textile factory in India in which they offer dignified work and just wages to many families.
The factory in Sanganer
“Initially”, Federica explains, “we were purchasing garments from suppliers in India that used natural fibers and dyes. But we often experienced problems regarding timely delivery and quality”. The couple then decided to open their own business in Sanganer, near Jaipur, the capital of Rajastan, entrusting the management of a fabric printing and sewing factory to Bali’s brother, Ninder.
“We bought a field in a small village”, Bali recounts, “and we built a fabric printing factory. There was no water in that area. We dug a well and installed a pump with our earnings so everyone can freely draw water from it. We offer employment to many people from the village, both in the factory and at home. In fact, many women ask to work at home”.
Those who contribute to the production are paid regularly in various ways. Some are paid monthly. Others prefer instead to be paid for each piece they finish. “Before anyone produces anything”, Bali explains, “we meet and agree together on the payment the employee will receive. They are the ones who decide that. We accept their proposals”. Just remuneration, in accordance to the type of work and hours on the job, allows the various professionals employed by them to live with dignity. They in turn nurture the common good, and this is felt by the local community.
Connection with Laudato si’
Although Federica and Bali come from diverse cultures and faiths, they both share many of the perspectives offered in Laudato si’. In this encyclical, written in 2015, Pope Francis emphasized that believers and unbelievers are in agreement “today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone” (paragraph 93). For this reason as well as their family connections, the two young people decided to spend a few months working in the small Indian village. In this way, they were able to share daily life with all those who were working in their business as well as giving their own contribution in nurturing the common good.
“We would often eat together with the factory workers”, Bali says. “We would offer food and share whatever we had with them. Before Covid-19, there were 32 people who worked in our factory. Then, some of them decided to cease the collaboration and return home. They felt safer that way. And we left them free to choose, just as we allow them to leave to participate in various feasts and religious celebrations. We need a lot of manpower all the time, but we do not want to hold them back. We prefer that they share these important moments with their families”.
This concept of work and entrepreneurship puts the person and their needs at the center. Once again this recalls a concept reaffirmed in Laudato si’ with a reference to Gaudeium et spes: “man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life” (paragraph 127).
Making kantha quilts with recycled fabric
Kantha quilts are blankets or rugs made by sewing together various pieces of recycled fabric. Most of them are cotton or silk. “When Indian women get tired of their clothing”, Federica tells us, “so as not to throw something away, they recycle the fabric to make something new, creating quilts or rugs which they use to sit on in their homes. Giving new life to something not used anymore is very common in India. This has also become our own style to contribute to the care of our common home”. This too is in complete consonance with Laudato si’ which suggests experimenting with “intelligent and profitable ways of reusing, revamping and recycling” (192). It has also led the two young entrepreneurs to market their own kantha quilt made with fabric leftover from their clothing production business.
Another distinguishing feature of this couple’s entrepreneurial style is their desire to maintain a hand-made approach to the printing of their fabric. Instead of adopting more rapid and productive industrial methods, they prefer instead to print the fabric used for their garments using a more manual classic technique. “I create the block designs in Italy”, Federica explains. “These are sent to the sculptor in India who faithfully reproduces them. Then they are used to print the fabric by hand. We prefer irregularities in the printing, the human and hand-crafted touch. Perfection for us is not that something is precise and exact, but that it is special in its own way. From this point of view, the hand-made block print is perfect”.