About our company, textiles &
people we work with
Who are we?
Chandni Chowk specialises in very high quality textiles, hand made in India by wonderfully skilled crafts people to a very high quality. We are a fair trade company producing fashion, accessories and home furnishings collections. We follow no set seasons, our collections simply grow and change as and when inspiration dictates! To compliment both of these departments we have a range of Hand Woven Kilim Rugs, Hand Made Jewellery and Greetings Cards.
Established by Rosalind Price and Paul Garrod in 1978 Chandni Chowk acquired its name from an early customer who said we reminded her of the ancient ‘Chandni Chowk’ market in Delhi. The name is Hindi and translates approximately as “shiny/silver/bright/moon - place/area”. At the time, the company was based on a table in the famous Barnstaple Pannier Market; it later progressed into the upstairs of the wonderful Heavens Above restaurant and then to the site of the first permanent Chandni Chowk store in Barnstaple. Today the company is still based firmly in the south west with our HQ housing the design facility, administration and central warehouse in deepest beautiful Devon. We now have five branches and a well-established on-line shopping website.
Environmental, fair trade and ethical issues are as fundamentally important to Chandni Chowk today as they were when the company first started in 1978. Then we were guided and inspired by E. F. Schumacher's seminal book "Small is Beautiful" and various other works by the extraordinary Austrian born thinker Ivan Illich. "Tools for Conviviality", "Energy and Equity" and Deschooling Society" Our curiosity to understand the essential nature of quality was fired by Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of "Motorcycle Maintenance".
Rachel Carson alerted us to the damage we were inflicting on ourselves and the environment in "Silent Spring". Resurgence magazine has continued to enlighten and nourish us. We are part of an unofficial global movement to do things better!
Our style is unique and beautiful. we are not interested in following 'trends' and as a result our products do not have a 'sell by' date, they are never sold off or dumped at the end of a season, some of our prints have been favourites for years and we are often contacted by customers wishing to replace an item they have had for 10 years or more - this is how we like it. With the world producing so much
'stuff' we are proud to make small quantities of timeless, high quality products that last and are loved. All manufacturing processes have some environmental consequences. Our aim is to try and manage our activity and keep our footprint as small as we reasonably can.
We use only natural fibres (apart from sewing sundries, buttons, thead, zips etc, you won't find polyester, viscose or petroleum derived materials in our products. Nor do we use down or feathers, fur, leather, angora or mohair) and are working to develop our Organic cotton collections - we would love all our products to be organic but availability of genuine certifiable organic yarn and fabric suitable for our production requirements has been a challenge.
Where suitable and when circumstances permit we use Natural Dyes for some products. We support leading, environmentally progressive companies such as Anokhi and Rajka. Shipments from India are almost always sent by sea, not air, and we try to consolidate as many orders as possible reducing the number of voyages made each year - usually to just 1 or 2.
We have always been keen re-cyclers! Our products have to be protected in individual plastic bags, however we keep and re-use ALL of these bags ...and we keep re-using them until they can be used no more! On-line orders are usually sent out using these bags and an outter re-cycled paper packaging or box. Please re-use again or recycle this packaging. We avoid using any bubble wrap, however on occasion some items need extra protection, so we save any bubble wrap other companies have used in their packaging to us and we re-use it on the occasions when it is required - please feel free to re-use it again when you require! All of the paper for our store carrier bags is either recycled or sustainably sourced. 100% of the energy powering our head office and UK stores will come from renewable sources. We recycle and re-use ALL of our non security sensitive office paper.
People We Work With
A large proportion of our suppliers are known personally to us; they are generally either small, family businesses or cottage industry based or well established, globally respected, organisations.
We believe that our principal suppliers of textiles from India are representative of the very best of contemporary practice, combining sound commercial judgement with an uncompromising belief in fair and sustainable economic partnerships, and a continuing programme of development of more environmentally "kinder" projects. We are constantly seeking to improve the methods and circumstances under which our goods are produced.
Decent working conditions and quality of product always takes priority over price - if an item is hand made by skilled people they should be paid a fair price for their work.
Our main garment collection and a large proportion of our hand wood block printed interiors are labelled as accacia rather than
Chandni Chowk. The accacia collection is a co-operation between Chandni Chowk (Devon based) and Anokhi (India based) design and production teams. We created the accacia label in 2000 as a means of expressing this exciting joint venture to our customers.
accacia prints are made under fair trade conditions in India using the ancient method of Wooden Block Printing by hand.
Anokhi was established in the late 1960's, with an aim to combine traditional Indian textile techniques (primarily hand block printing) and design with Western ideas to produce ranges of ethical garments and home fabrics. The company is now based on the outskirts of Jaipur, on a 60 acre farm which they have transformed from a piece of bare land into a lush green landscape using
innovative water harvesting and conservation, re-forestation, permaculture techniques and organic farming. It has a design studio and state of the art works unit as a central base for tailoring, stitching, washing, checking and packing. The Block Printing is de-centralised, with independent printers in charge of their own units dotted in and around Jaipur and further afield in Rajasthan. In all, Anokhi provides a livelihood for more than a thousand people, with quality of product, design and working conditions being its highest priorities. To quote the Anokhi website 'ethical conduct and social responsibility characterise our way of doing business. We strive to be honest, transparent and trustworthy'.
You can find more information about Anokhi on their website.
Wood Block Printing
Block Printing is very much part of India’s rich textile history where it continues to be used for textile production despite competition from mechanised printing techniques. Giving regular work to the skilled Block Printers and Block Makers ensures that their ancient trades continue, and provides work for many people compared to the less labour intensive mass production methods. Many layers of work from direct printing, resist printing, discharging, metallic khari printing, dyeing and washing can be required for a piece of fabric to be completed. On average a printer would need to make about 300 impressions to produce one meter of cloth with five colours in the design. The end result however is a beautiful and unique piece of fabric, carrying a little of the printer’s skill, creativity and culture.
& Mineral Dyes
Many of Chandni Chowk’s fabrics are either printed and/or dyed using Natural Dyes. Natural Dyes are affected by many factors including air temperature and humidity, and the resulting fabrics vary from one batch of dyeing or printing to the next, every piece is unique.
Yellow from Turmeric and Pomegranate
Yellow dye can be made by boiling the shells of the pomegranate for 48 hours, the liquid is strained and mixed with ground Turmeric in a copper pot. Turmeric provides a strong dye either with or without the Pomegranate, it is often used in conjunction with other dyes such as Indigo to produce a green, or with Madder root to achieve a rust/orange.
Green from Turmeric, Pomegranate and Indigo
Turmeric and Pomegranate are used to create yellow dyes which are often used over the top of an Indigo dyed or printed fabric resulting in an overall green effect. The yellow dyes are light sensitive and over time your green fabric will become more and more blue (indigo is far more stable) with successive washing and wearing, as the indigo remains but the yellow dyes begin to loose their strength
Black from Iron, Sugar and Alum
Rusted Iron (often from old horse shoes) is soaked in a mix of sugar solution (sugar from molasses) and a flour made from Tamarind seed. This is left to ferment in the sun for a week to 15 days. The resulting paste produces a rich black, quite different from that made from chemical dyes.
Blue from Indigo.
Our Indigo collections demonstrate the rich blue achieved from Indigo. Nowadays almost all of our production uses a nature identical indigo. The original indigo plant has been analysed using methods such as mass spectrometry and this analysis permits the constituent parts to be reconstructed by the dye maker so that the product behaves in virtually the same way as the plant based version. Every stage of the dyeing process is the same and the resulting product is all but indistinguishable from cloth dyed using plant derived indigo. The whole subject of dye sourcing and use is of great concern to responsible producers and our partners in India are constantly striving to maintain best practice in this important area.
ABOUT Hand Weaving
A number of Chandni Chowk’s fair trade fabrics are Hand Woven. This skilled technique for producing cloth date back for generations, and in many respects the methods remain largely unchanged. The resulting fabric has natural variations which creates a characteristic textured fabric, different in feel to fabric which has been machine woven. Many of our weavers work either in small local groups or in their own homes. They are often also farmers using weaving as a supplement to their main income. Chandni Chowk uses only natural fibres, largely cotton. To watch our short film of hand spinning & weaving please follow this link;
Crewel Work & Hand Embroidery
The Chandni Chowk collection includes Hand Embroidery detailing such as Applique work, Mirror work, Crewel Work and Barmer Embroidery. These skilled embroidery techniques date back for generations. Many of our embroiderers work either in small local groups or in their own homes giving them the freedom to manage their own time and working conditions.
The Chandni Chowk Crewel work collection is hand made to a very high standard in Kashmir. Crewel stitch work is 100% Wool stitched onto a 100% Cotton base fabric using a variety of different embroidery stitches including Chain Stitch and Crewel Embroidery Stitches. The embroidery is done using a crochet hook called a 'Aari' and the stitch work follows a design outline applied to the fabric. It requires the use of an embroidery hoop or frame on which the material is stretched taut and secured prior to stitching ensuring an even amount of tension in the stitches, so that designs do not become distorted. The technique is at least a thousand years old and is the style used for the Bayeux Tapestry and many Jacobean embroidery works. Hand embroidery work, including Crewel Work is one of the most celebrated traditional artisan skills in the Kashmir region.
Below are a few examples of hand embroidery techniques and people we work with.
You will see from all our 'about' information that every product we sell has an incredible life before it ever reaches the UK. Every element of each product has a story, from the growing of the cotton to the weaving, printing, dying, tailoring and packing. We know you will appreciate that the Chandni Chowk collection is quite unique in the UK market place for the care and skill that goes into every item and the small sustainable scale on which we base our business.
We know how much you will love and care for our products, and that when finally you do not need or want it any more you will take care to pass it on to be loved and used by someone else or in some other way.