New routine, research reflections

6 days a week, I wake up at 8:30. For breakfast: muesli, pomegranate/mango/banana, walnuts, curd. I am the third one to stir in the house, after a pair of kittens. (They love to try to jump up on the table to steal curd when they think I’m not looking, but I’ve caught onto their game!) I am out of the house by 9:45, when I don a medical mask to cope with the pollution (see NYT, “Holding Your Breath in India”) and open an umbrella to avoid sunburn. I hit the metro, arriving to work by 10:15. I punch in by fingerprint.

At the garment factory, my time is split among three divisions that correspond to production. I am spending the first two weeks in in product development. The next two will be in merchandising, where the process turns to after a bulk order has been placed. This will be the first month. The second month I will spend in bulk production. I think I would probably prefer to stay in product development, as I’m enjoying my time among a friendly team and a wonderful director, but as an intern I’m not going to push back against a schedule that an owner has established for me! And I can’t deny that it will be important to deeply understand how the entire process works, even though my principle interest is in pre-production.

Each day I sit with two divisions: In the morning I go to the fabric department, for example, and receive lessons about more types of fabric than I ever knew existed. Everyone in product development interacts with the fabric department – designers, merchandisers, and pattern cutters all speak the same language of weave and texture. My strategy is to learn the technical basics while asking the questions I’m actually interested in: “How do you coordinate with other departments? Where do you source the fabric? How much of the fabric is produced by the factory and how much purchased from other suppliers?” In the afternoon I am run through another department and learn another part of the process. The amount of inter-division coordination is impeccably complex.

The day ends around 5:30, when I again take up mask and umbrella and trek back to the metro. I inevitably arrive home exhausted, but perk up with a mango/coconut/watermelon refresher. Shower, maybe an hour or two for notes, dinner at 9, bed. Repeat. Including Saturdays.

It is a very intense schedule. I am beginning to wonder if I will be able to keep up with it through the entire two months… at the same time, the entire design team comes to work earlier and leaves later than I do every day, 6 days a week. The director of my current division works 9 hours/day in the off-season, 11 at peak times – again, 6 days a week, averaging out to 60-hour weeks. I am currently feeling very grateful that I am allowed to arrive 45 minutes to work in the mornings.

Despite the schedule, I am trying to figure out ways to come back to India for dissertation research. One site will not be enough to make any generalizations about the pre-production process, nor will one month. There are 5 or 6 other Delhi manufacturers, though, as well as at least one site in Bengaluru. In the end I am hoping for three months in three different places.

Pre-dissertation research is important. As the owner here told me in my first meeting with him, “You know nothing about fabrics, you know nothing about production…” This is true. I also knew nothing about the organizational structure of the manufacturer, which indeed I am still learning. Without understanding how the parts link to one another, it would be far more difficult to write a decent dissertation proposal. It would be tremendously more difficult to write the needed grant proposals that I am working on in my (little) spare time. It would be very hard to figure out even the first step of where I want to concentrate my time and attention, and even to know what can possibly be arranged in the first place.

I am very grateful to CASI for their help in getting this project off the ground. It will be a fairly massive project (as a dissertation should be?), but even little steps can be hard – like getting a follow-up response to an e-mail from a manager. Still working on this one…

Probably time for another mango.

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About Alex

I am a PhD student in sociology doing research on negotiations at garment factories in in India. My work is supported by a summer travel research grant from CASI, for which I am grateful.