Why I Always Travel With
A Smoke Alarm
It’s been ingrained in me since early childhood that if you fall off a horse, you get back on. And as my parents would always remind me, you don’t just get back up when you’ve had a nice, gentle fall. You get up every single time, even if that horse threw you pretty damn far. I had to keep reminding myself of this over and over as I faced my anxiety around returning to India this week.
One of the key values of Little Yellow Bird is transparency. This is something we are committed to and has been ingrained in all that we do from the very beginning. And for us, that commitment to transparency means that we must have complete visibility of our supply chain, necessitating regular production site visits. And the person who must visit is me.
But the thing is, I wasn’t ready to go back to India. I knew I would eventually have to, though, and the time had finally come. My concern over returning to India stemmed from an incident on my last trip there, in June. On my final night, as I slept exhausted at the end of a very productive and hectic month, the Giza (hot water cylinder) in my bathroom caught fire.
It was the height of summer in Delhi; each day we had been hitting 46 degrees celsius. On the previous day it rained, which had cooled the temperature both outside and inside. And, consequently, it was the first night I did not turn on my noisey overhead ceiling fan before falling asleep.
As the flames crept up the walls, I remember being in that fuzzy world of half-awake sleep, my mind convincing me that I was simply dreaming about a fire. A single crack of an electrical spark, which would have been too faint to hear if my fan had been on, snapped me out of my dream-like state. I awoke at 4am to a room engulfed in flames and filling with smoke. I bolted out of my bed, knowing how rapidly fire can spread, and realising that my lodging was most certainly without any fire alarms, my attention quickly diverted to waking up the other 10 people staying in the house.
Anyone that has travelled through India will understand that most rooms are locked from the inside, so waking people in an emergency situation is not as easy as simply opening their door. To be perfectly honest, the few minutes that it took to alert the other houseguests (across three stories) were some of the most terrifying minutes of my life. As I rushed back down to my level, I was met with a wall of smoke and several rooms still shut with their inhabitants still inside.
I’m happy to report that in the end everyone did make it out of the house. And, apart from the loss of my room (pic above), smoke damage to the upper floors, and some very sore lungs, the fire brigade was able to contain most of the damage from the rest of the house.
Realistically it was a matter of minutes between waking up then and never waking up again. The simple thought that it might not have rained, and so I might have switched on my noisy ceiling fan, is not even worth thinking about.
Starting a business is truly challenging and, if I’m completely honest, the beginning of 2016 nearly broke us. Adversity is inevitable in any new company but there have been multiple times, especially at the beginning of this year, when I almost lost faith and wasn’t sure if we could keep pushing forward.
It’s cliche, but this experience reminded me that life is both acutely short and mercifully fragile. I’ve chosen to believe that someone was looking out for me that night, that this journey is just beginning and that I woke up because I still have a job that needs to be done.
As 2017 marched on, we’ve been flooded with many more opportunities than I ever imagined were possible and I’m so full of gratitude. Little Yellow Bird is growing rapidly with 50% of our income coming from overseas, we were accepted into the Inaugural cohort for the Edmund Hillary Fellowship and I was most recently honoured to receive New Zealand’s Young Innovator Award for 2017.
Coming back to India has been playing on my mind for the last five months, but I’m so glad I didn’t put it off any longer. Facing this fear has given me even more fortitude to continue pursuing our mission of ensuring that all garments are manufactured in fair and safe conditions.
This experience since the fire has also translated into other areas of my life and for that I am truly grateful. I’ve had more honest conversations with people I care about, I’m less concerned with how others view me and I appreciate each and every moment (even the bad ones).
Life is short. But, I plan to create many more memories and hopefully make lasting impact in an industry that very much needs to be shaken up. And if you’ll allow me, I’d love to impart this last piece of wisdom to you; please carry your own smoke alarm when travelling. I don’t leave home without mine now.
Ethical fashion advocate and CEO at Little Yellow Bird.