Arriving in Delhi in the early hours of Wednesday morning, we bunch of weary travellers were greeted by the stifling heat and a missing bag! Cue lots of arm waving and pigeon English as we tried to locate said bag – it had exploded out of its zip in transit and been transformed in a disguise of Emirates plastic wrapping. Bag located, we made our way out to the waiting cars to be transported to………….paradise! Never, in all my years of buying trips, have I stayed in a hotel quite like this one – the Oberoi in Gurgaon was a truly memorable experience.
We were greeted on arrival by a team of hosts, all decked out in stunning sari’s, and each of us escorted personally across an open courtyard overlooking a giant water feature and the glass cube containing the Gucci store. There followed an endless walk, along a seemingly endless corridor, to my room, which was right at the end, at which point the key card failed to work! “Don’t worry” says my host, “I’ll fetch help”! I could see her running down the corridor, sari swishing in the silence, for at least 5 minutes before she finally disappeared. The next thing I know, someone is shaking me gently by the shoulder, “mam, mam, hello mam” – it would seem that I have sat down in the corridor and fallen asleep amongst my luggage – in a 7 star hotel! Well, it was 4.30am and I had been up for over 24hrs!
Having crawled into bed to catch up on a few hours sleep, we were up in time for brunch followed by a trip to the fabric market. Amazingly the traffic is relatively free flowing, although people, cows, pigs, tuk tuks and the occasional motorbike transporting an entire family, mill about between the cars. It is impossible not to be disturbed by some of the craziness here – we pass by one such motorbike, the male driver wearing a hard hat (the type you might see on a building site), his wife and two children precariously balanced and wearing no protective headgear at all. It makes me shudder!
On reaching the fabric market with one of our suppliers, we all spill out of the cars, into the dust, chaos and 43 degree heat – I can actually feel the sun searing the skin on my arms as I stand at the side of the road. We make a quick dash for the first, air conditioned, fabric store and begin our trawl through rolls and rolls of prints, stripes, checks, broderie anglaise, lace, cambric, dobby and voile in search of the ideal sample lengths which will form the basis of our product development over the next few days. The six of us are like a finely tuned team of vultures picking over a carcass – pulling out roll after roll. Having built up a pile of fabrics, we go on to edit our selection, before moving on to the next store and repeating the process, six or seven times, before piling back into the car and on to the
accessories and trimmings shop – an Aladdins’ cave of beads, buttons, decorative cords and tapes, corsages, bows, frills, ruffles, lace trims, brocades, and all manner of other crochet flowers, butterflies, gemstones and accessories. This time, we are more like hyperactive children in a sweet shop, and we leave with numerous bags full of goodies!
I knew it couldn’t last – it takes us 2 hours to drive back through the now chaotic early evening rush hour traffic to the calm and tranquillity of the hotel. We are now into the swing of the “curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner diet” and head into the impossibly glamorous piano bar for a very civilised drink before a late dinner, and bed at around midnight. Despite the jet lag, and the late night, I cannot resist the lure of the amazing hotel pool (all 55m of it!) and am up in time for a solitary 7am swim. I must look even more worse for wear than I thought, because the pool attendant insists on walking alongside me as I swim up and down, chatting to me about my technique and stamina!?!?!? Is he worried I might drown? Odd, as it is only 4ft 6in deep! 550m later, he gives up and I get out, heading off to meet my colleagues for breakfast.
We are then off to the outskirts of Gurgaon to visit a supplier making both knitwear and wovens for us across a number of departments. We spend the day discussing their performance, critical path and product developments, putting a number of new ideas into work – the designers are busy sketching/CAD drawing garments for sampling, whilst the buyers start briefing styles and going through any samples already produced, and negotiating prices. After a long and busy day we head back to the hotel for a quick turnaround, before heading into Delhi with a supplier for dinner at one of my favourite restaurants, Bhukara, a traditional, and very famous, tandoori restaurant, reputedly frequented by both Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin! There are no world leaders or celebrities in tonight, however, and we take the opportunity to tuck into the giant naan, one or two of the team venturing into the kitchen to try their hand at making it! Some of the team also try the betel leaf desert, a strange and acquired (or not!) taste.
The following morning, another swim and we’re off to visit one of our key suppliers here – a smaller factory that we deal with direct, who are particularly adept at interpreting our own designs and coping with our relatively small quantities. We spend most of the day here, working with fabrics we selected at the market, before I head off across the city to join one of our other buying teams at a potential new source for us. It is an exciting meeting, and it appears that they have the capability to offer us new and exciting product, with a different slant on the seasons trends and great variety in styling.
After an eventful journey, during which we almost ended up in the wrong Oberoi, on the other side of Delhi, we had 20 minutes to dump sample bags and change, before heading to the outskirts of the city, and the home of a supplier. It takes us an age to get there, as we get stuck in a monster traffic jam outside a huge wedding – we almost lose one wayward member of our team who wants to go in and investigate. I persuade her to stay in the car – I am not entirely sure of the protocol surrounding gatecrashing a very elaborate Indian wedding! Having finally arrived, we always appreciate the generosity of our hosts in laying on a beautiful evening, and wonderful food, in a setting that is idyllic; it is an evening when we can really let our hair down and relax on an otherwise frantic trip. The food is exquisite, although possibly not quite as delicious for one or two of our party, for whom “Delhi belly” has now set in! I think that practice on so many of these visits has given me something of an iron constitution (famous last words?), with my main rule being to stick to the local food whenever possible. Western food in India, outside of the best hotels, is fairly dangerous territory, and anything raw is an absolute no no. We despatch the poorly ones back to the hotel early, and the rest of us crawl in at 1.30am. Needless to say, I fail to get up for my morning swim!
Saturday morning and we are, however, up at 7.30am, packing up all our baggage to check out before heading off on a factory visit. I learned a great deal on this visit, about the transient nature of the factory workforce in and around Delhi. The factory was very quiet, so the general manager explained that most of the workers are hired on a contract basis, through an agency, and are only therefore employed when there is enough work. Production of lightweight wovens such as blouses and dresses is prevalent here, but has peaks and troughs based around seasonality. The factory use the same agency all the time, so some of their workers are regulars, but it does go some way to explaining why consistency of production and quality is more difficult to maintain here than in many other sourcing regions.
Back to the office for one final meeting, before dinner at the hotel and a middle of the night flight on to Hong Kong. We endure a chaotic airport experience; first they will not let one of the team into the terminal because she does not have the e-ticket printout, security is a nightmare, bags, bodies and boarding passes being checked over and over and we just make it through as they send out a final call for our flight. Ordinarily, I quite like a night flight; it is an opportunity to catch up on some rest, but we are only in the air for four and a half hours, by which time it is 9am at our destination, and we appear to have misplaced another whole nights’ sleep!
Arriving at our hotel, we check in and try to snatch a few hours in bed, before a quick lunch and then hit the shops for a little clothing research and one or two items of gift shopping to keep the family happy. We are joined for dinner by a couple more colleagues who have arrived straight from the UK, before a very welcome early night!
There follow four days of dashing around Hong Kong from one supplier meeting to the next as I try to carry out supplier appraisals, get involved in new product development with each team, meet one or two new potential suppliers, and sort out a number of quality/delivery issues with one particularly difficult source. This is interspersed with a number of very late nights, dinner with a variety of suppliers, and one particularly enjoyable evening with a former colleague who now lives in the city.
Having tied up the last few loose ends and had time for a very quick dinner on Thursday evening, we congregate in the lobby with our vast quantity of luggage, only to find that Emirates have sent a fleet of 10 limo’s to pick us up!!!! One for each of us, and they are queued up outside the doors, causing traffic chaos!! A little excessive, I think, explaining that this is not necessary, sending 5 cars away and opting to travel to the airport in pairs! As is always the case, I am asleep almost immediately I am sat in my aeroplane seat for the long journey home.