Around 70% of the worlds hand stitched sports balls are made in just one city in Pakistan – Sialkot. All of the big global brands manufacture there, even the Brasil 2014 World Cup official ball was made there. The city has been making balls for decades – so that’s where we decided Bala Sport balls should be made. Our main reason of course was that Sialkot is the only place in the world with Fairtrade certified sports balls factories.
At Bala we’re very keen to make sure we provide high quality balls – and we strive to be at the forefront in new developments in technology to ensure high performance and stay ahead of the game as well alongside the traditional methods of ball production. We needed to check out this sports balls mecca ourselves – no middlemen just us going straight to the factories and stitching centres to find the best facilities and research and development.
We didn’t want to muck about – it was straight from the red-eye flight and out into the 38 degree heat, a quick shower and then into the first of our 5 factory visits in 4 days. We soon realised that the dark suits a google search into business etiquette recommended were not necessary – being the sports ball industry casual is fine – so off with the ties and jackets.
Hand stitching at Ali-Trading
Not a fruit juice factory – these are latex ball bladders
We visited factories with output ranging from 150,000 to more than 2 million balls a year. We were excited to get an insight into new technology and some inspiration in the design arena. Our current 3 Bala balls are all traditional 30 panel construction, but seeing a range of possibilities it looks like we might try something fresher in our next range – it might be a 12 panel or even a six panel ball – and it might involve new printing techniques. Craig and Vincent, from our design partners, Reflex Blue were taking a sneaky look at the colours used by other brands – and we seem to be bang on trend with our current vibrant pink and yellow. They’re now letting their creative juices flow and planning something new for our next order of Balla Balls in time for Christmas.
Designers getting creative
We didn’t go all the way to Pakistan just to talk to boffins and CEOs we went there to talk to the men and women who put our balls together on the factory floor and out in the stitching centres. We met a gentleman who’s worked at one of the Fairtrade factories, Tramondi, for 30 years and I guess is a bit of a poster boy for Fairtrade. He told us how in the years Tramondi have been Fairtrade certified he and his family and the other workers have benefited from the likes of healthcare, school books for the kids, clean water supplies and discounted essential groceries – as well as union membership.
The 10% Fairtrade Premium has been spent wisely by all the factories’ joint bodies. The Premium is paid to the “joint body” who democratically decides what social development programmes to spend this extra cash fund on. Some factories have invested in new water treatment facilities that allow workers to fill containers to take home on the factory provided transport so their families can enjoy safe drinking water. One high tech facility we saw was paid in part by the Fairtrade Premium – and partly by the factory owner, Vision – and the really good thing is that it’s not just for the workers – anyone can stop by and fill up a container – very good to see. Smaller projects cost a tiny fraction of the water plant but are just as significant – things like the schemes to educate about the health hazards from smoking and testing for diabetes as well as fair price shops where basic commodities are offered at a discount price.
Water treatment plant, Vision
Fair price shop, Vision
Rivers of rain in Sialkot
As we left Sialkot with a tumultuous start to its monsoon season for the airport driving through rivers of water it was time to reflect. All in all it was an eye opening experience but with seeing for ourselves that workers do 8 hour days in safe surroundings, and seeing first hand the benefits from the Fairtrade Premium projects – even though their work is hard the Fairtrade difference was very much in evidence. We’re excited to do business in Sialkot and bring you more awesome Fairtrade Bala Balls soon.
Joint MD, Bala Sport