Last month, Passion Passport and Grana teamed up to show the world Grana’s journey, fabrics, inspiration, and craft. Grana is a Hong Kong based online clothing company with a simple dream: to provide the best quality clothing at the best possible price. Because of this reason, they search for the best fabrics in the world from sources in Peru, Ireland, Mongolia, Japan and China and then deal directly with the mills, design their collections in house and then ship directly to their customers around the world.    
Together, we asked four Passion Passport community members to join us as we traveled to the source of five different Grana fabrics. They documented what they saw and experienced these unique, origin stories for themselves. We were led around the world from linen mills in Ireland to goat farms in Mongolia where we got to learn more about the individuals who create the fabrics from scratch. See their photo stories on the Grana blog. Now back home, these four travelers share their experiences with us.

Huzhou, China ©Abdela Igmirien

Chinese Silk: Huzhou, China
Mongolian Cashmere: Chifeng, Inner Mongolia
PP Community Member: Abdela Igmirien (@igmirien)

You got to visit both China and Mongolia for this trip, what were some highlights from your trips?
My main highlights were the friendly guides I had during the two trips, the learning experience about how silk and cashmere is made, and the locals I met during this journey. I traveled a lot in China before and I was always on my own, but this time I had the chance to have a guide in Huzhou, also known as the city of silk in China. He showed me around and got me to enjoy the best local foods, like some special kinds of dumplings and bamboo based meals. I liked the sights of Nanxun ancient village, commonly called — the water village. In Mongolia, I enjoyed meeting the locals and having a meal with them, I even had the chance to try their clothes on and play with baby goats.

Chifeng, Inner Mongolia ©Abdela Igmirien

What was your experience like watching how both silk and cashmere is made?  
Basically both my visits to China and Mongolia mills were interesting and and full of new elements. I knew little about the production process of silk and cashmere, other than the obvious parts. So for me it was a great experience. I was also surprised by the amount of yarn produced every day at the Chinese mill, it was an extraordinary amount! I have to say though my two favorite parts of the whole process was watching yarn and strand making for silk, and the dehairing process of cashmere which is done to select the finest hairs that produce the softest pieces of clothing.

Japanese Denim: Kojima, Okayma + Fukuyuma, Hiroshima, ©Edward Barnieh
Japanese Denim: Kojima, Okayma + Fukuyuma, Hiroshima, ©Edward Barnieh

Japanese Denim: Kojima, Okayama + Fukuyuma, Hiroshima
PP Community Member: Edward Barnieh (@edwardkb)

You’ve been to Japan a few times before, how was this trip different than previous ones?
For me, visiting the beautiful Japanese countryside was an amazing experience. It really is another way of life out there compared to the bustling Japanese cities that I’m used to visiting. Although this wasn’t my first time in Japan, it was my first time visiting this region and I was struck by how many plots of farmland and mountains there are surrounding the mills. The air was clean, the people were friendly and it was an experience I won’t forget. I also got to eat some amazing ramen, I liked it so much that I went back twice! I also visited Fukuyama Castle and the Kusado Inari shrine, both of which were beautiful. Because I don’t speak Japanese and not a lot of people spoke English in the region, this trip was a calmer than other shoots, with much more time to think about how to approach it without outside influence. Finally, it was great to ride the Shinkansen through Japan. I’m a huge travel geek and bullet trains are one of my favourite things.

The mill you visited specifically produces denim, what was something interesting you learned during your visit?
I had no idea oil was used in the process to strengthen the fabric. I was given denim to try that had no oil, and it felt so different to the jeans that we know and love. What also surprised me was how much is still done by hand, or checked by humans. Machines haven’t taken over everything yet! The employees at the mill were so dedicated to their jobs, but always finding time to smile and say hello! It’s crazy to think that the jeans I wore years ago as a kid were made with these same machines.

Peruvian Pima: Lima, Peru, ©Patrick Kolts
Lima, Peru ©Patrick Kolts

Peruvian Pima: Lima, Peru
PP Community Member: Patrick Kolts (@patrickkolts)

This was your first time to Peru, what was your experience like?
The experience was fast! It was incredible that we never got into a car accident – the drivers are loco here but it works. Fiesta Chiclayo Gourmet was spectacular! I had several different ceviches that blew my mind. Samantha, who works at the mill, was such a great tour guide and the whole crew was so accommodating to the campaign. The people were so friendly and extremely helpful, even if they didn’t speak english. I even met up with a local Instagrammer named Joaquin Ormeño who had some great tips and advice when exploring Lima and beyond. There are so many monumental landscapes through the entire country and I only saw a small portion.

Was this your first time visiting a fabric mill?
Yes! I have never seen fabric being made before. It’s amazing how the machines spin so many different spools of yarn at one time! It’s pretty mesmerizing. All the machines looked like they belonged in the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. The pre-wash and dying machine was really interesting to watch. Pre-washing is not done by most garment makers, so it was neat to see this extra process. My favorite part about the whole visit was seeing the attention to detail and craftsmanship through the entire process made me even more impressed with Grana as a brand. They measure not once, not twice, but five different times, ensuring that the garment is the right fit and cut.

Irish Linen: Ballymena, Ireland, ©Adrienne Pitts
Downings, Ireland + Kells, Northern Ireland ©Adrienne Pitts

Irish Linen: Downings,  Ireland + Kells, Northern Ireland
PP Community Member: Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

You were only in Ireland for 24 hours, what were some of your most memorable moments?
The wind, the glowering skies, and the general moodiness of the Atlantic Coast in Downings. Standing on hilltops with the wind whipping around you, fighting for your footing on the seawall, and watching the rain make landfall and over the distant hills were all things which I won’t forget in a hurry… Ireland has a reputation for romantic moodiness, and this town delivered it in spades. I also loved the drive back to Belfast from Downings. The road we drove in on the day before was closed, so instead we wound our way up and over the mountains. It was wonderful to see three distinct sides of Ireland in just 24 hours – and any misty rainy drive through a mountain pass always makes me happy. Despite my brief time there, the meals we had in Downings were wonderful. Since it’s such a remote area, the locals have really learned to create incredible dishes from locally sourced meat, fish, and other produce. They are very self-sufficient there, and it shows. The locally-fished turbot was delicious, and the traditional Irish breakfast in the morning had that stick-to-your-ribs effect, which fuelled us throughout the day!

What part of the process stood out to you the most when seeing how Irish linen is made?
Witnessing the immense amount of work which goes into the creation of traditional Irish linen really stood out to me. I always knew it was an involved process, but I did not realize just how many stages (in how many places) the flax goes through in order for it to become soft fabric we throw on our bodies. There’s such meticulous care taken in every stage – and seeing the pride that everyone at the mill took in the finished product was fantastic. I really loved the “dig in” mentality of everyone at the two mills we visited – there’s no hierarchy there. If a truck needs loading, and you’re there, you help. That really appeals to my mindset – everyone just pitches in to get the job done.

Also, I had no idea that prior to weaving, the threads are all individually laid out in color order, one next to the other. I guess to some this makes perfect sense, but I really hadn’t given much thought to the precision involved in weaving a pattern into a fabric. To see thousands of individual colored threads laid out next to each other was really intriguing. I also really loved watching rolls of fabric being dried – it’s incredibly hypnotising to see, as a high bar gently waves the linen back and forth. The fabric billows out rhythmically and hypnotically, then naturally falls down into deep folds. I could’ve stayed there watching that for ages.