Fashion, Factories and Water: Sustainability at Source (SIWI Sofa)

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Too few fashion brands actively work to address water risks in their supply chain. Dedicated to enabling a world with clean water and sustainable textile and leather industries, the Swedish Textile Water Initiative (STWI) has a solution. Lindex, KappAhl and SIWI present their journey.

**This story first appeared on the SIWI Media Hub here.

Patagonia Out to Change the ‘Filthy Business’ of Denim

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by Sustainable Brands

Knowing how conventional cotton is grown and denim is made, always-a-better-way outdoor apparel brand Patagonia has set out to change the industry. The company has partnered with chemical company Archroma on a new denim collection, launched this week — which is Fair Trade certified and said to use 84 percent less water, 30 percent less energy and 25 percent less CO2 compared to conventional denim dyeing processes — as well as a campaign telling us all about it.

Patagonia says the “filthy business” of producing conventional denim drove it to rethink the entire process. Typically, denim production involves the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides to grow conventional cotton; dying it produces millions of gallons of wastewater; and jeans are often sewn in factories where workers may not be treated fairly.

Patagonia’s new dyeing and manufacturing process uses dyes that bond more easily to cotton, minimizing the resource-intensive and environmentally destructive indigo dyeing, rinsing and garment-washing process used to create traditional denim. This results in much shorter production lines that consume significantly less water and energy and emits 25 percent less CO2 than conventional synthetic indigo denim dyeing. Because Patagonia doesn’t sandblast, bleach or stonewash its denim to make it look worn, it also avoids the serious social and environmental downsides of doing so. And all Patagonia denim is made with organic cotton, which eliminates chemical and synthetic fertilizers, poisonous pesticides or herbicides. Patagonia® Denim uses an innovative dye process that bonds color more readily to denim fabric.

“Traditional denim is a filthy business. That drove us to change the way our jeans are made,” said Helena Barbour, Patagonia’s Business Unit Director of Sportswear. “We wanted to find an alternative solution to using the standard indigo dyeing methods we once employed to create denim. It took several years of research, innovation, trial and error, but the result is a new path for denim. We’re hopeful other manufacturers will follow suit and help us change the denim industry.”

The Fair Trade program’s market-based approach helps workers receive fair compensation for their labor, while creating better working conditions and safeguarding against the use of child labor. In addition to the six denim styles, Patagonia has grown its Fair Trade clothing styles from 33 in spring 2015 to 192 in fall 2015.

**This story first appeared on Sustainable Brands here.

How you can help save precious water?

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By Emma Reinhold


Emma Reinhold, Trade Relations Manager at Soil Association, looks at how sourcing organic cotton better manages water and can help to avoid disasters like the shrinking Aral Sea basin.

In some parts of the world cotton production is putting unsustainable pressure on our precious and vital water resources. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where recent satellite images from NASA show a large section of the Aral Sea has, alarmingly, dried up for the first time in modern history.

The eastern basin of the Central Asian inland sea – once the 4th largest in the world – was left completely dry in August, with water levels believed to be less than 10% of what they were half a century ago.

Even more worryingly, looking at the same area just 15 years ago, in 2000, satellite imagery showed an expansive area of water in the same region. All that is left now is a graveyard of abandoned fishing trawlers, relics of a once-thriving fishing economy, and large expanses of highly salted sand, which is carried as far away as Japan and Scandinavia by winds, and is claimed to have caused numerous health problems among local populations.

So what’s happened?

Two words: cotton production.

Back in the 1950s, the region’s two major rivers were diverted to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, leaving the Aral Sea lacking vital water supplies.

Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops we farm, using 11,000 litres of water on average for each kilogram of cotton produced.1 Most cotton is irrigated, draining groundwater, lakes and rivers, threatening ecosystems, wildlife and water availability for other humans needs, as in the case of the Aral.2 Of all the water used in cotton production, up to a fifth could be used to try and dilute pollution. [3]

Intensive use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers in non-organic cotton production means that they can drain into water systems. Pesticides used in cotton have frequently been found in rivers, lakes and streams of cotton producing countries across the world.4 These chemicals pollute rivers and precious groundwater stores, upsetting fragile ecosystems and posing a toxic risk to wildlife and people.5

Organic cotton, quite simply, saves water. Up to 80% of organic production is rain fed rather than irrigated, so organic cotton preserves important groundwater stores.6 The water pollution impact of organic has been shown to be 98% less than non-organic cotton production.8

What’s more, organic practices require that cotton farmers keep their soils healthy – healthy soils are better at holding on to and soaking up water that comes from rain or irrigation, so organic soils make better use of water inputs and are more resilient in drought conditions.7 By eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, organic cotton keeps waterways and drinking water safe and clean.

By choosing organic cotton you can help prevent another environmental disaster like the Aral Sea from happening again. It’s something that the 60 million people that live around the Aral Sea basin and depend on it for water supplies will thank you for.


1) Chapagan, A, K., Hoekstra, A, Y., Savenije, H, H, G and Gautam, R. (2005) The water footprint of cotton consumption. Value of Water, Research Report Series No.18

2) Soth, J (1999) The impact of cotton on freshwater resources and ecosystems: A preliminary synthesis. C. Grasser and R. Salemo, eds. World Wildlife Fund.

3) Chapagan et al (2005) The water footprint of cotton consumption.

4) EJF (2007) The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton.

5) Soth, J (1999) The impact of cotton of freshwater resources and ecosystems.

6) Textile Exchange. Water Footprinting. [Accessed on 7 July 2012]

7) Niggli, U., Slabe, A., Schmid, O., Halberg, N., and Schlüter, M. (2008) Vision for and Organic Food and Farming Research Agenda to 2025: Organic Knowledge for the future. Platform Organics.

8) Torres, E, Z., Zeng, Z., Hoekstra, A, Y. (2011) Grey water footprint as an indicator of levels of water pollution in the production of organic vs conventional cotton in India. A study in collaboration with C&A, Water Footprint Network and Cotton Connect. Unpublished.

**This post first appeared on SOURCE INTELLIGENCE here.

Unique initiative for clean textile and leather production expands

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Sweden Textile Water Initiative, one of Sweden’s largest public-private partnerships, will expand to new countries in Asia and Africa after a successful pilot project in India.

Through the initiative, 28 Swedish textile and leather companies have cooperated with Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) to catalyse a shift towards sustainable production globally.

To achieve this, the initiative has educated suppliers and sub-contractors to help minimize the use of water, energy and chemicals throughout the whole supply chain.

More than 40 factories participated in the pilot project, which contributed to saving 284 million litres of water and 402 tonnes of chemicals annually.

“It is all about spreading knowledge and changing attitudes,” says Rami Abdelrahman, Programme Manager at SIWI. “Within just two years, we have educated more than 14,000 factory managers and employees. This has paved the way for long-term gains for both the environment, the companies, the suppliers and the local population.”

Inspired by the success of the pilot, the initiative will now expand to include new factories in Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Turkey. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) will, through a unique business model, match the companies’ and factories’ investments in better water management.

SIWI will continue the learning process with suppliers and sub-contractors in the new countries. The initiative also works with national public authorities to increase the institutional capacity to govern water sustainably.

”Unfortunately, the textile industry often has a negative impact on the environment and we therefore want to take the lead in minimizing water and chemical usage in Asia and Africa. We will jointly contribute to sustainable development and an improved local environment,” says Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Director-General, Sida.

Many companies have joined forces in this initiative, despite being competitors in the stores. The network needs more members, however.

“The more companies that engage, the greater the impact. Ideally we would want all Swedish textile and leather companies to implement our guidelines and help us develop them further”, says Elin Larsson, Sustainability Manager, Filippa K.

** This post first appeared on the SIWI website here.

Successful Swedish water project ensures cleaner textile production in India

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Wed, Mar 25, 2015 08:20 CET

(Stockholm, 25 March 2015) – By participating in a unique project for cleaner production, Sustainable Water Resources (SWAR), suppliers to the Swedish retail brands Indiska, KappAhl and Lindex have reduced their environmental impact and improved capacity through training on resource efficiency.

For a garment production factory in Noida, India, the idea of coupling sustainable practices with significant financial savings was initially far-fetched. However, through SWAR they have succeeded.  Now, the factory has reinvested these savings in new technology which ensures efficient use of natural resources.

“We are now all aware of how important it is to save water, energy and chemicals, which is helpful in cutting factory costs. Building capacity and educating at every level in the garment industry needs to be an ongoing process”, says Mr Ravinder Hand from garment manufacturer Radnik.

The SWAR project is a cooperation between the Swedish brands and their Indian suppliers, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Sida, and India-based consultancy cKinetics. SWAR was co-financed by the brands and Sida, in a public-private partnership that linked business and international development goals.

More than 40 factories participated in the project. The project has contributed to saving 284 million litres of water and 402 tonnes of chemicals annually. The factories were also able to save an average of three per cent of their energy cost and three per cent of their operational costs.

“Being able to save costs through resources use efficiency is important, but it is not sustainable without a mind-shift. This is best achieved through continuous training and capacity development”, says Rami Abdelrahman, Programme Manager at SIWI.

The project trained more than 13,000 factory workers and managers in the past two years.

The Indian textile industry contributes with three per cent to India’s GDP and employs more than 45 million people. The industry is one of the largest industrial water polluters in India, and is facing serious growth limitations due to increasing freshwater shortage.

The project expands
More than half of the participating factories will continue to work on their own, continuously communicating their development to their clients in Sweden. Others have joined a network created by SIWI and the three fashion brands for continuing the learning journey.

SWAR has inspired SIWI, Sida, the piloting brands and an additional 16 Swedish fashion brands to catalyse a shift toward sustainable production and continuous learning in major production hubs in Asia and Africa.

Starting in 2015, the project scales up to include several Indian states and four other countries in the world. It involves more than 120 suppliers globally and is a part of the project Sweden Textile Water Initiative, STWI.