Meet Mo and Wesley, Levi Strauss & Co Collaboratory

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Tell us about your business and the work you do.

We are an “experience inspired” outdoor apparel brand based in the Ozark Mountains. We promote a lifestyle of relaxing into the outdoors, not tackling it. I started the company while at the University of Arkansas when I noticed there wasn’t a regional representation of the outdoor culture here.

We produce USA-made, organic, and recycled products that ground the company in sustainability. We are currently growing the brand with outdoor specialty retailers across the U.S. and focusing on lifestyle and some technical products. We are committed to taking strides to make our products more sustainable.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

I’m building Fayettechill to stand the test of time. We have strong ideals and make decisions based on them, not on trends or short-term financial goals. We focus on quality, sustainability, “Made in USA” manufacturing, and building a brand that is different.

I also feel it’s our responsibility, as a company that represents people who love the outdoors, to do our part to set an example in the apparel industry.

How important is water to what you do?

It’s one of many important contributors to a sustainable path. Currently, we use Blue Sign Certified Dye Houses, work to understand alternative materials based on the need and style of the product, and seeking opportunities to up-cycle traditional textiles.
It’s crucial for our designers to know the production processes at every level and work closely with our factories to collaborate on our brand ideals and how to improve processes and find ways to cut down waste.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

I look forward to networking with leaders that have the same mindset around improving how we work and what we create. I am also interested in seeing how anorganization like Levi Strauss & to solve sustainability challenges. Lastly, I look forward to applying the concepts I learn from the Collaboratory and my mentorship into my organization.

What’s your Levi’s® story?
It’s the only brand of pants in my closet. I’m currently traveling the U.S.A. for a year — working – and I have blue, black and white Levi’s® for all occasions and outdoor activities.

Wesley Owiti: CEO and co-founder of Cherehani Africa, a social enterprise focused on women’s empowerment and financial inclusion through sustainable fashion.


Tell us about your organization and the work you do.

‘Cherehani’ is the Swahili name for ‘sewing machine.’ Cherehani Africa is a social enterprise that offers training on fashion and design to less fortunate women in emerging and underserved markets in Africa. Upon their completion of our training, we provide asset financing for tools to help them begin their independent apparel enterprises. After a one-month grace period they then start making affordable monthly repayments for the tools.

At an event on African fashion, my co-founders and I heard a speaker say that the brands that last are the brands that touch lives. We wanted to touch lives through apparel. Africa is blessed with unique designs and way of life and we thought we would tap into the business of tailoring and fashion to create jobs to help fight poverty, unemployment and gender inequality. Today we have helped more than 600 women start their own independent apparel businesses. We are now working on introducing new products and avenues that will help our beneficiaries to expand, diversify and engage in a sustainable approach to business.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

The apparel industry has great influence to drive global conversations. But, great influence calls for great responsibility. It is therefore imperative that players in the industry invest in important steps toward making the world a better place to live in. We need a safe and healthy world for apparel businesses to keep flourishing, and we can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. As an industry we have a chance to write our own positive narrative.

How important is water to what you do?

Our design classes include lessons on safety and the dye process. In the villages where we work, this process is not possible without water. How are they conducting this process? How are they disposing the grey water? These are the questions that make water very important to our entire organization. We are committed to ensuring that our beneficiaries and indeed, other players in the apparel industry, do not pollute our environment by releasing unsafe water into local rivers and streams.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

The fresh water that is available for human use is less than 1 percent of the water on earth; this is the reason we need to use water in a sustainable way. This year’s LS&Co. Collaboratory topic is close to my heart as I see it as a fantastic opportunity for me to continue my research and learn from experts and other fellows about innovative and best approaches to recycling grey water. I also look forward to tailoring a blueprint on ways to reduce an organization’s water footprint, not only for Cherehani Africa but for the other players in the apparel industry in Africa.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

I grew up mostly in the rural parts of Kenya and so I never knew much about apparel brands. We wore what was available. When it was too hot we barely wore anything!

The first time I did learn about an apparel brand was in a marketing class when I was pursuing my first degree at the University of Nairobi. The professor used Levi’s® as an example of a brand that had placed ‘innovation’ and ‘user experience’ at the center of their growth, something that has allowed the company to keep re-inventing itself over the years and maintain its position as a leading global brand. To me, the name has become synonymous with ‘innovation’.

*This story first appeared on Levi-Strauss

Africa’s Top Cotton Grower Sees Good Crop After Monsanto Ban

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With a well-worn hoe dangling on his shoulder, farmer Elie Gnoumou scanned his cotton field in the south of Burkina Faso, Africa’s top grower of the fiber, with visible relief.

A month before the harvest is due to start, the 44-year-old said his hard work this season is likely to pay off. “I’ve had to do six insecticide treatments so far and there’s probably two more to go,” Gnoumou said. “But it’s looking good.”

Elie Gnoumou, left, plows his field of cotton plants
Elie Gnoumou, left, plows his field of cotton plants. Simon Gongo/Bloomberg

The West African nation decided in April to halt the production of genetically modified cotton because the short fiber was hurting its reputation and cutting revenue. Thirteen years after the variety known as Bt cotton was introduced by Monsanto Co., the country’s three cotton companies and the producers’ association told farmers to sow only conventional seeds from July.

That left 350,000 cotton growers worried they’d face a drop in income. Conventional cotton is more vulnerable to parasites such as bollworms, forcing farmers to buy more pesticides and in some cases expand their acreage, according to Wilfried Yameogo, managing director of state-controlled Sofitex, the largest cotton buyer in the West African nation.

Sufficient Rains

Gnoumou has grown cotton for more than 20 years on a field of about 15 hectares (37 acres) with the help of his wife. He owns a tractor, a car, and was able to put his six children through school. “With GM cotton, I knew the yield I would get,” he said. “With conventional cotton, you don’t know what will happen.”

The cotton season started with sufficient rains, leaving Burkina Faso on track to reach its target of 750,000 metric tons in the 2016-2017 season, up from 581,000 tons in the previous season, when unfavorable weather damaged crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s in line with an expected output increase in West Africa overall, which will probably jump 24 percent to 1.9 million tons, it said in a reportlast month.

Cash Crop

Cotton is Burkina Faso’s main cash crop and the biggest source of foreign exchange after gold. Unlike its neighbors Ivory Coast and Senegal, which export a variety of crops besides cotton, Burkina Faso’s economy relies heavily on the fiber. Almost 80 percent of the active population earns an income from agriculture, according to the International Monetary Fund.

While there are eight cotton exporters in West Africa, Burkina Faso was the only country in the region to grow genetically modified seeds.

Monsanto’s plans to use Burkina Faso as a springboard for expansion into West Africa didn’t succeed as little information was given out about the program, according to Bruno Bachelier, a cotton expert at the French agricultural research institute Cirad.

“The general idea was that neighboring countries were waiting to see the results from Burkina Faso before they would decide to go ahead,” Bachelier said by phone from Montpellier, France.

Missed Bonus

Burkina Faso is currently in talks with Monsanto for compensation, saying it’s lost an estimated 48 billion CFA francs ($82 million) in revenue. The short length fiber meant that the nation’s cotton missed out on a per-kilogram (2.2-pound) bonus of 20 francs for the past three seasons. “Farmers can sell their cotton for a better price this season, which will offset the costs for extra pesticides,” Karim Traore, the president of the national cotton farmers’ union, said in an interview in the nation’s second-biggest city, Bobo-Dioulasso.

Monsanto spokeswoman Christi Dixon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“When you know the advantages and the ease of growing GM cotton, the return to conventional cotton is very hard,” Sofitex’s Yameogo said. “But it’s the price to pay to meet the demands of the global market.”

*This story first appeared on Bloomberg

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.