Fair Trade India

Organic is the New Green

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From the Green Revolution to organic farming. In the heart of India, cotton growers have led the way in rejecting harmful chemicals and GM-seeds, working with nature, rather than against it.

 

Unable to cater for his family, Hariya, a cotton farmer from a village in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, decided to move to a city to look for another job. It was March 2008. Faced with poverty and a lack of opportunities to make a living from growing cotton, he quit farming, left his family and the little land he had cared for.

Hariya’s story is not unique. Between 2005-2009, a total of 140 million people in India left agriculture whilst Census 2011 shows that 2300 people were quitting farming every day and migrating to cities to take up menial jobs. The Green Revolution which was once omnipresent in rural India has come to embody the opposite of what people all over the world know as “green”, environmentally friendly and good for people.

Pale shade of green

Starting in 1965, India’s Green Revolutionaimed to transform the country’s farming regions into “veritable breadbaskets”, increasing significantly the country’s output of wheat and rice in particular. However, the modern agricultural methods it introduced — the extensive use of modified seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides — brought about unanticipated harmful consequences. The “green” way began to play havoc on the soil, water, animals, and human beings, creating a vicious cycle for small scale farmers who became reliant on buying pricey seeds and chemicals in order to stay in business.

To address these challenges and support farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Pratibha Syntex, one of the world’s largest textiles manufacturers, in association withFairtrade, initiated a new way: an organic revolution. They helped to set up Vasudha— a Fairtrade and organic-certified farmers cooperative. Today, Vasudha works with about 1500 cotton farmers, whilst Pratibha is associated with around 33500 organic-certified farmers across four states.

Avinash Karmarkar, VP Vasudha explains: “In the last 50 years, agriculture has led to unpredictable weather patterns, poor soil fertility and low water levels, whilst increasing pest attacks and the costs of cultivation. It has created health risks for animals and human populations. The only way to combat these challenges is to look at agriculture in a holistic way, rather than focusing on production only.”

In the aftermath of the Green Revolution a debate about the future of farming opened up a new world of possibilities across the country. Today, farmers are turning their backs on chemical farming methods and are moving towards organic. They are well aware of the adverse effects of deforestation, excessive application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and improper waste recycling.

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Cotton farmers at Vasudha

Organic is a process

Initially, the farmers at Vasudha were a bit apprehensive of adopting organic farming, not knowing whether or not it would guarantee sufficient yield. However, having seen the positive impacts on other farms, many decided to switch to organic.

Madhusudan Patidar, a farmer from Mandouri, says: “In the first few years, I thought that organic farming had not been giving yield equal to conventional farming, but gradually the cost of cultivation substantially decreased and the yield increased. The positive impact on soil life was unquestionable.”

To reduce cultivation costs, Vasudha Organic Solution Centre (known as VOSC) was established and together with Pratibha built three centers to produce and package low cost organic inputs, sold to farmers for a standard price. The centers have created new jobs and instilled entrepreneurship in farmers, and most importantly, have reduced their dependence on expensive market inputs – a key step for the farming community to become self-sufficient.

Vasudha has also introduced two organic agricultural inputs: Sudarshan and Bheem, now used by around 3000 farmers.

“We are proud to cultivate cotton sustainably. Sudarshan, which is a bio pesticide produced from leaf extracts, has reduced my cultivation cost by 40%. Bheem is a tonic prepared from soyabean, banana and drumstick extracts, which ensures growth of the plant,” explains Kailash Patidar, a farmer from Bhudari.

Working together

With the help of Fairtrade, the centers will soon start to produce their own non-GM quality cotton hybrid seed. Vasudha has initiated this process on two acres of land this year and is planning to scale it up to 10 acres in next three years thereby ensuring non-GM seeds for all its Fairtrade farmers. Women have also been involved in the programme.

Karmarkar sums it up: “With great courage and determination, we are on the way to achieve our vision for better farming. We have raised the bar for sustainable agriculture, and won’t stop there. Abiding by the Fairtrade Standards, we have many exciting plans. Vasudha has recently established a nursery of 75000 horticulture plants to grow around farms, to create a better micro environment. They shall also provide an extra income for farmers who can sell fruits on local markets in years to come.

“After all, Vasudha in Hindi means the producer of wealth for the Earth.”

*This story first appeared on Fair Trade

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8 Elegant Ensembles for the Eco Warrior

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Verve showcases a selection of thoughtful looks that are shaping the sensibilities of sustainable fashion today

 

Red and black tunic, from Sartorial…for working exclusively with pure vegetable dyes. Madder root was used to obtain the red colour, lime-resist kiryana for the splash of black, and indigo dye for the blue. The pure handloom silk was attained from weavers in Bengaluru, and the buttons from scrap indigo fabric.

Ikat black kurta, grey churidar, both by Madhu Jain…for promoting indigenous forms of textile weaving and design, and giving a boost to ikat in the Indian market. The entire Uzbek-inspired collection was created by merging Indian ikat with that from Uzbekistan, to create a new weave that incorporates the sensibilities of both regions.

Gypsy loafers, from Gush…for encouraging the slowly dying skill of footwear karigari. The heel of the shoes has been hand-carved by skilled artisans, who use lightweight waste wood and minimal to almost no machinery, to make sure they get the fit, shape and slope right. The tassels and embroidery are also done by hand. In spite of being a time-consuming process, the brand believes in manual handcrafting to ensure quality over quantity.

Yellow flared tunic, from Kalki Design Studio…for creating home-grown natural dyes, developed from plants or flowers grown in the studio’s backyard. The yellow colour was developed from myrobalan or kadukkai flower and the red from myrobalan, alum and madder. A botanist helps to find sources from which to obtain the desired colour.

Khadi layered dress (worn as jacket), from Crow…for creating a contemporary khadi-only collection that uses no dyes. The fabric was intentionally left unbleached so as to retain the rawness of the material, which is completely handcrafted. Use of the charkha reduces the consumption of electricity by machines. The leftover fabric is also used to make shopping bags or passed on to the artisans to make pillow covers.

Rabari throw (worn as skirt inside), from Aish…for choosing to work with handloom and handwoven fabrics for every collection, thereby supporting the crafts communities and weavers throughout the year.The label believes in creating collections that are classic and not limited to a particular season. This scarf is made from handloom Bengal cotton, with hand embroidery and mirror-work from artisans in Kutch.

Ikat clutch, from Sonica Kapur Design…for training nearly extinct artisan communities in design and production skills necessary for them to survive in the international marketplace. Ikat motifs are made by weavers in the villages of Pochampally in Andhra Pradesh where weaving is a generational skill; women prepare the yarn, men execute the weaving and the elders are involved in simpler tasks like yarn spinning on the charkha. This accessory combines traditional ikat motif with chrome-free leather that has been processed in wet white tanneries using chemical-free processes.

Beige anti-fit tunic, from Bias…for adopting slow fashion which concentrates on the quality and longevity of the garment. Made from handloom cotton khadi, sourced from Khadi Gram Udyog in New Delhi, the fabrics used to make this trend-free collection are 100 per cent biodegradable. The fabric can be spun again into fibres
at the end of the garment’s life.

Khadi and kala cotton jumpsuit, from 11.11 / eleven eleven…for creating links between farmers, weavers, vegetable dyeing and block printing traditions, while consolidating roots in the luxury space. Kala cotton is one of the purest and oldest forms of non-genetically modified cotton.

Beryl blue scarf, from No Nasties…for being a 100 per cent organic and fair-trade brand. The scarf has been made in a sustainable factory certified by SA8000, using completely organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and 100 per cent fair-trade cotton certified by Fairtrade India. In addition, factory offcuts from excess fabric were used to guarantee zero wastage.

Neck-piece made with natural materials like jute, shell and bone beads, by Jamini Ahluwalia.

Striped shirt, by Anita Dongre, for Grassroot…for collaborating with a network of trusted NGOs to provide a life of dignity and economic independence to artisans. The collection was made with 100 per cent cotton voile that was handwoven by women weavers belonging to SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association )Trade Facilitation Centre, with a view to provide a platform to showcase their craftsmanship.

Cotton silk double border sari, by Suchismita Dasgupta, for Nextiles…for providing a platform to any art and textile professional, who works with the vision of developing and promoting Indian textiles. A contemporary version of the Pachhapaar sari, this was especially handwoven by the weavers in Nadia, a district in West Bengal. The brand focuses on liaising with the weavers directly without involving middlemen.

Ikat jacket, from Sonica Kapur Design.

Foot accessory made from scrap fabrics woven together with a jute thread, by Paromita Banerjee.

Natural biodegradable linen pants, from Eka…for constantly working with handloom clusters, thereby helping families over generations, and for comfortably opting to not be in the mainstream market while offering a brand that supports an alternate fashion movement. The brand never uses fabrics that are off the rack. Instead, it has developed a strategy which works months in advance to deliver end results, choosing not to be threatened by the world of fast fashion.

Hand accessory made from scrap fabrics woven together with a jute thread, by Paromita Banerjee.

Merino wool and silk top, from Akaaro…for drawing attention to handlooms on a global scale. Akaaro is one of the first brands to weave their own fabric, a pioneering idea that quickly gained momentum in the industry. The top has been handwoven together with fabrics that are created in designer Gaurav Jai Gupta’s own weaving studio in Gurgaon.

Blue tunic (worn inside), off-white tunic with pleat detail, both by Vibhuti Behl, for Roha…for consciously creating a collection made from kala cotton, khadi sourced exclusively from Khamir, and naturally-dyed Ajrakh prints from Kutch. Since its inception, the label has been associated with Khamir, an organisation that works to strengthen and promote the rich artisanal traditions of the Kutch district.

Woollen bag, from Péro…for modernising the idea of upcycling in every collection. The bag is made from wool waste from the previous seasons, where the wool is cut into knit panels equivalent to the size of the bag, in order to avoid the accumulation of further scrap.

Maroon organic cotton dress, from Upasana…for creating the local organic brand Paruthi to support India’s organic farming community. Upasana has been working with the organic cotton farmers as part of the Kapas project. Paruthi in Tamil means ‘cotton’. It is the result of a sustainable business collaborative that is striving to protect and promote the fragile cotton communities of Tamil Nadu.

Wide-legged kalidar pant, by Paromita Banerjee…for emphasising the feel of ‘handmade’ and catering to global aesthetics with a local approach rooted in the handloom culture. Made from Malkha khadi with a kalidar detail of kalamkari block print, the weaving of this khadi skips the spinning mills with the yarn coming directly to the weaver right from the primary producers, the farmers. Kalamkari as a technique follows a natural process of printing which is beneficial to the village industry.

Black-and-white top, made with 100 per cent organic cotton; mirror-work jacket, made from 100 per cent handloom Khamir cotton and handloom Bengal silk lining, with manual mirror work done by a cluster of craftswomen in Gujarat. Both from Aish.

Location

Tucked away in the industrial neighbourhood of Byculla in Mumbai, the property, designed by Studio Mumbai Architects, was the ideal setting for the eco-conscious premise of this feature. Located in a former tobacco warehouse, a leafy compound connects seven units that make a case for urban living as it should be. Each unit is punctured by a central courtyard, allowing foliage, sunlight and natural ventilation to flow through. The underlying philosophy of working with nature rather than against it and repurposing available resources, with an emphasis on local materials and expertise harnessed in close collaboration with skilled craftsmen, support a nuanced approach to contemporary sustainable architecture.

Photographed by Anushka Menon. Styling by Shweta Navandar. Assisted by Anuradha Gandhi. Make-Up and Hair by Avni Rambhia. Model Courtesy: Gabriella Demetriades, Toabh Talents. Location Courtesy: 561/63, N. M. Joshi Marg, Mumbai

*This story first appeared on The Verve

Fashion with a conscience

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What product you buy can determine the quality of life the maker leads. Fairtrade-certified clothes ensure that those associated with the garment are given what they rightly deserve.

Ever looked at a stylish, sequined maxi dress draped on a mannequin at the mall, glanced at the price tag and thought it was a suspiciously low price? You were probably right. Behind the rock-bottom rates of fast fashion, there are often unregulated supply chains that make no efforts to pay a living wage, and also ignore the basic rights of the people who make these clothes. Price is not the only indicator, though — several luxury brands are as guilty as their lower-priced counterparts. From child labour to unsafe working conditions and low wages, the multi-billion-dollar profits of many large apparel brands often come at a human cost.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness and demand for ethically produced clothing, fuelled by consumers. The week leading up to April 24 every year has been declared Fashion Revolution Week, in memory of the Rana Plaza tragedy and to keep the spotlight on the issue.

“Brands need to commit to ethical fashion”, says Devina Singh, Campaigns and Outreach Manager of Fairtrade India. “Fashion revolution is about celebrating ethical practices in fashion and asking more brands to give the consumer an option of fashion that is fair. When brands opt for the Fairtrade certification, you can be sure that the people behind your clothing and style statement were treated fairly throughout the supply chain. This includes the people who grew and made your clothes. I’ve seen transparent supply chains – it’s possible and it’s easy; all it takes is a commitment from the brand.” Devina elaborates that the Fairtrade certification is given to organisations that follow Fairtrade guidelines. Behind Fairtrade clothing lies a fair price for cotton, fair wages for the garment factory workers, empowerment of women farmers, respect for the environment and the commitment to invest Fairtrade premiums into the community that made the clothing.

“It’s fashionable to be non-exploitative. Our clothes are the skin that we put on and reflect who we are,” she says. She speaks of the resounding success of the Show Your Label week that Fairtrade India organises to support the international Fashion Revolution movement, which raises awareness about the workers who made the clothes and farmers who grew the cotton. All over India, everyone from students to celebrities wore their clothes inside out, took a picture of their favourite labels and uploaded it on social media, asking their brands — “Who made my clothes? Who grew my clothes?”

As awareness surges, so does the market for ethical brands that are rising to the occasion with designs that are both beautiful and durable. Safia Minney, founder and director of U.K.-based fair trade clothing brand People Tree, and author of the critically acclaimed book Slow Fashion – Aesthetics Meets Ethics, is a staunch advocate of the Slow Fashion movement. “Fast fashion needs to slow down,” she says. “If it slows down, true responsibility is possible through better trading practices. Make it your business to shop in line with your values. Consumers want to know the real story behind who made what they wear and they don’t want to continue to be part of the problem. Many ethical brands are coming into the market and People Tree is innovating with designer and retailer collaborations and further strengthening its clothing offer. The ethical fashion market is an exciting space to watch!”

Technology, too, is propelling this movement forward. The app Shop Ethical! (available on android and iPhones) is a handy list (that’s regularly updated) of companies and their practices, relating to both raw material sourcing as well as worker rights. With a single click, you can find out how ethical their supply chain is, and support the brands with good ratings by opting for their products.

While consumers are increasingly asking questions before they buy their clothes, there is also a growing movement against the trend of high consumption. “Buy less fast fashion, clean up your wardrobe, re-style, swap clothes, re-make your clothes and buy second-hand.  If you need to buy new, buy fair trade, ethical and organic-certified clothing,” says Safia.

Joshua Fields Millburn, bestselling author and co-founder of http://www.theminimalists.com, believes that consumers have the power to look past the sale sign and make a deeper, more conscious decision. “We all need some stuff. Many of us have taken it too far, though. Consumption isn’t the problem; compulsory consumption is. The solution is to consume deliberately — to ignore the inane advertisements so we can determine what we need based on our lives, not on what we’ve been told.”

Devina signs off with the reminder that clothing isn’t a trivial purchase, but one that impacts the lives of many: “Every time you buy a product, you’re voting for the kind of world you want to live in.”

 *This first appeared on The Hindu