As a responsible shopper looking to do the right thing, you might think if a brand is openly talking about their environmental or labor practices, they’re probably legit. And if they show you a picture of a happy worker or an NGO partner, it’s probably a sign of good intent and practices, right? Swipe that credit card.
Buyer beware — greenwashing is definitely a THING, and it’s not just the big fast fashion brands.
We’re always getting questions about H&M, Zara and others. Are they “greenwashing”? (i.e. exaggerating their environmental chops or social practices in an effort to make themselves seem sustainable, and even diverting attention away from negative practices like child labor, or the consumption-driven fast fashion model. Ew.)
But recently, savvy readers, like yourselves, have been asking more questions about the credentials of smaller “ethical fashion” or “eco-fashion” brands, and whether their practices add up to all their marketing.
Greenwashing is never good. But with the smaller “ethical” new kids on the block, it’s almost even more dangerous if they don’t stack up to their claims. It seeds pessimism and cynicism among consumers, just as a new vision of a sustainable industry is starting to gain traction.
So over the last month we did a mini experiment to dig into the practices of a few exciting and popular “ethical” brands, who outwardly celebrate their positive impact, intentions or transparency, and see what evidence they had to back up these assertions.
We looked at:
Everlane, the “radically transparent” basics brand
Kowtow, a fairtrade, organic cotton brand making knitwear and basics from New Zealand
Krochet Kids, a social impact brand, empowering women in Uganda and Peru
We studied their websites and social media, contacted them through numerous channels, looked at publicly available records and everything else we could find. We did an intensive search beyond what a consumer could do in an afternoon, but without using any tools you wouldn’t have at the ready.
We went to these brands with a lot of questions surrounding labor practices, environmental practices, community engagement, management practices, size and business model, intention, innovation and transparency.
Below we’ve shared some highlights, AND, as we did this in-depth research, we pieced together the five questions we realized could help you sniff out greenwashing. (If you’re a nerd for this stuff like us, you can view everything we found on their updated brand pages on our Project JUST wiki)
So check out what we found and TRY these questions on for size:
1. First, check out what kind of fabrics / materials they are using.
Fabrics are an easy way to really change the impact of a supply chain for the better. PLUS it’s a super easy way for you as a shopper to know which brands are serious about changing the game. Raw materials are a big portion of the product, and consequently, its environmental and social impact. As a designer or a brand, committing to a restricted set of fabrics can be difficult — sustainable fabrics can be more expensive and not as easy to source — but it pays off in both your impact and performance in the end. So how did the brands we picked stack up?
Kowtow uses organic and fair trade cotton. Organic cotton is proven to be significantly better for people and planet, and fair trade means farmers and workers get fair wages for their work.
Krochet Kids uses some sustainable fabrics, but also uses acrylic and polyester (oil). They’re in the process of rolling out an organic cotton line.
Warby Parker uses cellulose acetate, titanium, and stainless steel in its frames for both eyeglasses and sunglasses. Cellulose acetate is usually made from wood pulp. In February 2014, the brand reported via its Facebook page that Warby Parker frames are made of acetate that comes from a family-owned Italian manufacturer.
2. Second, do they have any certifications?
When you’re shopping, check out the tags — any symbols or certifications there? A certification offers a brand a rigorous program of standards and assessment, and a signal to shoppers of monitoring, high standards, and intention. A brand doesn’t have to have a certification to do good work, but often times, brands use them as a roadmap to build out a more sustainable supply chain. You have to be cautious though — some certifications aren’t that rigorous, or have major flaws in monitoring or auditing what’s actually happening on the ground. You can read more about certifications in our New Slang dictionary.
Kowtow has organic and fair trade certifications. Plain, simple and thorough.
Warby Parker is a BCorp, but we couldn’t find any information about what this means in terms of their environmental impact, or how they treat their workers. However, their recently released response to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act means that the brand has now made its Code of Conduct publicly available (check out this release of new information on our Warby Parker brand page).
Krochet Kids is launching an organic line, and has their own special impact measurement tool that they use at each of their facilities.
Everlane doesn’t have any certifications that provide us with an easy signal to show that they’re trying, but it’s clear they like to set things up their own way. For their supply chain, they have three pillars of work: they started with transparency, are currently building their compliance, and sustainability is next. They do hold the factories they work with accountable to a 85% or higher score on the labor audit. If they don’t hit the mark, they step in with a corrective action plan, in partnership with their auditing firm, Intertek, to help.
Certifications aren’t for everyone, nor do they always work, but for the shopper and for us, it’s an easy way to know what standard a brand is holding themselves to, what are their intentions and to look into what’s actually happening to meet it.
3. Third, how transparent are they… really?
This basically comes down to what — and how much — they’re truly sharing with us. What’s on their website? Their social media? What data do they share to back up their claims of social or environmental impact?
Let’s stack ’em up.
Everlane: As fashion supply chain nerds, ever since this brand came out with their tagline, radical transparency, we’ve been curious to know what constituted “radical” from the information they shared. After all, “radical” by definition implies something beyond average. But, when we looked on the Everlane website, we didn’t really find much beyond where some of their factories were located, and what they made. What were we looking for? How they guaranteed fair wages and safe working conditions, what kinds of environmental policies they had in place, and their intentions for future improvement.
So we reached out to their team with a list of questions, and low and behold, got to sit down with the Founder & CEO, Michael Preysman —getting serious now.
He shared quite a bit of info with us including:
Their code of conduct
The average score of their factories on quarterly audits: 90.1%
The number of times a year their team visits their factories: 3
Their current lack of environmental policies, but their intent to work on this as the next phase in monitoring their supply chain
And lots more! (available for you to see behind a tiny little paywall, but trust us it’s worth the 5 bucks)
So why isn’t all this info available on their website?
Michael said (paraphrased) that they prefer not to reveal their work until it’s fully complete, so that the company can figure the right strategy to communicate the information to their customer, in a way that makes sense.
You tell us. Given that these guys have shaken things up before, we’re excited to see what they churn out in the coming months to truly be “radical” in their supply chain practices.
Warby Parker: When it came to Warby Parker, we received not one answer to our questions. Not one! Between January and February 2017, we reached out six times to the PR company and twice to the brand, who then redirected us back to the PR company (head spinning emailing 😕).
This brand that claims positive social impact, and even has a BCorp certification (!), never answered our questions about whether they can trace their entire supply chain, where their suppliers are located, if they have a code of conduct, how much the workers in their supply chain are paid, how they monitor their social and environmental practices, and what their goals are to decrease their negative impact. In just the last two days, they did release a new set of info to comply with the California Transparency Act. Great – but we’ve still got questions.
Kowtow and Krochet Kids: These two brands both have a lot of information available on their website. Krochet Kids was willing to answer any question we threw their way, while Kowtow had enough info on their website and via their certifications to thoroughly answer our questions.
4. Do they express intention for improvement?
No brand is perfect. But given the major impact of fashion supply chains on people and planet, it’s important to at least have the intention and plans to continue to improve. Do they have goals on their website? Any plans that they share with the media, or consumers?
Krochet Kids told us all about their future plans. So did Everlane. Warby Parker — no answer and nothing available on their site. And finally Kowtow, who by committing to only use fair trade and organic cotton, has restricted their growth and made a sustainability commitment for the long run.
5. Fifth, and finally, will they get back to you / us / anyone?
When you ask a question — do they respond? And do they give you a straight answer?
After we emailed them this month, Everlane gave us a sit down with their founder & CEO. We had also reached out to them before with questions through various consumer channels, and had received responses — but not nearly as comprehensive as this. We appreciate this, but we also recognize that not everyone is afforded this kind of access. We hope they continue to strive to be as responsive to consumers as possible to attain this same standard of radical transparency.
Krochet Kids’ CEO and COO had a phone call with us after they answered our comprehensive survey. We were impressed with their brand, and especially with their willingness to share and open up to us.
Kowtow and Warby Parker both didn’t answer our repeated efforts to get in touch with them with our questions. That said, Kowtow has a ton of information about their brand and practices available on their website for anyone (not just supply chain dorks like us) to see. Warby Parker? Not so much.
So what did we learn?
In this day and age, with consumers buying products made by global supply chains, and with issues of human trafficking, child labor, worker abuse and environmental violations — the consumer should have a right to know how the product they’re paying for is made and be able to see the evidence to back it up.
And with brands like these, consumers should also know legitimately that the brand’s vision and proclaimed values match how they treat workers in their supply chain, and how they treat our planet. If you’re paying, you deserve to know.
So don’t get taken for a ride— keep searching, keep asking questions and tell your friends to ask, too. From our experience, you might even get to sit down with the CEO.
When Allison Hayes made her first trip to India in 2012 for a friend’s wedding, she was fascinated by the exquisitely handcrafted fabrics and textiles she found there. Four years later, the associate creative director at agency Venables Bell and Partners and that same friend, Jayshri Chakraborty, a former finance professional, teamed up to launch their own fair-trade clothing line.
“The &Collection” is direct-to-consumer fashion brand launched two weeks ago. It sources traditional textiles and prints directly from artisans across India.
“We’re committed to developing local businesses by promoting entrepreneurship in these areas,” said Hayes, adding that 20 percent of the proceeds from each item go back to the artisan community that embroidered or printed it.
The “&” in the name is a connector, she said, and each collection is named with an “&” attached to the part of India that collection is from. For example, the “&Santiniketan” collection is from the eastern state of West Bengal and predominantly features the “Katha” technique — an elaborately embroidered running stitch technique that artisans in the region have been practicing for centuries. There are two more collections, “&Udaipur” and “&Jaisalmer,” from two cities in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.
It helps that the company has come up at a time when more consumers are clamoring for increased sustainability in fashion. The & Collection is the latest fair-trade clothing brand that is part of a growing brigade of brands that are responding to consumer calls for increased sustainability and transparency in fashion. Producing ethical fashion and being transparent is becoming more of a priority for brands across the board from luxe cashmere brand Naadam to designers Diane Von Furstenberg and alice + olivia.
“It’s not just about showcasing the textiles, but also the communities,” said Hayes. “We want to be able to tell a story, which would be lost if we were to outsource our clothes to another retailer.”
Being direct to consumer also makes sense, because the company can constantly interact with its customers to make informed decisions on product and sizing. Depending on what our customers like and don’t like, we’d know what to focus on for future collections,” said Hayes.
The textiles may be coming directly from the artisans, but that does not necessarily mean they are cheap. Clothes from “The &Collection” range from scarves priced at $75 to skirts that go up as high as $365 — almost four times the price artisan collective groups in India would sell it for. Hayes admits that the clothes are marked up by approximately two-and-a-half times to factor in costs of production, tailoring and shipping. She said she was hopeful of bringing that down, however, as the company evolves a more efficient business model and begins to control more of its supply chain.
“We’re not turning a profit yet,” she said. “But current sales will immediately be invested back into the company for additional sourcing in the future.”
To grow, the company is focusing on building social followers primarily on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest — places where people often find fashion inspiration. The sustainability aspect is played up in its posts on these platforms — a smart move to draw more customers, said Nathalie Huni, creative director at Huge. Its Instagram feed, for example, proudly showcases members and snippets of daily life from the community it sources its textiles from. It is also looking to partner with influencers and considering dabbling in paid social advertising on Facebook and Instagram.
“A career in advertising uniquely prepares you for a lot of the hard stuff that comes with starting just about anything,” she said. “With ‘The & Collection,’ I didn’t just come up with the concept and design the clothes, I also designed the identity and website as well as shot, styled and retouched all photographs, wrote the copy and developed the brand voice.”
Two weeks since its launch, the company has sold over 10 percent of its inventory. It continues to take a page from the playbooks of other brands prioritizing sustainability and working with similar models, said Hayes, such as Maiyet.
“The biggest challenge is that coming from advertising, I am used to having big budgets,” Hayes, who leads all creative for brands like 76, Phillips 66 and Massage Envy at her agency job, said. “It’ll remain a side business for a while I think.”
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.
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.
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.”
Find out how these Mumbaikars ensure that green remains the colour of the season.
By Moeena Halim
Cool As Cotton
APURVA KOTHARI, 40, SHWETA DELIWALA, 37 No Nasties
When Apurva Kothari read about the ridiculously high number of farmer suicides in the country, he decided to fi nd a way to help, and that was the motivation to set up No Nasties. After working in the US, Kothari and his fashion designer wife Shweta Deliwala decided to return to India to run a company that uses only organic cotton and follows fair-trade policies. KEEPING IT SIMPLE Deliwala, who heads the product development team, says designing for an online audience is tricky. “Clothes have to be easy to wear, stylish yet simple; the silhouettes, simple and easy to wear, and the colours, neutral and monochromatic,” says Deliwala.
THINKING GREEN According to the duo, cotton farming in India makes up 55 percent of the pesticide usage, even though it only occupies fi ve percent of farm land. At No Nasties, their policy includes no genetically modifi ed seeds, artifi cial pesticides and toxic dyes. Chetna Organic, a farmer-owned co-operative that focuses on the welfare of cot-ton farmers, connected them to Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills, who they now work with. “Both the farms and the factories are certifi ed by third-party auditors, which assures us that they are not cutting cor-ners,” says Deliwala. Even their packaging and branding material is eco-friendly. Their business cards and tags are made with recycled cardboard, and the clothes are packed in reusable organic-cotton bags. “No plastics, no nasties,” she says. PRICE Rs 599 to Rs 2,199 AVAILABLE AT nonasties.in
ANAVILA MISRA, 39 Anavila
After working for several years in rural clusters with her alma mater, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Delhi and the Ministry of Rural Development, designer Anavila Misra decided to work with organic linen that was being manufactured in a factory in Kolkata. GOING NATURAL In 2012, she launched her cloth-ing line, Anavila. The name, which means “pure” in Sanskrit, rightly describes Misra’s use of sustain-able, luxurious textiles with which she has been making contemporary saris and is now planning to include tunics and dresses. The raw materials for the linen she uses come from Belgium and France and are grown naturally, with-out pesticides and chemicals. “At the state-of-the-art Jayshree Mills in Kolkata, they take the coarse stems and process it into a beautiful yarn,” she says.
DRAPE IT RIGHT By choosing to design contemporary saris, Misra helped the movement towards popularising the sari before the now trending 100-sari pact. Yet, refer to her as a sustainable designer, and it is obvious it has become her pet peeve. “I realised that you’re forcing weavers to do something that doesn’t make commercial sense to them,” she explains. “We can’t help the weaver until we fi nd practical use for those weaves. Because like it or not, only crafts, which have pull from the markets and manage to get them profi ts, will work in the long run,” she adds. But what makes the designer feel optimistic about the future is that she now fi nds more and more young students eager to work in rural clusters across the country. _ PRICE Saris from Rs 9,500 to 25,000 AVAILABLE AT Anavila Studio, next to Hakkasan, Waterfi eld Road, Bandra West
BOMBAY HEMP COMPANY (BOHECO)
Claiming to be the only company in the entire world that deals with hemp handloom fabrics, the seven boys behind BOHECO have been working tirelessly for two years to get hemp in the limelight in India. The idea of working with hemp came to them while they were still students at HR College, studying commerce. “We worked on Project Chirag, a rural electrification project, through which we visited several villages and realised that just providing water or electricity was not enough. We needed to help the farmers in a more sustained manner,” says Yash Kotak, director of project and quality management.
MAGIC FABRIC It was around the same time that Jahan Peston James, director of strategy and communications, was travelling in Australia and came across hemp production in an extremely prosperous village there. “While we had seen cannabis growing wildly across rural India, this was the first time we realised how useful cannabis sativa could be,” recalls James. This particular strain of weed grows wildly across Kashmir, Kerala, Orissa, Punjab and Uttarakhand. BOHECO has found artisans who have been taught to weave fabric from hemp by their ancestors. “The tradition has been there for centuries. It’s just that urban India and the government has been ignorant of it,” says Kotak. The team, which also includes Sumit Shah, 24, is now working closely with the governments of various states as well as the Textile Ministry. Currently, BOHECO is able to source seven different weaves that can be used for upholstery, shoes and bags. Until they are able to create a finer quality fabric, they are importing hemp to design and retail crisp white shirts and a black printed T-shirt through their brand, The Hemp Couture. SUPER CROP What’s most crucial to them now is developing the right kind of hemp seed for agricultural purposes suited to Indian climatic conditions. Their goal is that one day the super crop will be able to provide for roti, kapda and makaan. PRICE Rs 1000 to Rs 2,500 for garments and Rs 550 to Rs 1,800 for fabrics AVAILABLE AT boheco.org
Ever since actors Mayank Anand and Shraddha Nigam decided to turn fashion designers and launch their own label in 2010, they knew it would lead to a commitment to handloom and the weavers. “Weaving is the second largest economic activity in India after agriculture. There are about 53 lakh weavers, but the number is dwindling, because most of their children don’t want to stay and carry forward their legacy,” says Anand. WORKING BACKWARDS The duo is striving to make weaving a lucrative profession for the next generation. Sustainability is equally important. Rather than sketch their ideas, their first step is to study the fabrics that are available to them from their weavers in Maheshwar, Bhagalpur, Assam and Kolkata.
PRETTY IN PATCHWORK Strong believers in the fundamentals of reuse, reduce, recycle, repurpose and recreate, the designers have been, for the past two years, collecting rejects as well as fabrics that would go to waste. “While showcasing our collection at last year’s fashion week, we draped our garments with shawls made of sustainably created cottons in the final round. This was our way of standing up for what we believe in,” says Anand. This year’s collection-The Textile Brigade-included a lot of patchwork fabric. They also tied up with NGOs such as Gramshree, which empowers women by offering them vocational training. They’re going a step further for their next collection and using wildly grown cotton, known as Kala Cotton. PRICE Rs 4,000 to about Rs 24,000 AVAILABLE AT mayankanandshraddhanigam.com
SHISHIR GOENKA, 50 Do U Speak Green
When talking of sustainable and eco-friendly clothing, it is hard to ignore Do U Speak Green (DUSG). Shishir Goenka launched his company, Fusion Clothing Company, in 1992, but it wasn’t until much later that he began manufacturing organic clothing. “It was my passion for the environment that led me to launch Do U Speak Green,” he says. The brand was India’s first to produce and sell organic clothing, he says. GOING THE EXTRA MILE “It was a challenge, but we studied the movement of organic clothing in the international market and adapted it here. Our core ethos is to use the planet’s resources intelligently, provide safe working conditions and give back to the manufacturing communities,” says the entrepreneur.
Apart from fashion for men and women, they now retail clothes for children and make yoga wear. “Our yoga wear designs are inspired by wildlife, nature and spirituality. We work extensively with freelance designers from India and abroad,” says Goenka. But the biggest challenge is getting people to spend more to buy an organic T-shirt. OUT OF THE BOX Apart from using organic cotton, DUSG also makes use of bamboo fabric. Made from the pulp of the bamboo grass, it is considered one of the most sustainable fibres. What’s great is that unlike synthetic fabrics that incorporate petroleum additives, bamboo fabric is completely biodegradable. PRICE Rs 675 to Rs 1,850 AVAILABLE AT douspeakgreen.in
‘Made in’ matters, but Fair Trade is more powerful because it introduces the consumer to the actual producer of a garment, argues Safia Minney of People Tree.
LONDON, United Kingdom — The ‘Made In’ label matters more than ever. It is the start of offering transparency and accountability to the consumer. In the same way that consumers asked for a fair deal for coffee farmers and other agricultural commodities in the early 1990s, they are now demanding it of fashion. This has been brought on, in part, by a swell of concern after the horrific collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh, an industrial tragedy killing 1,134 garment workers, which triggered the making of the movie True Cost, raising further awareness of the continuing abuse of human rights and environmental laws by fashion companies and their suppliers. The fashion industry needs to face up to its responsibility in its overseas supply chain. I believe company directors should be made legally responsible for criminal activities committed in the name of their companies.
‘Made in’ matters, but is it enough?
Fair Trade fashion goes further than ‘Made in’ labelling, as it introduces the actual producer of a garment to the end customer. The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) defines Fair Trade as: “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” Products produced through Fair Trade partnerships can revive organic agriculture and protect craft skills and are made within the country on the label and with respect to the environment. The consumer considers Fair Trade purchases like any other, based on aesthetic, brand, quality and value for money. But increasingly, they also want to know that the goods they buy are made with respect for people and the environment. Consumer cupboards are full and they are increasingly frustrated by the speed of fashion and looking for greater connection with producers and an ethical lifestyle.
Fair Trade recognises, promotes and protects the cultural identity and traditional craft skills of small producers within a given region, bringing deeper meaning to the label ‘Made In.’ For example, People Tree’s producer Swallows, based in Bangladesh, uses handlooms to weave the fabric used to make clothing. Practiced by 10 million people in Bangladesh, hand weaving is the country’s biggest employment sector after agriculture and the skill of Bengali handweavers has been renowned and revered internationally for thousands of years. Handweaving is also carbon neutral, so customers can choose hand-woven, climate-friendly clothing to fit with their values. Each country has different “natural advantages” due to the skills of its people, their heritage and their geographical location.
For People Tree, organic cotton craft and traditional skills are vital to the design process, adding value to the final product by helping to create a unique point of difference and bringing solid benefits to farming and artisan communities. We supply Indian organic cotton for our People Tree collaboration with Lee in Japan (produced in Japan) and hand-woven, hand-embroidered uppers for Tatami, a Birkenstock brand in Japan.
More companies need to show the commitment to engage responsibly with their supply chain. Ethical credentials will come from these initiatives, but consumers are increasingly sceptical of ‘green washing’ or superficial ethical policies or claims made without third-party audits. For example, the Ethical Trading Initiative (a voluntary code) is widely considered to have no teeth.
In September 2013, the WFTO launched a new Fair Trade manufacturing labelling system, which guarantees Fair Trade principals are met throughout the supply chain, which will help to ensure that people know if companies are living up to their messaging on ethical policies. Placing a World Fair Trade Organisation label on a product acts as a guarantee to the consumer that manufacturers comply with the Ten Principles of Fair Trade: fair wages, working conditions, transparency, capacity building, environmental best practice, gender equality and setting standards for conventional fashion companies to improve their supply chains.
Ten years ago People Tree launched the first clothing range to meet the Global Organic Textile Standard certified by the Soil Association. Nearly 70 percent of our collection carries the Fair Trade mark and/or the Soil Association organic mark, guaranteeing small-scale cotton farmers in developing countries receive a fair and stable price, as well as an additional premium granting them the opportunity to develop their communities.
But third-party audits and certifications should not be used as a barrier that works against the very people that they are supposed to help. Certification needs to be accessible to the poorest of the poor in the developing world. For People Tree this is about the value added through capacity building, through which small scale producers are given the tools to develop their management skills, production capabilities and access to markets and design, ensuring that the products they produce attract fair prices and long-term orders.
Fair Trade is more than just detailing the country where a product is made. It relays the story of the farmers, artisans and tailors who make our products, as well as the heritage, culture and sustainability of their goods. ‘Made In’ needs to go to deeper and Fair Trade is a good example to follow.
Safia Minney MBE is the founder and chief executive of People Tree.
**This article first appeared on Business of Fashion here.
Cambodia-based eco-fashion brand Tonlé are all about zero-waste production. They are currently the largest ethical apparel brand in the country, offering fair wages and a secure working environment since 2013. Their motivations stem from what they refer to on their website as the “enormous global problem” of excess waste material when factories value profit over the environment. From the get-go Tonlé decided to make this waste fabric their main component in their designs. Around 90% of their materials are recycled from factories and 10% are from sustainable suppliers with the aim of having a minuscule environmental footprint and maximum social benefit. They say that through their production methods they save 22,046 pounds of materials from ending up in landfills, in comparison to the average manufacturer. Having recently launched a hugely successful new kickstarter campaign they are getting their beautiful and eco-friendly garments out to a wider audience.
Check out their campaign page and website for a full look at their work.
**This post by Benjamin Fitzgerald first appeared on Le Souk.
Peru’s Naturtex was the first organic cotton manufacturer of its kind to be certified as Fair Trade in the Americas. The Lima-based mill continues to export organic fabrics to a global clientele, while nurturing a sustainable way of life
for local farmers and weavers in the region.
It was in the early Seventies that American James Vreeland made his incredible discovery. While studying pre-Columbian textiles in Lima, the anthropologist noticed sections of his cotton fiber samples housed peculiar ‘masses’ that gave fabrics their certain color. After meeting with locals who were familiar with the growths, Vreeland realised he had uncovered a natural-dyeing phenomena that had been used in cotton farming by Peruvians for centuries.
In 1983, Vreeland and his team initiated more field research, focusing heavily on the native, color grown cotton. They were able to produce in an extraordinary range of natural colors: earthy beige, brown, chocolate, green and mauve. In 1997, deciding it was time to bring their cloth to the modern world, Naturtex was formed.
The Peru-based firm supplies over 450 different textile products to North and Central America, and Europe and Asia – collected under both fair trade and organic regimes. The last thirty years have seen Vreeland and his team establish harmonious relationships with Peruvian pastoralists and artisans, ensuring a constant supply of high quality fiber for spinning and weaving in their Lima-based, modern technology mills. The fabrics are made from start to finish in-house, where specially trained employees knit, weave, and dye raw cotton and wool in a full spectrum of eco-friendly hues.
Naturtex’s main output is naturally pigmented cotton and alpaca fiber – both heirloom yarns cherished by the Indian and peasant communities of the Andes. A major sourcing agent for pakucho organic and vicuña colored-cotton, Naturtex’s fibers are extremely durable, color fast and soft – recognized for their extra long stable and earthy coloring.
Naturtex also crafts ring spun, carded and combed yarns, ranging in thread counts from thick to fine. A wide range of circular knit and flat woven fabrics are made on site, as well as custom-made apparel such as sweaters, socks, t-shirts and jeans.
“As a manufacturer and sourcing agent, we strive to identify and maintain meaningful social and commercial relationships between those who make, trade, sell and consume organic yarns, fabrics and apparel,” says James Vreeland, founder and director of Naturtex.
“We feel particularly qualified to offer our services to contract-manufacture, export and consult with brands on biological and cultural aspects of ecological textile processing in Peru.”
Meanwhile, the group supports several projects with Indian peasant farmers and artisans living in the Amazon. One such initiative is the drug-free cotton program. Naturally pigmented cotton fiber is grown by Indian farmers in the high jungles of Peru, where the cultivation of the cotton serves as an alternative to illegally grown coca leaf.
“Our unique Amazon jungle drug-free cotton program offers Indian horticulturalists a viable alternative to illicit coca leaf cultivation,” explains Vreeland.
“With the supply of generous loans from finance institutions, the cash needs of growers are covered while they are cultivating the organic pima cotton.”
Naturtex then buys the drug-free cotton from the farmers to produce their clothing lines.
Denim has seen the firm’s fondness for organics and technology deepen. According to Vreeland, Naturtex was the first company of its kind in the Americas be certified Fair Trade, as part of the Control Union Certifications.
“There is an explosion of interest in organic, and we are the oldest continuously certified company in the world I have been told,” explains Vreeland.
Today, Naturtex still produce and promote their organic denim, which is woven in medium weights of 11.5 oz. Available in two colors – dark indigo and grey black – the denim is made from Naturtex’s premium combed pima cotton denim. It has been refined after decades of research and development, and proper textile testing, according to Vreeland. And despite other organic manufacturers entering the market in recent years, Naturtex maintains it is the original, and the best.
“Our commitment to research and development is fundamental to the value of our garments and product portfolio,” concludes Vreeland.
“We are confident that cutting-edge, proprietary performance fabrics enable our customers to excel at their work.”