Category Archives: Organic cotton

Fairtrade Urban Shoes: Canadian Newcomer Oliberté and Veteran Veja

Rovia (mens) Grey Suede4

Thanks to Ethical Style for letting us know about Canadian designer Tal Dehtiar’s new shoe line, Oliberté. Oliberté claims to be the first footwear company to make urban shoes exclusively in Africa – based on Fairtrade principles. The shoes are made from locally sourced materials (leather and rubber) in West Africa (starting in January). Speaking on the issue of poverty in the continent, Dehtiar argues that “the only real way to alleviate poverty on this beautiful continent is to build a middle class that includes fair paying jobs.”

Rovia (mens) Grey Suede5

It will be interesting to see how this line develops. As of yet, there are no real details on the Fairtrade and/or environmental nature of its supply chain (i.e. wages or factory conditions- tanning leather is often associated with pretty nasty chemicals, as well as the harsh glues that may be used in assembly, etc.), as the company is not yet certified Fairtrade. I expect that more information on production will be made available on the website soon: Treehugger has reported that “[t]he company is working in partnership with factories to improve their environmental footprint. As they say: ‘we still have a long way to go, but we will continue to do all we can improve our materials, our production and our shoes.’ Oliberte will be supporting local training in the communities where they work.” Treehugger also reports that Oliberté is “consulting with the tanneries to meet environmental standards.” Thus, stay tuned for updates from this Canadian company.

One urban footwear company that has seemingly managed to maintain it’s foothold in Fairtrade manufacturing is Veja.

Veja Volley


If you aren’t already familiar with Veja, be sure to check them out straight away. Asking the question “Is another world possible?” Veja uses and supports wild latex production in the Amazonia to fight against deforestation:

Veja The GridVeja soles are made of natural latex coming straight from the Amazon Forest in the Chico Mendes reserve. The Amazon is the only place on earth where wild rubber trees are to be found […] Their activity, which does not require putting down any tree, is a great way to preserve the world’s largest forest. Natural rubber is renewable and biodegradable, as opposed to synthetic rubber or plastic, which is produced by using fossil and non-renewable materials. 

Veja also uses organic cotton, supports family agriculture and local cooperatives and uses ecological leather rather than chrome tanned leather (Veja has defined ecological leather as “chrome-free leather tanned with organic compounds only”). For more up-to date information on the happenings over at Veja, be sure to follow their blog.

Sidebar: Veja has just launched its first line of ethical bags, four years after introducing its trainers.

Veja Projet Numero Deux2

About these bags: organic cotton and leather tanned without chromium.



Source: Ethical Style, Treehugger, Oliberté, The Globe and Mail, PR Web and Veja

Images courtesy of: Oliberté and Veja

A closer look into Gap Inc.’s new Clean Water Program

Gap Image from Greenbiz

Gap Inc.’s Clean Water Program, established in 2004 to monitor water contamination, has now grown into a system that advertises zero waste from the factory. Inside the pocket of each pair of 1969 jeans you will find this statement:

“The water used in the process of washing & dying these jeans has been specially treated to ensure it is safe & clean when it leaves the factory.”

Here’s a closer look at how Gap Inc. breaks down its environmental footprint:

Gap Inc Supply Chain

“The first phase of our environmental footprint assessment focuses on regions and facilities where we control operations and can make changes most easily. It includes our 11 headquarters (HQ) buildings, five design studios, seven distribution center campuses, and more than 2,800 stores in our North American fleet. Scheduled to be completed in 2009, this first phase will examine energy, water usage, effluents and waste (including wastewater, solid waste and hazardous waste).

The second phase of our assessment will focus further into our supply chain, where we have less direct influence but greater opportunity for impact. We expect to begin the second phase to begin in early 2010”

Gap Inc Supply Chain

Unfortunately, the company does not appear, as of yet, to have goaled itself to take on the materials end of its supply chain. This is an oversight in responsible water-use, considering that 1kg of cotton requires 8000 litres of water. Not only does the materials end of the spectrum use a lot of water, but conventional cotton, with its heavy use of chemicals, results in dirty effluents.

On the Raw Materials end of the spectrum, low-water use cotton may be one option the company will be investigate in the future. Low-water use cotton is often rain-fed. Rain-fed cotton, however, risks the outcome of having a lower quality to it due to irregular water patterns (Fletcher). It will be interesting to see how the company tackles this phase of the lifecycle in the years ahead.

Lifecycle analysis should follow the impact of a garment at every stage: material, production, transportation, use, and disposal. One look at Gap Inc.’s supply chain and it becomes clear that the consumer is not considered in the environmental impact assessments. This is another oversight in the clean water program. Using the example of a simple T-shirt, Kate Fletcher states that consumer use

“has the highest impact and the effect of reducing the energy used in washing, drying and ironing […] dwarfs the possible effects of changing production methods.” (Fletcher)

This suggests that no matter what changes a company makes to clean-up water on the production side, heavy water use and dirty effluence on the consumer end may render such changes minimal when considered against the entire lifecycle of a garment.

One way the company could reduce both water use and contamination immediately is to start promoting responsible laundry habits, and engage consumers in the process. This could be as simple as creating a user friendly online site recommending best practices for each style of jean. This would involve simply directing customers to site for information and instructions.

In the future, why not add some responsible water care labels to each garment tag (a responsible extension off the already present ‘how to care for this garment’ instructions). For example, recommended laundry detergents, how much soap to use, and instructions on ways to avoid the dryer. (A common complaint about jeans that have been left to hang dry is that they wind up feeling stiff. Simple tip to avoid this is to air dry first, and then, if you have to, pop them in the dryer to soften them up for a few minutes before you wear them).

Of course there may be no real way of tracking consumer progress on the user end, but that’s no reason not to get behind consumer education when it comes to water consumption and the laundry machine.

Taken further, each Gap Inc. store would be able to provide consumers with the correct information on laundry detergents that are appropriate for the local water system in that particular area. Gap Inc. certainly has the resources to implement a program like this. Whether or not consumers will follow recommendations, is another story all together! Imagine the possibilities for a program like that.

Regardless of any oversights in the program, kudos to Gap Inc. not only for taking on this initiative, but for effectively implementing the goals it set out to achieve. This program will no doubt inspire competitors to think about water effluents and waste in their own supply chain.

Source: GreenBiz and Gap Inc.

Work Cited: Fletcher, Kate. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys. London: Earthscan, 2008.

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The Cotton Conundrum



Nowadays, when it comes to cotton, you can pretty much take your ‘pick’: low-chemical, organic, low-water use, fair trade, conventional. So what’s all the hype this week about organic cotton? Well, Organic Exchange released their 2007-2008 Organic Cotton Market Report.


According to this article:


“Global retail sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products climbed 63 percent in 2008 to $3.2 billion […]


‘Despite the global retail outlook, most brands and retailers selling organic cotton products remain committed to their sustainability plans and upbeat about market growth with plans to expand their product lines 24 and 33 percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively, to result in an estimated $4 billion market in 2009 and a $5.3 billion market in 2010,’ the report said.


The amount of organic cotton farmers grew worldwide in 2007/08 increased 152 percent, according to the 2008 Organic Cotton Farm and Fiber Report.

The amount hit 145,872 metric tons, which is equivalent to 668,581 (480-lb.) bales. It was grown on 161,000 hectares (400,000 acres) in 22 countries worldwide.

Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without using pesticides, fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.”


Keep in mind, just because the cotton is certified organic, doesn’t necessarily make it the best defence against the many negative effects of conventional cotton.


Take, for example, the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP).  The low-chemical system of  biological integrated pest management (IPM) helps farmers reduce chemical usage at a much larger scale than what would be achieved through a smaller number of completely organic cotton farms. This approach looks toward the overall impact of the sector, rather than just on one farm at a time. To help growers and consumers make sense of the difference, the project has developed an online calculator. Buyers and growers can use the calculator as a means of comparing the ecological footprint of BASIC (biological agricultural systems in cotton) against conventional cotton. The ecological calculator measures land, water and carbon footprints. I haven’t used the calculator (as I am neither a cotton buyer nor grower) and would like to welcome anyone who has used it, or who is interested in using it, to leave a comment with some feedback on the success/failure of the SCP initiative. What impresses me most about SCP is their involvement in sustainable fashion design education. Based out of California, the SCP initiative has partnered with California College of the Arts and The Academy of Art educating fashion design students in the area of sustainable design through the BASIC program. This is exciting.


Social Impact?


Missing from most footprint calculators is a fibre’s social impact. But, how do you measure a social footprint? How do you measure happiness? Certified Fairtrade cotton is not always organic, so what is it?


According to the Fairtrade Foundation


“The Mark is an independent product certification label which guarantees that cotton farmers are getting a better deal – receiving a fair and stable Fairtrade price and Fairtrade premium, receiving pre-financing where requested and benefiting from longer-term, more direct trading relationships.


The Fairtrade minimum price is set at the farm gate level and is based on actual costs of sustainable production. If the local market price is higher than this minimum price, then the market price applies. An additional payment of a Fairtrade premium is set aside for farmers’ organisations to spend on social and environmental projects or to strengthen their businesses. This ensures that communities have the power and resources to invest in long-term improvements. Elected farmer committees decide democratically how these premiums are spent.”


Organic Cotton ≠ Fair Trade Cotton: Responsible fashion is not just about being ‘organic’.


“All Fairtrade certified cotton producers are required to demonstrate increased diligence in choosing appropriate non-harmful chemicals or a biological or home-made alternative wherever possible. As would be expected, farmers are prohibited from using pesticides in the Pesticide Action Network’s “dirty dozen” list and those in the FAO/UNEP’s Prior Informed Consent Procedure list.”


According to Kate Fletcher, “[t]he total area of land dedicated to cotton growing has not changed significantly for around 80 years, but in that time output has tripled” (8). Fletcher directly associates the increase in production to a swell in pesticide and fertilizer use, and recommends organic, low chemical, hand-picked, rain-fed, or drip-irrigated cotton as alternatives, or using hemp or flax as a fibre substitution (9). A rise in consumer awareness about the negative effects of conventional cotton on the environment has no doubt created the business case for companies to begin to source organic cotton.


Top 10 companies:


1. Wal-Mart (USA)
2. C&A (Belgium)
3. Nike (USA)
4. H&M (SE)
Zara (Spain)
6. Anvil (USA)
7. Coop Switzerland
8. Pottery Barn (USA)
9. Greensource (USA)
10. Hess Natur (Germany).


But how have companies such as these been able to incorporate organic cotton into their production lines? According to Fletcher, “[u]nlike more politically contentious and technically challenging ‘alternative’ fibres such as hemp, organic cotton fibre is a fairly straightforward like-for-like substitute for conventionally grown cotton” (21). And what stands in the way of an increased use in organic cotton? Apparently the answer is supply. According to Fletcher, “organic cotton makes up a tiny percentage (0.18 per cent) of the world fibre demand and around 1 per cent of the total cotton market.” (21)


So what does all this mean? When searching for sustainable fibres make sure to consider the entire lifecycle of that fibre (both environmental and social). Eliminating pesticide use is only part of the solution. Let’s not forget to think outside the crop.



Source: Greenbiz, Fairtrade, Reuters, SCP and Sustainable Fashion & Textiles: Design Journeys, by Kate Fletcher

slogan t-shirts: what do you think?

Katharine Hamnett, Slogan T-Shirt       "No More Fashion Victims"

Katharine Hamnett, Slogan T-Shirt "No More Fashion Victims"


I have been obsessed with U.K. designer Katharine Hamnett for a long time. In fact, it was her slogan t-shirts that first showed me that there was opportunity to transform this industry; she is the quintessential example of a pissed off designer who refuses to stand for the high human cost of fashion. She is dedicated to the promotion of organic cotton, and runs a strong campaign against the conventional ‘white gold’:

“Conventional cotton represents 10% of world agriculture and uses 25% of the world’s pesticides.

100 million conventional cotton farmers, from Russia to South Africa, are living in conditions of abject poverty and near starvation.

Conventional cotton subsidies funded by American taxpayers are causing poverty in the developing world as they lower the world price for cotton. (Americans are the only ones that can change this by writing to their Congress people and telling them they insist on organic cotton clothing.)

20,000 people die every year from accidental pesticide poisoning in conventional cotton agriculture (World Health Organisation). Death by starvation is alarmingly prevalent and 200,000 cotton farmers commit suicide annually due to spiralling debts incurred from buying pesticides. A further 1,000,000 people a year suffer from long-term pesticide poisoning (Pesticide Action Network).

However, if farmers grow cotton organically and can sell it as such, this dire situation is reversed.

By growing organically, farmers get a 50% increase in their income – due to a 40% reduction in costs – and the 20% premium they receive for producing organic cotton allows them to feed, clothe, educate and provide healthcare for their children.

Organic cotton helps farmers trade their way out of poverty. It’s the only formula for survival in the cotton sector in the developing world.”

                                                            (Katharine Hamnett, Campaigns: Organic Cotton)


Another company that offers slogan t-shirts is American Apparel. I have been familiar with their ‘Legalize L.A.’ campaign shirt, but only recently came across their ‘Legalize Gay’ slogan t-shirt. The American Apparel slogan t-shirt wants you to promote and support the repeal of prop 8. 

It got me thinking. For me, these slogan shirts represent the convergence of fashion and politics in a clear and positive way; they offer the consumer a sense of empowerment, and send a clear message of support. But what do you think?

Two very different questions….





Global Surplus in Organic Cotton Production


According to this article by Eco-Textile News, although 2008 saw an increase in demand for organic cotton by 33%, global production was left with an 8% surplus. The article cites information released by non-profit Organic Exchange, who also claim that demand for organic cotton will likely result in a 24% increase in 2009 an worry that inventory will remain too high.


The Organic Cotton Market Report will be available in Feb 2009 for review.