Category Archives: Cotton

Anti-Slavery International targets European Parliament through Cotton Crimes campaign

Anti-Slavery International has recently relaunched their Cotton Crimes campaign with a new video.

It is our hope that, through our short video, we will reach out, inform and encourage people to act in the interests of the children of Uzbekistan.” (Samuel Cooper, Anti-Slavery International)

Anti-Slavery International is calling on the European Parliament to remove preferential trade tariffs with Uzbekistan. Click here for more information and to sign the petition.

Over 60 international retailers have joined forces to boycott Uzbek cotton, publicly stating their commitment to the eradication of forced child labour through the Responsible Sourcing Network, an As You Sow initiative.

Click below to learn more about what’s happening inUzbekistanand to follow our ongoing coverage:

LEARN // Social Alterations / A Closer Look / Uzbekistan

Interactive lesson plans educate learners on responsible fashion

The Creative Commons is embedded into our responsible education ethos; we have researched and aggregated content to create educational resources because we believe that accessibility leads to accountability. Of course knowledge is power, but without access to knowledge we will not move forward.

In 2009 we brought you “[Lesson 1] Sifting through the ‘Ecofashion’ Lexicon” and our “Fibre Analysis”. In 2010 we worked further to bringing you lessons on the social, cultural, economic and environmental interdisciplinary challenges facing the value system that is the global apparel supply chain.

Social Alterations 2010 //

[Lesson 4] Corporate Social Responsibility

[Lesson 3] Global Governance and the Corporation

[Lesson 2] Connect // Key Players

[Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing (pre-16 learners)

Social Alterations 2009 //


[Lesson 1] Sifting through the ‘Ecofashion’ Lexicon

Fibre Analysis

Check out this how to on navigating our site:

Social Alterations 2010 // Program Guide from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

Educating and Engaging // Shared Talent India, Centre for Sustainable Fashion

Shared Talent India encourages “fashion designers to exchange expertise with other protagonists across the supply chain, transcending traditional divisions, be they linguistic, geographic, or discipline based.” (Shared Talent India)

Designers can now access much needed information on opportunities and limitations of materials in India such as cotton and silk (among others). While designers may feel discouraged when they learn that genetically modified (GM) cotton “has found its way into almost every Indian supply chain,” they will no doubt understand the opportunity for change, as it exists in India, when they learn that “[s]eed exchange projects empower farming communities” (Shared Talent India).   

The project also provides information on the historical and cultural significance of skills such as weaving and knitting, dyeing and printing, embroidery, etc., as well as information on their processes. And, most important to designers, Shared Talent India presents a platform not only for education, but for engagement with direct access to suppliers on the ground.

Visit the project, get informed and join in on the industry conversation!

Congratulations to the Shared Talent India design team, their partners and funders and to the Centre for Sustainable Fashion for making this brilliant project happen.

Cocoa, Coffee & Cotton


By KoS, via Wikimedia Commons










Consumers be forewarned!  The price of your cotton clothes will rise!! Brands, retailers and suppliers are doing everything they can to keep costs down but they are in “a no-choice situation”, “prices have to come up.”

Cotton futures increased to around $1.4 recently; the highest price measured in 140 years of trade and with inventories at an all time low, there’s been some massive panic in the apparel industry. Other than the increase in cotton clothing costs, there are a variety of other consequences:

1. It’s expected that in an attempt to cut costs, producers, brands and retailers will probably increase the use of cotton blends and synthetics in their lines.

2. Component materials like thread and buttons are also being examined for cost savings.

3. Many companies (sticking with tradition) are placing their orders with manufacturers in lower wage and lower duty tariff countries like Bangladesh, and Cambodia; both of which experienced massive garment labour unrest over their workplace conditions.

So how did this situation arise?

Cotton LifeStyle Monitor explained the situation and concluded that this is a “classic situation in which prices are bound to rise” and that “[i]t may be helpful to recognize the forces that coincided to produce this “perfect storm” and to understand that cyclical events correct themselves over time.

Okay then, let me try:

1. The financial crisis: lagging consumer demand was met by a decrease in supply but when consumer demand rebounded slightly, supply hadn’t caught up which put a lot of pressure on inventories that were already low because of the low consumer demand that we started with.

2. Bad weather in… pretty much every place where there is cotton production…floods in Pakistan, droughts in China, Australia and Russia.  This means that supply will continue to be low for a while and inventories will not be restocked i.e. shortages in cotton.

3. Speculators saw these factors as good indicators of potential increases in cotton prices and entered the cotton market (i.e. bought it all up) and drove prices even higher by further increasing demand .

Interesting how volatile the cotton market has been this year! You know what The Daily Show has to say about the “perfect storm”:

“So it was the perfect storm…I feel like I’ve heard that before….The GM Bailout? The 2007 Bubble? The 2008 AIG bailout? Just a random crappy day on Wall Street?

Why is it that when something happens that the people who should’ve seen it coming didn’t see it coming, it’s blamed on these rare-once-in-a-century perfect storms, that for some reason take place every f***ing two weeks?

I’m beginning to think these are not perfect storms. I’m beginning to think these are regular storms and we have a shitty boat”.

(here’s a link to the clip for our Canadian friends)

Given the volatility of the cotton market, what can a company do to prevent price fluctuations??  One thing that brands, retailers and suppliers can do is learn from other industries dependent on volatile commodities.  Two classic examples are coffee and cocoa.


As you can see from the graph below, the coffee market is incredibly volatile.

Trends and variability in international coffee prices (annual averages) (FAO, 2003)

The FAO Commodity Market Review for 2003-2004 concluded a chapter on lessons learned from the international coffee crisis with this statement:

Ultimately, non-competitive producers must diversify out of coffee production.”

The Starbucks 2003 CSR report was very frank about the consequences of this price volatility:

A fair price to a Guatemalan coffee farmer living in a small, remote village may be different than that of a farmer living in Kenya. But in the end, both farmers must earn enough to cover their costs of production and adequately support their families. Otherwise, they may stop growing coffee. (emphasis added)

So, to insure a sustainable and stable supply of coffee in the future, Starbucks, the world’s largest buyer of coffee, with the help of Conservation International, developed Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices (C.A.F.E.), a set of guidelines and measurable standards designed to help farmers engage in socially and environmentally responsible agriculture.  They have also increased their purchases of fair trade certified coffee making it the largest purchaser in that market as well.  By 2015, Starbucks aims to source 100% of their coffee from responsibly grown and ethically traded sources which they define as “third-party verified or certified, either through Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices, Fairtrade, or another externally audited system.”


The cocoa industry faced a similar situation as the coffee industry with a highly volatile market.  An FAO report described price changes from 2000-2005:

Cocoa Pods

By Medicaster, via Wikimedia Commons

“After recovering from an all time low price of US 40 cents per pound in 2000, cocoa bean prices doubled in 2002 and remained steady at more than US 79 cents in 2003 as a result of reduced production and stock levels. A reversal in trend occurred in 2004 when an estimated surplus of 240 000 tonnes, the highest in 14 years, was realized. This led to prices declining to a little over US 70 cents per pound in 2004. Crop forecast for 2004/2005 indicate a continued upward trend in production along with exports. However, recent difficulties with shipments from West Africa, have led to a slight strengthening in prices in February 2005.”

In 2009, Mars announced their aims to have a completely sustainable cocoa supply chain by 2020 and is working with the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified to reach this goal.  It is the first chocolate retailer to do so and when asked the reasons behind the decision the response is remarkably similar to that of Starbucks:

“It is the appropriate choice for a stable, high-quality cocoa supply in the future”.

According to the Washington Post, the move is part of a long-term strategy to deal with fluctuating supplies which includes “a five-year, $10 million project to map the entire cocoa genome with the aim of developing trees that can better survive drought and disease.”

For both industries, large players realized that the long term consequences of price volatility include an unstable and shrinking supply.  The response was to develop a strategy that included a long term investment in the environmental and social sustainability of farming communities.  This investment should pay back as a sustainable, stable and consistently priced raw material central to the survival of these companies.

Cotton faces the same conditions as both coffee and cocoa in terms of price volatility and demand-supply fluctuations.  I think it might be time for the big players in the apparel industry to talk to the big players in the coffee and cocoa industries.  The only similar initiative I know of in the apparel industry is H&M’s commitment to sustainable materials.

Message from Earth: Organic Matters

At Farm Aid  25, Anvil Knitwear, a sustainable apparel manufacturer, released this short film entitled Message from Earth: Organic Matters.

In it, Anvil tries to get across the dangers of pesticide use in conventional farming.  They also remind us that we, as consumers, have a choice to make: we can be part of a negative cycle of  degradation or part of a positive cycle of growth.

It’s up to you.

World Water Day: 2010

March 22nd is World Water Day. Here are just a handful of stats out of the UN report World Water Day 2010: Clean Water for a Healthy World, “Water quality facts and statistics”:

  • Worldwide, infectious diseases such as waterborne diseases are the number one killer of children under five years old. More people die from unsafe water annually than from all forms of violence, including war. (WHO 2002)
  • Unsafe water causes 4 billion cases of diarrhoea each year, and results in 2.2 million deaths, mostly of children under five. This means that 15% of child deaths each year are attributable to diarrhoea – a child dying every 15 seconds. In India alone, the single largest cause of ill health and death among children is diarrhoea, which kills nearly half a million children each year. (WHO and UNICEF 2000)
  • Freshwater species have faced an estimated extinction rate five times greater than that of terrestrial species. (Ricciardi and Rasmussen 1999)
  • Point-of- use drinking water treatment through chlorine and safe storage of water could result in 122.2 million avoided DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years, a measure of morbidity), at a total cost of US$ 11.4 billion. (UN WWAP 2003)
  • 70% of untreated industrial wastes in developing countries are disposed into water where they contaminate existing water supplies. (UN-Water 2009)

For more stats and facts, and to download the full report click here.

Here is a video form charity: water, “a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects” on their campaign for Haiti.  

Unshaken – charity: water’s campaign for Haiti from charity: water on Vimeo.

Within the context of responsible fashion design, water consumption, pollution and contamination are endemic within the industry, make no mistake.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has done the math on cotton and water:

10,000-17,000 litres of water = 1 kg of cotton lint

6 pints of water = 1cotton bud

**This amount seems even more staggering when we consider that the cotton crop is only grown on 2.4% of the world’s arable land (EJF).**

Global cotton consumption has been estimated to be responsible for 2.6 per cent of the global water use, however, much of the impact is not felt in the country where the cotton is consumed, but where it has been produced. As a global average, 44 per cent of the water use for cotton growth and processing is not for serving the domestic market but for export.

As a result it has been estimated that nearly half of the water problems in the world related to cotton growth and processing can be attributed to foreign demand for cotton products. In this respect, it has been calculated that 84% of EU’s cotton-related water footprint lies outside the EU, with major impacts particularly in India and Uzbekistan.

Cotton production has a high impact on freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity through activities such as excessive water withdrawal for irrigation, runoff from fields, drainage, pesticide application, dam construction and land reclamation. The activities result in a range of impacts from salinisation, pollution to loss of soil and biodiversity.

The issue of bottled water is yet another side of the story. The Story of Stuff has launched a new campaign, and added a new video to the popular Story of Stuff series “The Story of Bottled Water: How “manufactured demand” pushes what we don’t need and destroys what we need most”. Click here for more information.

UN Water has a TON of interactive campaign materials available online, so be sure to check them out and help spread the word and get involved.

To learn more about the potential social and environmental impacts of cotton in this context, check out the SA Fibre Analysis.

WATCH// Social Alterations @ FEI

Here are just two of the videos we took at the conference. We have more videos to come, so stay tuned for those.

The first video is of my Pecha Kucha talk. I’ll be posting the slides and my notes a little later on. Please contact us if you have any questions on the works cited in the presentation.

Social Alterations @ FEI from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) held the table next to ours during the Market Place on day two of the conference. We asked them what exactly responsible fashion meant to the EJF, and for their thoughts on why designers should care.

FEI Conference 006 from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) was also there, asking participants “what organic cotton means… me”. Pictured above is Nadira Lamrad (right) with her answer.

Update III: Uzbekistan’s Cotton Trail

Yet another update on forced and child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector.

The Cotton Campaign continues to report on the flagrant abuse of human rights by the Uzbek government.  There have been some unfortunate incidents linked to this year’s harvest (to read more about them click below) including:

Another post gives a quick overview of the findings in the Veritas  preliminary report saying that:

The Cotton Campaign, through, has posted a list of representatives that were present at the Tashkent Cotton Fair.  According to the Cotton Campaign, “contracts were signed for over 600,000 tons of this year’s crop alone, and the list of attendees was the largest ever.”

Take a look at the list and see if you recognize any names. Please let us know who they are and which companies they service.  This is a big step in the ability to trace this harvest.

Finally, in case some are still wondering what the big deal is, here are some videos showing what life is like for the cotton labourers.

Community News

A roundup of some of the stories, headlines, and updates you may be interested in from in and around the community of socially responsible fashion design.


Abigail Doan

Interview with Modebewust

Body Politic

Vancouver based Body Politic launches new online store

Fashion Loves People

Why I’m Over American Apparel

How Nike will legitimize eco-design for the masses (and eco brands won’t)

Ethical Style

Issue #25: Design Issue

Centre for Sustainable Fashion

Green Gucci

Pratt Blog

Valerie Casey: A Leader in Sustainable Design

Clothesource Comments

Forced labour added to list of ethical hot topics

November Summary

EcoTextile News

Handbook to aid retailers source cotton

Click here to download the handbook

Project H

Design Revolution is taking to the road! 25 schools, 75 days and 6300 miles. Click here for more info.

The Girlie Girl Army

Chatting To Summer Rayne Oakes At Green Fashion Week 

DBTV: Girlie Girl & The Brute at The Green Shows, Pt 3 from The Discerning Brute on Vimeo.


Image Source: Core77 via Fashion Loves People

Battle of the Care Tags: Gap 1969 versus Levi’s 501

Prediction: 2010 will be the year of the care tags. That is, responsible care tags, among mainstream retailers.

You may remember SA highlighting Gap Inc.’s short-sightedness when we took a closer look into their Clean Water Campaign. Although we commended the company for an effective goal implementation strategy, it was hard to ignore the areas in which the company’s analysis fell (and continues to fall) short.

For starters, they seem to have conveniently ignored the impact of their product user, the consumer. Gap Inc.’s impact assessment stops at the retailer! As a result, they have washed their hands of any social or environmental impact of any Gap Inc. product once it has been purchased by the consumer. An oversight as large as this, by a company as large as the Gap, is…well, very bad! For more details on the problems with this incomplete lifecycle analysis check out our earlier post.  

levis care tagsThankfully, Levi Strauss & Co. has recently extended its corporate footprint to include the impact of the user, and launched a new care tag campaign as a result.

To determine where even greater environmental improvements could be made, the company studied every stage in the life cycle of a typical pair of 501 jeans. The findings indicated that one of the greatest opportunities for reducing climate change and water impact happens after consumers take their jeans home. That’s why, in addition to asking consumers to donate used clothing to keep it out of landfills, Levi’s is encouraging consumers to wash less, wash in cold water and line dry when possible— all of which together reduces your climate impact from washing and drying your Levi’s jeans by more than 50 percent.” (Levi Strauss & Co

They have also gone ahead and acknowledged the impact of the end of life of their products in their analysis, through a partnership with Goodwill, and have even included a  new logo on the care take to symbolize encouragement for product donation.

Unfortunately, one huge social and environmental impact consideration that was missing from Gap Inc. care tags is also missing by Levi Strauss: information on best practices with respect to cleaning detergents!

According to William McDonough & Michael Braungart, in their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, laundry detergent is a classic example of design for the worst-case scenario. What does this mean? Well, it means that a universal strategy has been put in place to make sure that in every scenario the end result on the product is the same. Essentially, they argue that systems of universal design assume “a worst-case scenario; they design a product for the worst possible circumstance, so that it will always operate with the same efficacy.” (Braungart and McDonough, 30) In this case, “[c]leaning detergents lather up, remove dirt, and kill germs efficiently the same way anywhere in the world―in hard, soft, urban, or spring water, in water that flows into fish-filled streams and water channelled to sewage treatment plants” (29-30). The authors go on to argue that “[u]nder the existing paradigm of manufacturing and development, diversity―an integral element of the natural world―is typically treated as a hostile force and a threat to design goals.” (32) Although “the economic payoff immediately rises, the overall quality of every aspect of this system is actually in decline.” (35) Your laundry detergent is hostile!

Commenting on the Levi care tags, Michael Kobori, vice president of social and environmental sustainability at Levi Strauss, has stated that “[t]his is the first major step to begin to engage consumers in their environmental impact and what they can do reduce it” (Ecotextile News) We are hoping the next steps will reflect on solutions for consumer education in the detergent department.

It’s so unfortunate that Gap Inc. dropped the ball on this consumer education initiative. The Gap’s Clean Water Campaign only included the 1969 jean. Why isn’t the company doing more to promote best practices on the rest of its denim products? Rather, in the rest of all of its products! They likely will be doing so now.

You can look for the new Levi’s tags in the U.S. by Jan. 2010, and globally by Fall 2010. But wait! That’s not all…“[t]he Levi’s ® brand and Goodwill® will also spread the word to consumers through online viral campaigns and in retail store communications.”

Did you hear that Gap Inc.? You still have time to catch-up! Why not start your own online viral campaign and in store consumer education campaign? If you need any help, we’d be happy to walk you through the actual stages of your garments’ footprint…..

Reminder! The abstract submission date on the call for papers for Social Labelling in the Global Fashion Industry is November 15th. Click here for more info.

Source: Levi Strauss & Co and Ecotextile News

Work Cited: Braungart, Michael and William McDonough. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York, NY: North Point Press, 2002.