Category Archives: Cotton

Update II: Forced Labour in Uzbekistan


Children working the cotton fields this year in Uzbekistan.
Children working the cotton fields this year in Uzbekistan.

In August, SA posted an update on Uzbekistan’s forced and child labour in the Cotton sector. SA continues to follow the story and unfortunately, matters have continued to decline.  As expected, the Uzbek government is once again relying on forced and child labour during this year’s harvest season.  The Cotton Campaign (through reports that 8 out of 12 provinces have kicked off a mass mobilization into the cotton fields.  It is quite disappointing to learn that this practice continues in Uzbekistan despite government guarantees that child labour is banned.  Perhaps the trouble is that there continues to be a market for Uzbek cotton regardless of the way it is harvested.  We urge you to head over to Cotton Campaign and sign the petition against Child Labour in Uzbekistan.

The Cotton Campaign also points to an Independent World Report article on this issue that points out that Unicef, which has a significant presence in Uzbekistan, is not addressing this situation.  The article also targets two major retailers, H&M and Inditex (Zara and Bershka), that are both sourcing some of their garments from suppliers in Bangladesh which in turn source some of their cotton from Uzbekistan.  One of the excuses used by some brands is that it’s difficult to trace the source of a garment’s cotton.  The article dismissed this excuse with a quote from Juliette Williams from the Environmental Justice Foundation:

“Identifying the source of cotton used by major brands and all the steps along the supply chain is possible. It can be done and has been done. No one thinks that tracing cotton is simple. But, it is certainly not impossible. Look at companies like Tesco and Wal-Mart, which have made a public commitment to avoid Uzbek cotton. The fact that cotton at its various stages of production and processing is traded internationally is important, as there is always paperwork that enables transit through customs. In short, we know that at every stage somebody knows where the cotton is coming from. Companies need to spend some effort, ask the right questions and let their suppliers know what is required, or, in the case of Uzbek cotton, what they want to avoid. They do it for quality reasons, why not for ethical reasons too?”

We would like to know more about the traceability issue.  Is it really as difficult as some claim?  What are the factors that are preventing some brands from moving forward on this?  We would like to hear from you.  Please help us learn about this and leave a comment below or contact us.

Special thanks to Cassandra Cavanaugh from Cotton Campaign who let us know that Kohl’s has now joined the boycott.

Source: Cotton Campaign, & Independent World Report.

Social Alterations: Fibre Analysis


We’re working on developing some ready-to-use curricula for fashion/textile/apparel instructors and designers.

First up, is the Social Alterations “Fibre Analysis: Possible Social and Environmental Impacts.” Data for this document was aggregated from resources you will find in the “Works Cited” section, on the last page of the PDF. This document is licensed and protected through the Creative Commons, which basically means that you can use it wherever/whenever you want, assuming you do so within the guidelines outlined in the Creative Commons licensing for which this document is registered (see below).

This is only the beginning folks; Social Alterations has mandated itself to deliver online curriculum to aid in the development of socially responsible fashion design education.

You can get involved by joining the Social Alterations Forum to share your experience in socially responsible fashion design education.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns or requests please contact us.

Fibre Analysis by Mary Hanlon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.

Click here to download the resource: Fibre Analysis, Social Alterations

An October to Remember// Upcoming Events

October will have you wishing you could be in more than one city at the same time.

If you find yourself in Paris, Chicago, Providence, Portland, Hong Kong, London or Seattle this October, be sure to check out these amazing events. Click on the event you are interested in on the Events Calendar and we should link you straight into the events homepage.


Also, if you are near London in Oct. Nov. or Dec., be sure to stay tuned into the London College of Fashion, for Clash! Creative Collisions in Fashion and Science.

Clash! Creative Collisions in Fashion & Science


Last but not least, if you have an upcoming event you think are readers would be interested in, be sure to drop us a line.

avoiding dirty cotton//resources

CREM Working on Sustainability

Retailers have a responsibility to understand the social and environmental impacts of the products they sell. Unfortunately, “the cotton supply chain is fragmented, complex and not very transparent.” (CREM, 7) Although CREM’s new handbook, “Sustainable cotton on the shelves,” was developed with mainstream retailers to in mind, it can also be used as a tool for apparel / textile/ fashion (etc.) designers to turn to for help on getting more educated on the fibre.

Designers have a responsibility to understand the true social and environmental consequences of their designs. “While efforts are being made to have full traceability of conventional cotton, at present such a system does not exist (to date only certified cotton is fully traceable).” (7) The use of conventional cotton is an irresponsible design choice. While fully sustainable cotton is not an option, this handbook will guide you through the in’s and out’s of initiatives, certification, third-parties, retailers and the better cotton initiative. The guide also breaks down industry definitions and categories.

*If you are a design educator, the guide contains excellent visual aids. For example,  “How Clean is my Cotton?” (pg.5) could be useful when explaining the social, environmental, and economic impact of cotton production to your design students.  

*If you are a designer, please be sure to also read this report by Urs Heierli “Where Farmer and Fashion Designer Meet: Globalization with a Human Face in an Organic Cotton Value Chain.”  

*If you are a design enthusiast, please, spread the word.


About the report:

“Using the perspective of new-comers in the world of sustainable cotton, the handbook attempts to explain complex issues in an accessible manner, answering the key questions that textile retail managers, buyers or marketers may face: What type of sustainable cotton is the most suitable for my business? Can I source it from my own supply chain, at what conditions? Is there a consumer demand for sustainable cotton? What are my options if I am a small or medium sized retailer?


Through concrete questions and straightforward answers, the handbook provides an overview of issues and trends in the production and marketing of sustainable cotton. The handbook ”Sustainable cotton on the shelves” is the outcome of a project run in the Netherlands by the retailers HEMA and de Bijenkorf, the Dutch association for large textile retailers (VGT), the NGOs Oxfam Novib and WWF, and the consultancy CREM.

 Pascale Guillou, senior consultant at CREM, says “We are extremely pleased that the result of this two-year research and consultation process with numerous stakeholders can be widely shared with mainstream retailers. We hope that this handbook will help textile retailers making strategic decisions and operational choices at a time when they experience the will or the need to better perform on a triple bottom line”

Click here to download the handbook.


Source: EcoTextile News and CREM

MADE-BY + EDUN = Improved living conditions in Africa through clean cotton

MADE-BY is celebrating 5 years by partnering with ethical fashion company EDUN for a design competition. The contest will run in October, with the winning design (presented December 16th) will have created a limited edition T-shirt, sold online and through selected retailers throughout Europe.  Partial proceeds will be donated to the Conservation Cotton Initiative (CCI), an initiative dedicated to helping farmers in Africa make the move away from conventional cotton, and toward pesticide-free organic cultivation.


Source: Centre for Sustainable Fashion

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.

Social Alterations is now on Ning!



You can use this space to share and upload curricula ideas, lesson plans, visual aids, research and projects, or to just discuss the current happenings in the industry with respect to social issues and environmental concerns, as well as the latest trends in socially responsible design.




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Social Alterations: Forum

How can education foster sustainable change toward socially responsible fashion and apparel design and manufacturing practices?

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Social Alterations hopes to foster socially responsible fashion design education through aggregating relevant material that will inspire fashion/textile and apparel instructors, researchers, designers and design enthusiasts to get on board with thinking about consequence in the industry.

Sign up to the Social Alterations Forum if you’re interested in sharing and contributing ideas on curriculum, research, projects, materials, design, etc. with this community.

Watch: FTA’s ” Sustainable Fashion 101″


Based out of Toronto, Canada, Fashion Takes Action is a member’s based organization dedicated to transforming the fashion industry.  FTA helps businesses, as well as designers, students, consumers and researchers, become more aware of their social and environmental impact, while learning the benefits of operating a more sustainable business.

Up this week on the FTA site is video coverage of their recent event “Sustainable Fashion 101.” Presentations from FTA Founder, Kelly Drennan, Andrea Stairs, Head of Marketplace Development at eBay, Ellen Karp, President of Anerca, Elsa Poncet, ECOCERT Europe, and Lorraine Smith, an Independent Sustainability Consultant can be viewed here.

Also, stay tuned to FTA this Fall for the upcoming workshop “Eco Garble – Eco Garbage = Eco Garb” with Lorraine Smith.

Here is an overview of the workshop:  

Many clothing retailers are offering eco-products in response to consumer demand for green. But it’s not always clear why products are eco-friendly; in some cases the environment may actually be the worse for wear in spite of the greenest of intentions.

There is a lot of information about environmentally sustainable fabric out there. Some of it is helpful and based on scientific, time-tested facts. Some of it is greenwash. And some of it is a confusing mix of both.

Why is bamboo more sustainable than cotton? Or is it?
Is the flame-retardant in babies’ sleepwear safe for the environment? Or for babies?
Why do some say wool is baaaad for the environment even though it’s renewable?

This half-day workshop will take a life cycle approach to garments and environmental sustainability. During the workshop participants will:

  • Experience a hands-on survey of raw materials in fabrics including wool, cotton, flax, cellulosics (rayon, bamboo, soy), and petrochemical-based fibres, providing an understanding of what these materials are in their simplest form, and how they are harvested/extracted and processed into cloth.
  • Review the environmental and social risks and opportunities associated with different fibre sources throughout the life cycle of textile products.
  • Identify through interactive discussion ways to measure, manage, and communicate environmental improvements, firmly instilling the “eco” in “eco-garb.”

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