William McDonough talks ‘cradle to cradle’ design theory in this TED talk.
“I think we have a design problem.”
William McDonough talks ‘cradle to cradle’ design theory in this TED talk.
“I think we have a design problem.”
New short film out of Amnesty International this week. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a direct correlation between the fashion industry and torture. Social issues facing the industry today include: forced labour, child labour, harassment or abuse, nondiscrimination, health and safety, freedom of association and collective bargaining, wages and benefits, hours of work, overtime compensation (Workplace Code of Conduct, FLA).
Source: Amnesty UK
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.
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.
1. Wal-Mart (USA)
2. C&A (Belgium)
3. Nike (USA)
4. H&M (SE)
5. 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.
This weekend, Oxfam Langara will challenge the role of fashion in the context of human rights and social justice.
When: Friday, April 3rd, 2009, 6:00pm (to end @2am, Sat. April 4th)
Where: Fashion Show, Langara College, 100 West 49th Street, Cafeteria/ After Party, Tonic night club, Vancouver
According to the Facebook page:
The Oxfam Campaigns that we will be concentrating on are:
• fair trade
• debt and aid
• health and sanitation
• gender equality
• Arms Control
The show will feature selected appetizers, refreshments, prizes and raffles, entertaining music and key note speakers such as Miriam Palacios, head of Oxfam B.C/Yukon Region and Peter Prontzos, Political Science Professor from Langara College. Ticket holders will have the opportunity to network within the Oxfam community, Vancouver Fashion Week designers, media and photographers, fashion industry leaders, local community leaders, leading social justice advocate, and the head of Oxfam B.C/Yukon Region.
Tickets are 20$, with all proceeds going to Oxfam Canada.
For more information, and to purchase tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Labor Committee released a report last week citing sweatshop conditions in a Guatemalan factory manufacturing clothing for Briggs New York (80%) and Lane Bryant (remaining 20%) clothing.
If you don’t want to read the full article, here is the abstract:
“Young Mayan women sew Briggs New York and Lane Bryant clothing under abusive and illegal sweatshop conditions at the Nicotex factory outside Guatemala City. Women in the U.S. are unknowingly purchasing clothing made by other women who are being exploited.
All overtime at the Nicotex factory is mandatory, and 14 2/3-hour shifts, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:40 p.m. including six hours of overtime, are uncommon. The women are routinely at the factory up to 72 hours, forced to toil 20 to 25 hours of overtime. Women unable to remain for overtime work, even if they have family emergencies, are fired. The workers are allowed just 10.2 minutes to sew each Briggs New York blouse for which they are paid 19 ½ cents. The women and their families are trapped in extreme poverty, earning just 76 cents to $1.15 an hour, which comes nowhere close to meeting even their most basic subsistence level needs.
Workers and their children are cheated of health and maternity care, including paid maternity leave, which they paid for and is supposed to be guaranteed under Guatemalan law. Workers are also robbed of their vacation and severance pay and are shortchanged of their legal bonuses.
For those of you who don’t know who Charles Kernaghan is, he is “The Man Who Made Kathy Lee Cry”. He also heads the National Labor Committee. Here’s a video of him discussing the science of exploitation and his work with the NLC from the film The Corporation.
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.”
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….