Towards the end of last year I wrote a piece for the EggMag blog on organic cotton. I had been receiving lots of emails about organic cotton in fashion with The Soil Association launching a new global Organic Cotton Initiative to help promote the use of organic cotton to both clothing brands and to the consumer.
According to the Soil Association, the non-organic cotton industry uses almost 25 per cent of all the world’s insecticides and 10 per cent of pesticides; toxic pesticides used in non-organic systems kill an estimated 16,000 people each year, and poison wildlife and rivers too.
Meanwhile, an estimated 30 per cent of the world’s non-organic cotton is GM, causing all kinds of social problems as the big companies developing the seeds have a monopoly and thus control many of the farmers. I was shocked to learn that a reported 300,000 Indian cotton farmers have committed suicide since 1995, seemingly due to debt brought about as a result of the way the non-organic cotton industry operates. For a ‘natural’ product it is certainly not a clean product.
Fashion is indeed a big user of cotton but what about the beauty industry, we use it everyday too – cotton buds, cotton wool, face wipes etc – and on our most delicate skin. In my kit I try to make sure that I have organic cotton products, they are much easier to get hold of these days, you can pick them up while doing your weekly shop – Waitrose stocks them and Marks and Spencer have a fairtrade range. True, they can be a little more expensive than their ‘regular’ counterparts but I would rather pay that little bit extra and know that my cotton is as clean as nature intended.
I was very excited when I received an email from People Tree asking if I would like to go to India with them and shoot their spring/summer collection in the organic cotton fields. After a little thought (1 second) I promptly replied yes that I would love to go. I had never really seen where cotton comes from properly so I jumped at the chance to learn more.
On New Year’s day I boarded a flight to India with Lauren, our lovely model, eight hours later and bleary eyed, we met the rest of the team, Safia, Zandra and Miki, in Mumbai and the journey began. After visiting Creative Handicrafts, one of the factories People Tree works with, we travelled to Rapar in Gujarat where a lot of India’s cotton is grown.
The organic cotton production is a few weeks behind the conventional cotton this year because of a lack of rain, which is a concern but the flowers are starting to bloom now and the cotton is coming.
It was amazing to meet the farmers and see their work. With no harsh pesticides and insecticides, their families are safe from poisoning. We also saw what other good is being done in the community. We visited a local school along with a clean water project that have been set up by Agrocel, the organisation that co-ordinates and supports the organic farmers across India.
Neem oil plays an important role in organic farming as it is used as a pesticide, it also makes a great teeth cleaner!
On our trip we saw the whole journey of a People Tree dress – the fields where the organic cotton was grown and some of the factories where the dresses were pieced together and finished ready for sale. We also had the pleasure of meeting many of the inspirational people that People Tree work with. After seeing where the organic cotton comes from and the good that it does for the environment and for the farmers, I am even more determined to ensure that only organic cotton products are used in my kit. A simple decision on our part, such as changing our cotton wool, can make a huge difference to someone else’s life.
I am also trying to be more selective and responsible in my wardrobe decisions. I want to wear clothes that have been made fairly using fabrics that aren’t doing any harm to anyone or to the environment. Looking forward to the new People Tree collection!