When most people think about organic cotton they associate it with super soft fabric, free from pesticides and nasties, touching the skin of their little babes. It's a lovely, warm a fuzzy feeling, and it seems like a great thing to do for your child. For us however, this is the least important reason why we choose to manufacture with organic cotton and organic materials. To us, this really means nothing. Let me explain...
I remember reading a post once, where someone made the comment regarding organic cotton - 'as soon as you wash the clothing, its full of chemicals anyway' - and then I saw a landslide of support for this way of thinking. I then realised that there is a huge lack of understanding about the manufacturing industry, how it works, how people are treated, and how organic certification and fair-trade practices, which often go hand-in-hand, can be one of the few ways to combat the horrific treatment of workers in developing countries.
Lets start with cotton farming. Traditional cotton farming is very pesticide heavy, so not only does this remain in the cotton, but it also contaminates the soil for the farmer, as well as the waterways of the farm and the village. This in turn affects the ability for the farmer to effectively yield (ill health and bad soil) and the crop can end up costing more than they can sell it for.
The processing of cotton is then again very heavily dependent on chemicals, such as heavy metals, formaldehyde, azo dyes, benzidine or chlorine bleach, cause environmental pollution by the mills’ waste water and many can be found as residues in the finished product.
Once the cotton reaches the manufacturer, a whole new set of humanitarian issues arise - the sweatshop. A sweatshop is a manufacturing facility where workers endure poor working conditions, long hours, low wages and other violations of labour rights. Unfortunately, places known as sweatshops are particularly common in developing countries where labour laws are often not enforced.
Factories can be located in dangerous and deteriorating buildings that are unsafe. There have been several cases of factory collapses and fires in Bangladesh. Other issues of concern are workers with exposure to toxic substances or using dangerous machinery without adequate protection.
Workers are often underage - can in fact be children - paid next to nothing for working excessive hours, and in unsafe, horrendous conditions, just so we can save a few bucks on a t-shirt. I have read many stories of children who have died at work in countries like Bangladesh or India due to abuse, bullying or unsafe conditions, in the most horrific ways, because there is nobody there to protect them. They have no rights.
When we began researching manufacturing, and in particular organic cotton manufacturing, I began to learn about the huge flow-on effect organic cotton farming has to both the environment and the people involved. We chose to manufacture with GOTS certified organic cotton, which means that not only were the environmental criteria met, but that GOTS require strict ethical manufacturing processes to be followed which include; no child labour, no discrimination, fair working hours, paid a living wage, safe working conditions, the right to enterprise bargaining and more.
It is a sad state of our society that we do not demand these basic human rights as absolutely mandatory conditions on every single piece of clothing that comes into our country. But we don't.
So why doesn't everyone manufacture with organic materials? Good question. The simple answer is, it is more expensive. We pay more per garment coming out of our factory than many chain stores charge as a RRP. Often times I see the price of clothing in some of the big chains, and I just know that it is not possible to sell something for that price without someone being taken advantage along the way.
So for us there was no choice. We could never develop a brand that knowingly hurt even one single person along the chain, so organic was the way for us. Are our margins smaller? Of course. But to know that our little business is creating real jobs, and contributing to a better world for our kids is what is important for us.
And that is the truth.