Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ethical Fashion

It’s like that old joke about the shortest books in the world (Italian War Heroes, Swiss Comedians etc etc). “Ethical Fashion” could be the shortest story in the world because it really doesn’t exist.

There are ethical clothes — baggy, beige T-shirts made in Third World worker co-operatives from organic Fairtrade cotton — but not proper fashion.

OK, there are pockets of conscience. Vegetarian Stella McCartney with her stand against fur and leather. Easton Pearson manufacturing all their clothes (apart from the Indian embroidery) in Queensland. Err … and then my mind goes blank.

That’s not to say the fashion world is totally devoid of conscience. There is a lot of tireless work for AIDS and breast cancer charities, but when it comes to the real business of fashion, everything about it is fundamentally counter to current ethical concerns.

It is an industry based on fuelling consumption for things which are defined by their built-in obsolescence; on making people want things they don’t need and buy more than they can really afford; and on seducing us into believing that owning a material object can change our lives.

It is certainly one of fashion’s ironies that while spending $100,000 on a single dress might seem the very apogee of its decadence, it is at the peak of the fashion mountain that you will find the most ethical employment conditions. The “petite mains” (little hands) working in Paris couture salons are treated very differently from the almost slave labour in some Asian clothing factories. The Parisian master craftspeople are valued for their skills and the couture customer can pay the price for it.

It is at the other end of the market where the real horrors lurk. The current trend for cheaper and cheaper great clothes — which I confess I have been guilty of promoting in these pages — marvellous fun as it is for the Western consumer, is inevitably linked to terrible conditions for the people who make them. If we’re not paying for it — someone else is. Sorry if I’ve just ruined the jolly weekend shopping spree you were looking forward to, but that is the fact of it.

And it gets worse. Before you even get on to the conditions in a Thai sports shoe factory and the problem of knowing which big brands really use the ethical labour they — or rather, their contractors — claim, there are the environmental nightmares associated with the textile industry.

Take cotton — actually, don’t. Because the world’s favourite “natural” fibre is not, in fact, “pure and simple” as we have grown up to believe. Lovely as it is to wear and sleep in, cotton is one of the most pest-prone of crops, meaning that to produce it cheaply in industrial quantities, enormous amounts of chemicals have to be thrown at it.

About 150 grams of pesticides are used to cultivate the cotton for one T-shirt (that’s the equivalent of one cup, and it takes two and a half cups for a pair of jeans) so perhaps it’s not surprising that, according to a 1995 report into the industry by Allen Woodburn Associates, a quarter of all the world’s insecticides are used each year to grow cotton.

And when you add in the various soil sterilisers, fumigants, herbicides and defoliants also used to grow this “natural” fibre, we are talking about some of the most deadly chemicals in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, 20,000 people die each year in developing countries as a result of sprays used on non-organic cotton. In Benin, West Africa, 24 people died as a direct result of poisoning from cotton pesticides in 2000, including 11 children.

And that’s just the agricultural part of the textile cycle. At least 8000 chemicals are used at the next stage of processing, to turn raw material into clothes, towels, bedding etc, and some of the substances involved are known to be harmful to human health and wildlife, say environmentalists William McDonough and Dr Michael Braungart.

How are feeling about your “pure” cotton T-shirt now? Of course, all that chemical business happens before the shirt gets on your back and, like so many eco nightmares that are happening somewhere else, it’s easy to block it out.

But there is a growing sense of concern that the chemical toxicity associated with cotton production might not stop at the soil and unfortunate Third World labourers.

Call it the nicotine patch construct, but there is a body of thought that says by having such a highly processed product next to our skin we may absorb residues — such as the formaldehyde used as a dye fixer and anti-wrinkle finisher in some countries — into our bloodstreams. These uncomfortable ideas are contributing to a growing market for organically farmed cotton and naturally processed fabrics of all kinds. It might seem cranky and alarmist now, but I am certain it will one day be as normal to expect an organic option in your clothing as it is in your vegies, or your face cream.

Just like the boom in organic food, awareness of uncontaminated textiles is taking off at a grassroots level, with parents seeking organic cotton baby clothes, towels and bedding for their newborns. If we could absorb chemical residues through our gnarly adult hides, the thinking goes, how much more at risk is the superfine skin of tiny babies and their delicate systems?

It was this concern — as well as environmental impact — that prompted children’s wear designer Annette O’Donnell to launch her range of Gaia Organic Cotton baby wear in 2000. It’s now sold throughout Australia.

“I realised that the very fabric I was using was having a detrimental effect on our environment,” O’Donnell says. “I’d always thought of cotton as pure, but as I learnt it was a chemically intensive growing process, I felt the need to re-look my design direction.”

Russell Lamb and Tim Ower had a similar epiphany about the sheets and towels side of things, which they used to import in large volumes from China. They founded Eco Down Under, a gorgeous range of naturally produced and organic cotton items, sold at Holy Sheet and many other outlets, including their own store in Rozelle.

So that’s the baby and the bathroom sorted out, what about the rest of your organic cotton needs — like actual clothing? Well, this is where it gets tricky. Most of it is pretty yuk. Because Prada, Country Road et al just don’t do organic gear.

In fact, the only prominent designer I have ever known to speak out on the topic is that well-known political animal Katharine Hamnett.

“I thought we were just silly fashion designers not doing any harm, making silly clothes,” she says. “How wrong I was. I did some research into the environmental impact and it made for horrific reading.

“The [fashion] industry does not give a damn, yet research shows that consumers would prefer organic textiles if sold at the same price — and this is possible now. But no one buys sustainably produced clothes because they are worthy. They have to be desirable in their own right.

“That whole granola look has done the whole organic cotton movement a great disservice,” she says. “It’s so unnattractive, it’s foul.”

She’s right. Just as organic food has to be a more pleasant experience to eat than the processed variety, or no one would be willing to pay the premium price, organic clothes will need to be just as stylish as the conventional processed variety, or we won’t buy them.

If you hunt around on the internet, you will find some basic sportswear and underwear lines that are acceptable — for example, which brings them in from the US — but that’s about it. Sorry, I wish I had better news.

So what can we do? If we want change on this issue we have to get active.

First up, support the firms that are producing organic cotton items now because if small organic clothing companies start to do well, and there’s money to be made, the big guys will want a piece of it.

In just this way, the world’s biggest food corporations are now all creating their own organic brands; so the organic pasta sauce you buy, in its ethical looking packaging, may well be owned by Heinz.

I admit it will be hard, at this stage, to find much to buy beyond T-shirts, so write to your favourite designers and shops to tell them you are concerned about cotton farming practices, and would like them to offer an organic alternative — or you might be forced to shop elsewhere.

Wherever you do buy clothes, ask the shop assistants if they have an organic range. They will probably look at you blankly at first, but if enough people do it, word will filter up to buyers and management.

Best of all, explore the possibilities of hemp clothing, which is the real answer to the whole problem. But that, as they say, is another story.

Written by: Sydney Morning Herald


Adya International said...

I just visited your website and I absolutely fell in love with the whole feel and the message you pass on. Way to go.. Its amazing how wel you can create the feel and emotion just by a website.. The garments do speak out a lot.. I specifically loveyour mission behind the whole thing ..

I am writing this mail to you to be associated with your company either through Vendorship or through Partnership..

You will be proud to know that ADYA INTERNATIONAL has been a very passionate about the organic way of life, improving lives of a lot of people and showing gratitude towards mother earth. Based in India , we humbly and graciously fold hands to the nature to bless us in all our endavours…

We are into :-

1. manufacturing of organic apparel in knitted and wovens for men , women and children

2. production of handspun organic woven fabrics

3. production of 100% herbal organic dyes

4. Fair trade production of recycled paper and cotton waste utility products.

5. Fair trade production of surface ornamentation on garments and textiles.

Manufacturing of organic apparel

Manufacturing of 100 % organic apparels include mens, womens, and childrens wear. I have done this production for all ranges more in knitted wear. We have used :-

100% organic cotton,

70% organic cotton - 30% bamboo blend,

85 % bamboo - 15 % organic cotton ,

96% organic cotton - 4% lycra (elastanve)

100% bamboo

96% bamboo - 4% lycra ( elastane)

(BAMBOO is known for its antibacterial properties, freshness and deodrance.)

I am also trying to explore into Soy, Pine and Banana Fibers but I haven’t done any production into them yet. We have done baby wear , T shirts for women in herbal dyes and herbal all over prints, yoga wear for men and women (currently in production), Trendy T shirts for men ( currently in sampling stage) .

In wovens I have done couture skirts with Ahimsa Silk and tops with 60’s organic cotton and amazing prints. We also sampled Womens Jackets using handspun organic cotton( organic khadi). I am also doing sampling of bathrobes for Spa’s using herbal dyed handspun organic cotton.


1. Low Impact Chemical Dyes - You must have heard abt these everywhere. 90 % percent of organic garment providers and manufacturers are proudly using these dyes and yet agencies certify them as “organic” . According to me, they are nothing but diluted forms of the same chemical and hazardous dyes used on normal clothing. As if the concentration is reduced from one cup to half a cup. Certain manufacturers (like us) however ensure that these dyes do not have the carcinogenic material, lead , indigo concentrations, chemical washed etc.. So we have a yet softer form of low impact chemical dyes. On the other hand, these dyes are freely available, in all spectrum of colours, infact any PANTONE colour can be produced in these dyes, they do not run and can be screened.

2. Water Soluble Dyes - These are slightly better form of dyes. They contain water based pigments and are less chemically hazardous as compared to Low Impact Chemical dyes. They too are freely available, in most spectrum of colours, do not run and also be screen printed.

3. 100% Herbal Dyes - They are the most natural form of dyes. They 100% chemical free natural herb based dyes over our fabrics. This is a patented formula. These dyes are manufactured by herbs and nature products such as henna , turmeric, madder, tulsi etc… We have developed a range of 18 basic colours so far and developing and researching more each day.. They are not available freely , they have 18 basic colours, some of the shades like crimson’s do run in the first wash and are supposed to be washed with similar colours, they can be printed all over, can be screened . On the whole, you may not get that bright ranges as you may get in low impact chemical dyes or water based. But this is the best form of dyes which I always suggest especially for baby or infant wear.

Handspun Organic Woven Fabrics

We are direct manufacturers of handspun organic cotton, also known as ORGANIC KHADI. This are organic cotton yarns hand spun, hand twisted and hand woven by handlooms. We dont use any mechanised process or power looms at any stage. ( I can send you a video of this production too ! ) This is absolutely one of its kind product and cannot even be compared to machine woven fabrics ..Just for your knowledge, fabric production of 7 machine woven shirts provides employment to one person, but on the other hand, fabric production of one hand spun ( or khadi ) shirt provides employment to 4 people. We achieve softness by using super combed organic yarns and non chemcial fabric softners.

(Using this fabric and topping it with herbal dyes couldn’t get any better – its like THE MOST “IDEALLY GREEN” clothing you can ever get !! You gain the blessings of workers, and gain the blessings of the nature through the natural dyes )

Fair trade production of recycled paper and cotton waste utility products

Now we don’t even throw the cotton waste ! We simple collect it, mix it with other bio-degradable wastes and mainly paper, and then RECYCLE ! These products are purely hand made from recylced paper and 100% Cotton waste . Paper recycling is the process of recovering waste paper and cotton cloth and remaking it into new paper products.If you would like, I can send you the details of the manufacturing process. Ranges include items such as pen stands, memo pads, wall hangings, phone books, carry bags , utility cases, letter holders, photo frames etc...

These are ecofriendly and at the same time highly employment generating products.Thousands of workers are involved in this work because of its manual nature. For every order, usually minimum 5-10 workers are required for basic designing and hundreds of them to execute the product

Fair trade production of surface ornamentation on garments and textiles

As a part of fair-trade we are creating 100 % handmade products by rural Indian artisans. We contemporize our women's and girl's wear ranges using these beautiful hand made products and make it as trendy and wearable for our customers .These products include authentic traditional Indian hand embroideries from almost all the states, mirror works, knotted designs, crochet, knitting, macramé, hand made organic dyes, hand made prints, wax prints , vegetable prints, handmade block art etc... We are also into handmade accessories such as stoles, shawls, handbags, handtags, scarves etc..

Corporate / Give – away’s / Event’s

Catching on the Green wave, there have been many Corporates, offices and large quantity clients who have approached us with their requirements – we of course welcomed them to join our bandwagon ! We even made a lot of give away bags, volunteer T shirts for events, “SAY NO TO PLASTIC” totes and a host of other things …

Yoga Accessories

I am into yoga bags, totes, mats , rugs , eye pillows cushions, teak wooden blocks, neti pots etc.. You can have these products with and without your logo over it. It could be as personalised as you would want them. They are made with and without organic fibers , however you want them.


Last but not the least ! Bed sheets , towels , pillow covers …. In amazing self weaves, prints, textures…… whew !


Thanks a lot for being patient and going through the above write up. I think I have just been born for this mission so I cant limit the flow of writing once I start..

I will be more than happy if I could be able to manufacture something for the cause you are behind. Being an apparel designer myself, I could probably design some T Shirts free of cost for you ! As long as I meet people with the same cause and the same mission.. my passion for saving the planet just triples !

I would love to hear from you , answer your queries if any.. Pls also let me know if you would like to see certain sample or swatches.You could give me your contact number ifyou would like me to get in touch with you.

Thanks and Best Regds



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