On the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,300 garment workers, the call for a Fashion Revolution is getting ever stronger. A different fashion industry is needed, one that respects rather than exploits garment workers.
Transparency is the starting point, knowing who makes our clothes. At Arthur & Henry we're proud to know the famers who grow most of our cotton
We've got in some new shirts. They are mainly being photographed and getting ready for presentation but we've taken some snaps ourselves of the new colour Fairtrade organic shirt (it's a gorgeous grey-ey, green-ey blue) and popped it up for sale now during Fairtrade Fortnight.
The bells of waiting Advent ring, The Tortoise stove is lit again And lamp-oil light across the night Has caught the streaks of winter rain. In many a stained-glass window sheen From Crimson Lake to Hooker's Green. The holly in the windy hedge And round the Manor House the yew Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge, The altar, font and arch and pew, So that villagers can say 'The Church looks nice' on Christmas Day. Provincial public houses blaze And Corporation tramcars clang, On lighted tenements I gaze Where paper decorations hang, And bunting in the red Town Hall Says 'Merry Christmas to you all' And London shops on Christmas Eve Are strung with silver bells and flowers As hurrying clerks the City leave To pigeon-haunted classic towers, And marbled clouds go scudding by The many-steepled London sky. And girls in slacks remember Dad, And oafish louts remember Mum, And sleepless children's hearts are glad, And Christmas morning bells say 'Come!' Even to shining ones who dwell Safe in the Dorchester Hotel. And is it true? and is it true? The most tremendous tale of all, Seen in a stained-glass window's hue, A Baby in an ox's stall? The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me? And is it true? For if it is, No loving fingers tying strings Around those tissued fripperies, The sweet and silly Christmas things, Bath salts and inexpensive scent And hideous tie so kindly meant. No love that in a family dwells, No carolling in frosty air, Nor all the steeple-shaking bells Can with this single Truth compare - That God was Man in Palestine And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.
It's better for the farm environment. Organic fibres are grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers or toxic pesticides. By building soil fertility naturally through the use of compost and manure organic farmers help lock CO2 into the soil, helping mitigate climate change, and they also avoid the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy intensive fossil-fuel based fertilisers. It also avoids the use of the toxic pesticides that, in non-organic systems, are responsible for poisoning wildlife and rivers, as well as killing an estimated 16,000 people each year.
Some Arthur & Henry farmers loading their cotton
It's better for workers in the developing world. By avoiding toxic pesticides cotton workers benefit by avoiding the associated health problems and deaths common in non-organic cotton production. Avoiding pesticides also reduces production costs and farmer debts – the burden of pesticide debt has resulted in thousands of suicides in the developing world.
It avoids GM. GM is banned in organic systems – an estimated 30% of all cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified. GM cotton poses a potential risk to wildlife and human health, as well as exposing farmers to unnecessary expense – Greenpeace research in South India in 2009 showed that genetically modified Bt cotton did not result in significantly higher yields than organic cotton, but cost farmers twice as much to produce as organic.
It doesn't use harmful manufacturing chemicals. Our standards ensure that the chemicals used in processing textiles meet strict requirements on toxicity and biodegradability, and textile manufacturers must also have a waste water treatment plant and a sound environmental policy. In contrast non-organic manufacture uses tens of thousands of acutely toxic chemicals, including heavy metals, formaldehyde and aromatic solvent, many of which are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and have been associated with cancer, birth defects and hormonal and reproductive effects in wildlife and humans.
Factory conditions are higher. Poor working conditions and rights in the garments industry are common place and well documented. Manufacturers of Soil Association/GOTS certified organic textiles must meet social criteria based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. These cover minimum wages, working hours, child labour, freedom of association, discrimination, harsh or inhumane treatment and more.
If we could pluck a figure from history to have as Arthur & Henry's patron saint, a figure to epitomise our values, a person to look to for guidance, wisdom and inspiration it would be this man - William Morris. An incredible man, an artist, designer, craftsman and entrepreneur; a campaigner on social issues and all round good egg. (And check out that beard.)
“Nothing should be made by man's labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.”
It's not hard to see why he is something of a hero to us, and then there are the designs....bliss...
So imagine our delight when we discovered that the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London (Morris' family home) not only has a fantastic Morris collection but is also engaging with the issues Morris espoused, including issues around labour and exploitation in the production of textiles.
We've taken two Morris prints (more on the history of these prints and why we chose them later) and put them on fine Indian organic cotton, grown by small farmers, woven by machine, sewn by our amazing, skilled tailors in Bangalore. We think Morris would approve.
10% of the sale of each shirt goes to the William Morris Gallery for their exhibition and education work.
We were privileged this week to see the film Cotton by acclaimed Chinese documentary maker Zhou Hao. He records the life of a cotton farmer and his family in Xinjiang as they clear the fields, prepare them for planting (including the laying down of hundreds of metres of plastic film, which block weeds and warm the earth but must be horrifically polluting), the back breaking planting by hand, the migration of hundreds of women to pick the cotton at harvest time and, those who spin the cotton and make the clothes.
It's not the cheeriest film in the world, though the moments of bonding and giggling between the women as they leave their family responsibilities behind and pile into the train that will take them on the three day journey to Xinjiang, climbing in through windows and sleeping under the seats and in the luggage racks, has its endearing moments.
But what it did show, loud and clear, was the hardship of their lives, our privilege in contrast - the well dressed (and well fed) buyers at the Canton Trade Show, were a stark contrast to the farmers and workers - and how little we as consumers generally understand or value the sheer amount of effort* that goes into producing the clothes we wear.
Here's a short trailer for it, well worth five minutes of your time...
*There's a man whose job it is to turn jeans from inside out to right way round. All day. Every day.