Month: December 2016

WHY HEMP SHOULD BE KEEPING YOU WARM THIS WINTER

Meet HoodLamb – The Amsterdam-Born Hemp Innovators

Fast fashion gets a bad rep (and rightly so!) from its focus on incessant consumption to its use of cheap labour and materials.

While awareness around these issues is growing, and many brands are taking new measures to address this, some, such as HoodLamb, which have fair ethics and sustainability at their core, are starting to get recognised.

HoodLamb began in the ‘90s in Amsterdam and was seeded by a love for Hemp (no pun intended). Over twenty years ago, HoodLamb’s founder Douglas Mignola moved to The Netherlands from California and set up a store dedicated to all things Hemp. “The jackets came later,” he says.

dsc_5489-1080x715

Yes, HoodLamb’s roots lie firmly in the Amsterdam many tourists dream about, but over the years the brand has reinvented itself and today it focuses on producing slick, sustainable, and incredibly warm jackets.

But before we focus on the jackets, let’s backtrack to the 90s when Douglas, now in his early 20s and far from home, began his business with an instinct “that Hemp was going to be big!”

“I could go on about the benefits of Hemp. There’s no need for pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, it requires half the amount of water than other agricultural crops, and it enriches, rather than depletes, the soil by shedding its leaves throughout the season.”

Douglas was right; Hemp was going to be big. And while he explains that over the years the brand has toyed with doing other products, the HoodLamb design team, headed by Annemarie Baurdoux, soon realised the material was most suited for jackets.

“It’s one of the strongest and most durable natural fibres available, and it’s sturdy, strong and thick.”

While vegans and environmentalists were quick to catch onto HoodLamb’s work, the brand has also gained popularity from unlikely celebrities such as Snoop Dogg (captured on MTV sporting the jacket while on tour in Germany) and TV celebrity Woody Harrelson.

snoop-dogg

Today, HoodLamb’s image is high end fashion, but its love for all things sustainable – and Hemp – has remained.

While many brands use nasty chemicals to ensure their jackets are waterproof, HoodLamb uses a water resistant coating made from natural cellulose found in the inner core of the hemp stalk. Further, the inside of each jacket features “fake fur” made from recycled plastic – not only great for the planet, but snuggly and warm.

Beyond making a sustainable product, Douglas believes in sustainable production and chooses to work with factories he trusts to provide safe conditions.

26309822883_151c40733b_z-1

“We only work in the north of China where the air is cleaner and with factories who manage their wastewater well. I was so excited when I first saw a clean wastewater treatment plant” he laughs, “I remember showing it to customers.”

Anyone who works in the fashion industry knows that even an impressive water treatment programme is not exciting to customers, but this goes to show just how much care is given.

However he admits that when you’re small fish in a big pond, trying to do good, it can be difficult to remain competitive.

“We’re just happy there’s growing interest in sustainable fashion. And that stores such as Charlie + Mary are now exposing our brand to a new type of “conscious consumer.”

(Above, a factory worker participating in Fashion Revolutions “Who Made Your Clothes” campaign).
(Above, a factory worker participating in Fashion Revolutions “Who Made Your Clothes” campaign).

While Douglas admits there’s always room for improvement, for example they could choose to use no dye at all, he firmly believes  wearability is also key to sustainability.

“We consider ourselves Hemp innovators and we want to challenge the traditional notion of “sack-looking” Hemp,” he says.

“Our goal is to not only make ethical, sustainable clothing, but clothing that gets worn everyday. We think it’s criminal to leave clothing lying in your wardrobe.”

Images: Blogger Justine wearing Hoodlamb 

BEHIND THE SEAMS: ORGANIC GARMENT PRODUCTION IN NORTH INDIA

In North India we visited the production partner of the newest brand in our agency portfolio, POPUPSHOP.  We took the train from Delhi to Agra station from where it was about an hour drive to the Kishor factory

Kishor exports is a family business founded in 1979 when Mr. Satish Agarwal and Mrs.Sneh Lata Agarwal, left the USA to settle down in India. Today their company is run by their son Mr. Deepak Agarwal, who showed us around the factory and proudly told us everything about the Kishor company. 

30373634206_437917b789_k

Having lived in the US, the Kishor family realisess how important it is to have certifications. Even though it brings along a lot of adminitrative work and costs. 

‘Our company is certified by GOTS (for global organic textile standards) / FAIR TRADE (by flo-cert) & SA-8000.

‘More importnatly we are a manufacturer & exporters of organic cotton clothing in India and we have been exporting to Europe since 1979. Our factory is a modern and sophisticated factory.’ 

30323647921_c813ead1f4_k

Interesting is that Agra isn’t necessarily known for being a garment factoy area, there is actually more shoe manufacturing.

This means it isn’t the easiest to find a lot of skilled tailors, like in other areas in India for example. 

‘But we think it is important to bring econimic benefits to this area, as well as fair and safe working conditions. Most of the tailors working in the factory have been with us for a long time’. 

30373633086_9a8c9b7995_k

Mr. Deepak explains us that he and the company have a strong social comittment to serve the society. Therefore they are for example supporting the organization ‘TEARS’, a local Institute & Hostel for Mentally handicapped Children

He took us to the big school building where we met the teachers and the children. Mr. Deepak pasionately told us about the work of Tears and how important it is to support this beautiful initiative. 

‘Love, care and protection are what these mentally handicapped children need as their toys, to bring back in to their lives the childhood joys.’ 

tears-10

‘Another institute supported by Kishor is SEAM (Skills for Employment in Apparel Manufacturing), which is operated and supported by Kishor for skill enhancement & upliftment of women who are living in rural areas near to us.’ 

‘Here we give training to women from rural areas near by our factory and try to make them skilled workers for Apparel Manufacturing and later on we offer them a job opportunity in our company.

In this institute we provide good infrastructure, stitching machines &equipments, accommodation / hostel facility, meals and trained faculties.’

29779264304_01562aebc5_k

BEHIND THE SEAMS: ORGANIC COTTON FARMING IN INDIA

Cotton is the world’s most commonly used natural fiber and is in nearly 40 percent of our clothing. Cotton is grown all over the world with India being the second largest cotton grower. 

Although cotton has a natural and clean image the truth is that cotton drinks up more of its fair share of water and is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world. Nope! Absolutely not as sustainable as it might seem…. Neither does growing cotton bring economical benefits to India’s cotton farmers. Instead the unstable cotton prices and resulting debts the farmers are in, often makes Indian cotton farmers choose suicide over distress, leaving their wifes and children behind with the loans… 

Luckily there are organisations like Chetna Organics, who are working with small and marginal farmers towards improving their livelihood options and making farming a sustainable and profitable occupation. When we visited India we had the honour to meet with the organic cotton farmers in their villages, which are supported by Chetna organics and hear about their stories and achievements. 

organic_cotton_farmers-43

Our trip to the Organic cotton farmers started with a short morning meeting at the Chetna headquarters in Hyderabad, where we were explained about the history of Chetna organics, after which we soon left for a 4 hour drive to meet the farmers in Andhra Pradesh.

The Chetna Organic & Fair Trade Cotton Intervention Program started in 2004 as a composite pilot on Organic / Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) & Fair-trade supply chain development, in response to the agrarian crisis in India. The intent was to improve livelihood options of smallholder farmers by making their farm systems more sustainable, profitable and creating access to ethical and fair-trade markets in cotton.

organic_cotton_farmers-15

Established with the aim of addressing the poverty related distress of small and marginal cotton farmers in the region, Chetna Organic today runs a multi-faceted program that aims to create a 360 degree support intervention around the farmer community so as to empower them to take better action on their own decisions. Chetna Organic works with over 25,000 farmers spread across Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa.

In Andhra Pradesh we met Mr. Ashok who would show us around the area, whilst passionately explaining us everything about organic cotton farming, working with the farmers and making sure that we got enough to eat ;)! 

organic_cotton_farmers-21

The way Chetna organics works is not by means of charity but by venturing philanthropy so as to empower farmers by engaging them to build an ethical supply chain for cotton. This is supported by the Chetna Organic Farmers Association (COFA), which is a farmer owned not-for-profit association that engages in technical and social extension, capacity building, institution building support to farmers and farmer co-operatives, promotion of CSR investment in farmer communities and policy and advocacy work on rain-fed agriculture and related issues.
Mr. Ashok is one of the people to bring this technical knowlede to the farmers and help them with agricultural developments. 
organic_cotton_farmers-51
Simultaneously, at an international level, Chetna Organic works closely with organisations like Solidaridad (Netherlands), Made-By (Netherlands and UK), Max Havelaar, Fair Trade Foundation, Fair Trade USA and Shop For Change, and with the support of its donors Solidaridad, ICCO and Rabo Bank and the Ford Foundation towards promoting markets for organic and fair trade cotton garments in the developed countries, develop supply chain partnerships to address such market demand (Spinning mills, CMT Units, dying units etc) and promote organic and fair trade farm systems in India..

organic_cotton_farmers-6

We were invited in the Pamulawada village to see their fields and chat with the farmers. They explained us how they could support their entire village from the organic cotton production and asked us what kind of crops we grow where we are from and what the clothes look like, which are made from the organic cotton they grow. 

30410431135_beae1e913b_k

After meeting the people in the Pamulawada village we drove onwards to neighbouring villages where we visited more cotton fields and a school in the area. 

organic_cotton_farmers-35

BEHIND THE SEAMS: ORGANIC GARMENT MANUFACTURING IN DELHI

Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills is a pioneer in organic garment manufacturing in India and is People Tree’s production partner for a large part of the knitted organic cotton pieces in their collections.

When we were in India Mr. Sanjay showed us around the two multiple stories Rajlakshmi factories he manages in Delhi.  We were guided through the production process floor by floor, as at both premises every floor houses a different department. 

rajlakshmi-3

First a bit of history: Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills is a family business, which was founded in 1932 in Calcutta. In those days Rajlakshmi was specialised in making yarns and selling fabrics and later on developed into a company that produces high quality textiles, from fashion to bed linen. The company is located in Calcutta and in Delhi. 

rajlakshmi-24-copy

Mr. Sanjay explains us that in 2000 the owners of the company realised that running an ethical business and taking care of the environment is also good for business.

‘People want to know where the clothes they buy have been made and they don’t want to feel guilty’.

The last 15 years the company started to work backwards in the supply chain to make every step in the production process as fair and sustainable as possible. Rajlakshmi became the first Indian factory with a Fair Trade certification and is also organic certified.

rajlakshmi-23-copy

Mr. Sanjay tells us that the factory receives mainly production request from ‘smaller’ companies.

‘The costs for an organic and fair product are higher so making an organic product is not so high on the agenda of the bigger brands. But we realised this before we started to go in the organic business as we knew we would be more expensive and we would have a slow growth. It takes time for companies to pick up on this. But the environment has been exploited very badly and we believe the day will come where everybody will say enough is enough.’ 

30296945532_14407fdf0a_k

Although Rajlakshmi is mainly working with the ‘smaller’ brands at the moment, the size, facilities and neat organiation would suggest oherwise. Mr. Sanjay prefers quality over quantity though and chooses his partners carefully. 

At Rajlakshmi we work together with brands who share the same vision, like People Tree. Story telling is important, I believe that people who know about what’s going on behind the scenes of the fashion industry won’t run away from their responsibility.’

rajlakshmi-14-copy

When we ask Mr. Sanjay about how he feels about certifications he explains that an organic certificate can’t guarantee everything.

‘It is also about trust, having an ethical mind and humanising a company. One of the things I try to teach the people in the factory is not the be scared and to be honest about how their work is going. I believe that you can solve 9 out of 10 problems by being transparent. In our culture we are taught that saying no is a bad thing. But people will respect each other and take care of each other more when you are transparent.’

30377519756_aa9bfa67b6_k

One of the brands we produce for is a Fair Trade USA member, meaning a 5% premium is paid on everything they buy from our factory. A committee, which is operated by workers decides where these premiums are spend on.

A few examples of what the premiums have been spent on so far are induction plates + utensils and monthly health kits.

If the premiums are spend in a good way this is also good for the business.  I used to receive about 10 applications a day from workers who coudn’t come to work because they needed to get cooking gas.’

30291548012_39b06e7d9f_k

Rajlakshmi was the first company in metropolitan area of Delhi to offer this Fair Trade premium.

Rajlakshmi works together with Chetna Organic to ensure Fair Trade is practiced throughout the supply chain right down to the cotton farmers. Chetna Organic works with marginalised farmers from Maharashtra, Odessa and Andhra Pradesh towards improving their livelihoods and making farming a sustainable occupation.

Together with the Chetna project, Rajlakshmi has helped to set up many vocational training centres for women in rural farming villages. This educational training and support enables women become more financially secure.

30372064946_e2c6a0e1de_k

In addition to this Rajlakshmi has sponsored organic vegetable gardens in local schools, as well as contributing to more advanced school facilities such as science laboratories.

30413638655_8d6a4fdbce_k