> Country of Origin
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ?
‘Country of Origin’ is a legal requirement for apparel and other textile labelling. However, ‘origin’ in terms of customer information only goes as far back as the country where the final product was assembled. And with textile supply chains being as long, complicated and global as they are it’s little wonder no one knows every detail of their supply chain. In some cases, a brand or retailer could tell you where their cotton was spun or knitted but the actual origin of the cotton is not as easy to identify. The reason for this is that most baled cotton (ginned) is sold and bought on the world commodity market.
By the time it enters a specific supply chain it may have travelled a great distance from the fields where it was originally grown, changed hands a couple of times and mixed with cotton from other countries. Only very recently when forced and child labour in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan was exposed were brands and retailers questioned about the origin of their cotton. In fact, it’s still not uncommon for the general public to have no idea that cotton comes from a plant and grows in a field. Organic cotton traceability offers an opportunity for brands and retailers to educate and inform their customers. Cotton grown and certified as organic and/or Fairtrade can be traced back to not only the country but even the very farm it was grown on, using the organic transaction certificate. This process is important mainly for its organic integrity. An additional benefit of certification tracking systems is that stories of origin can be told - and not only about the fiber but also about the farmers and the benefits of organic to the rural communities they source from.
Equating the story of origin with a quality product is something coffee companies (for example) have got particularly good at... and it’s happening with clothes through design, innovation and sustainability agendas. The Fairtrade cotton label and Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA) have been very effective at connecting product to country of origin, but in general, brands and retailers are only just waking up to this huge product differentiating opportunity for their organic collections. It’s not only at a product level either; the reputation of the entire company can be vastly improved if presented with a human face. And of course it works both ways – the opportunity for individuals within a retail company or brand to discover more about the people behind their products can be the start of something life changing for themselves as well as the producer communities. This was something Eileen Fisher and staff discovered after travelling to Peru to find out more about the origin of their organic
WHO'S DOING WHAT ?
Organic cotton growers tend to rely on the characteristics of the land, their culture, and sometimes spiritual life. Here are two examples of this connection in Latin America. Bergman Rivera was created in 2007 as the result of the merger of Bergman Sweden and Cortextil’s organic cotton projects. Since 1986, they have produced organic cotton under the White Cotton brand in southern Peru, in cooperation with small farmers. Bergman Rivera is the first company in Latin America to be fully certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), from field to garment. This certification guarantees not only the traceability of the organic cotton, but also fair labour standards.
The White Cotton Project is the founding stone of Bergman Rivera. In 1986, the President of the Board, Mr Stephan Bergman, together with a small number of farmers, began experimenting with various cotton varieties and growing methods in order to find viable alternatives to conventional farming. After some years, the White Cotton Project became a reality and now works with 390 farmers. This project is now managed by one of Bergman Rivera’s partner companies: Ecotton. It oversees 870 hectares of certified land in the valleys of Cañete, Chincha, Ica, Santa and Lambayeque, producing both Tanguis and Pima (Extra Long Staple) cotton varieties.
The Wild Cotton Project began in 1994, when the Peruvian government decided to promote the substitution of coca leaf plantations for alternative products in the rainforest. It came to Bergman Rivera’s attention that brown colored cotton had been grown in the area for many centuries and in a completely natural way. They certified a small group of farmers and began to promote the product with their clients around the world. Today, Bergman Rivera works with 45 farmers and their families and has established a market for this cotton in Japan and Europe. Their main clients (including Eileen Fisher and Indigenous Designs) are involved with this community and visit them periodically. During 2010, with donations from Panoco Trading from Japan and The Rotary Club of Borås Sweden, Bergman Rivera built a computer lab for the Shanao community.
The purpose of this project is to provide the farmers´ children with more opportunities, giving them access to the rest of the world (WildCPro). Aratex Organica coordinates and controls the whole cotton supply chain, from seed production, through ginning, carding, bleaching, dyeing, and manufacturing. Eight hundred small farmer families, benefit from the support and assistance Aratex provide. Production is being carried out in several Paraguayan counties: Guairá, Caaguazú, Caazapá, Paraguarí, Misiones, Itapúa and Ñeembucú. Aratex is currently working on debugging a very suitable seed for the organic crop – the seed REBA ARATEX. This comes from the mother seed REBA P279, a variety that adapts quite well to the Paraguayan microclimate, offering a middle/long staple of very high quality, very resistant to pest and climate change, as well as providing better performance and high yields.
‘Ara’ means “sky, weather, creation” in Guarani, an indigenous language predominant in the rural areas of Paraguay. “We are the story behind each of our products. We want to unite the producer with the consumer, giving soul to a product.” says Olga Segovia, manager, Aratex Orgánica (TE).