Guest Post: Fair Fashion by Molly Barr, Know the Origin

Know The Origin are super keen on promoting transparency in fashion, from seed to garment. But why? Surely brands know their supply chain plus, why should they give it away?

Unfortunately 61% of brands don’t know where their garments were made, whilst 93% have no idea about the origin of their raw materials. This is a big concern. If you can’t track the production of your own garments, then how can you track human rights and environmental standards? Simple answer: you can’t. The people and environment involved become invisible without international protection. The fashion industry is notorious for lacking in worker rights and is the second most polluting industry in the world, just after the oil industry.

Our mission is to see everyone treated fairly. 

In 2011, when the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed over 1100 workers were killed and big brands such as Matalan and Primark were exposed for not ensuring worker safety in their supply chains. Know The Origin co-founder, Charlotte, saw this and was hell-bent on creating an alternative. After researching hundreds of producers, we have created a kick-ass team from across India that are not only Fairtrade and Organic but go above and beyond to support their workers. They are the Avengers of the ethical fashion world! In fact, we are in awe of them so much we show them off on our website; who they are, where they are, who works for them, how they work – everything is featured. Style with nothing to hide. Let’s dive in…

It all begins with the fibre: cotton. Cotton, as beautiful and fluffy as it is, has a darker side. The rise of genetically modified cotton means a sharp increase in the use of chemicals for producing cotton. These chemicals are not only ruining the environment but cause severely damaging health issues for the surrounding communities including cancer and birth defects. Even still, farmers are having to pay more and more for both the seeds and chemicals that are necessary for the GM cotton to grow. These farmers become trapped in a cycle of debt and as a result there is a suicide epidemic in India’s farmers, more than 300,000 suicides have been reported since 1995. Heavy, for a cotton tee.

India grows 18% of the worlds cotton, normally, with a huge amount of toxic chemicals and GM seeds. This has caused huge damage to the environment and causing small-scale farmers to fall into unimaginable debt.

There was no way we would accept this. Instead, we work with two organic farmer cooperatives, Chetna Organic Co-operative and Pratibha Syntex in India. No nasty chemicals mean farmers, farm land, water and soil are kept free from harmful chemicals and pesticides and Fairtrade cooperatives ensure farmers often get 30% more for their crop in stable payments. The Fairtrade premium supports local schools, safe drinking water sources and women’s self help groups. Training is given to help farmers grow organic and rotate crops which helps them to make more cotton and create food stability in their communities, by planting food alongside cotton. They are awesome. Trust me, we’ve been there.

The cotton then goes through ginning and spinning fancy terms for cleaning the cotton and spinning it into threads. Normally these stages aren’t easy to gain access to which allows space for poor working conditions to thrive. But we have found two amazing factories that specialise in Fairtrade and organic cotton and are fully transparent!

The best fibre is used for garments and the lowest quality for stuffing mattress. The extracted leftover seeds are also used to make oil or animal feed, so nothing is wasted.

Our thread is knitted into fabric in units that have the highest certifications in the industry, GOTS and FLO and who are so passionate about people that each employee is represented by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

To get our oh-so lovely colours, this fabric goes to a zero waste dyeing unit using Oeko-Tex and GOTS certified dyes. I’ll confess, we found this stage particularly hard. We are desperate to use vegetable dyes but they fade quickly and don’t give colour vibrancy or consistency. We wouldn’t want our customers to invest in something that spoils quickly, so we decided to use low impact dyes instead. However, if anyone believes they can convert us to vegetable dyes, please take up that challenge and drop us a message.

Thankfully our dyeing units are innovative. India has not had rainfall for two years now because so much water is used to dye clothes funky colours. Many dyeing units have been shut down so water can be preserved for drinking. Our units are still open as they use pioneering filtration systems that are able to filter 95% of the wastewater to use it to run the factory. They filter it so well, it’s even drinkable and it tasted pretty good to us when we tried it. The remaining 5% is evaporated and any remnants from the dye process are used to make bricks and for laying roads. This stops dye water being disposed into the water sources of local communities which usually happens and we’re so not about that.

We want to share as much information as possible about each stage of our production.

The final process is sewing. Garment factories are unfortunately notorious worldwide for detrimental working conditions. But our garment factories are equally as uncompromising in social justice as the rest of our producers. Our factories, Mila and Mandala are FLO and GOTS certified and still continually go the extra mile to support their employees by paying above the living wage, providing medical insurance, running trainings, reducing CO2 emissions, providing help finding housing and so much more.

Every person at every stage of a piece of clothing is impacted in the fashion industry. Over 100 people are involved in making one t-shirt; that’s a whole lot of time, effort and skill. Because we work so closely with every producer from seed to garment, it means we have the privilege of meeting the people involved and ensuring that respect for their work is sewn in to everything we stand for, pun intended.

Seed to garment fashion values the process, people and environment involved at every stage. Know The Origin combines this with stylish clothing to make fashion that is completely uncompromising. What’s not to love?

We think it’s pretty cool that our clothes have a massive positive impact on people and the planet.

Know the Origin are a UK fashion label producing seed to garment organic clothes that are faitrade and supportive of the communities in which they are made: style with nothing to hide.