As we awaken ourselves this spring, we felt it was a perfect opportunity to focus on the idea of ORGANIC. Each week in April we are bringing you a voice from the organic movement to share with you details on the subject, why this is important to you and how prAna is mindfully navigating organic in our own business. Previous Earth Day Series posts include Annie’s and Hood River Garlic. This post on Organics comes from Textile Exchange and will be followed by posts from our own Director of Sustainability, Nicole Bassett. Tell us your thoughts…
prAna: Tell us about your organization Liesl (Liesl Truscott, Farm Engagement Director, Textile Exchange) and why organic is a part of the values and your strategy
Liesl: Textile Exchange started life as Organic Exchange. We have an industry-wide agenda these days, but our roots (excuse the pun) were in organic cotton and continue to be today. This year we celebrate our 10th birthday and our commitment to organic cotton remains core to what we do.
Organic cotton has changed radically over the past decade. Production has expanded rapidly so there is more organic in the market, there have been major advancements in product quality and innovation has radically improved product design, with fantastic choices in the collections available today.
At Textile Exchange we are taking our learning from organic and applying it to other areas of textile sustainability. This is an exciting time for us, but we know there is still much more to do in organic agriculture. Our farm team, with colleagues in India, Latin America, and Africa, continue to devote almost all our time to supporting our organic cotton community. This allows us to raise the visibility of organic cotton producers, manufacturers, and brands. We are always researching so we can communicate the proven benefits.
prAna: Often people will say – why should I buy organic clothing/textiles it’s not like I am eating it. What else should people be thinking of when they support organic?
Liesl: With organic food it’s an easier win-win. We all want healthy, safe, nutritious and tasty food. There’s a direct and personal benefit. The benefits to growers and the environment is an added benefit. That same concept needs to be central to a consumer’s choice for organic cotton. Hence the need for more customer education and exposure.
Over the years, I have subscribed to the concept of ‘choice editing’. There is too much choice in clothing on the market. Not to mention how cheap some of it has got. How can a t-shirt be sold for one dollar? Who has been exploited along the way and how much has it ‘cost’ the planet? So I only allow myself organic, Fairtrade, recycled poly etc, or ‘pre-loved’ clothing. Sometimes I select items from brands and retailers that I know are working hard to do the right thing even if the actual garment has no specific credentials. For me, it means most of my clothes have a story behind them – almost an identity of their own. I can’t feel good in clothes that might have exploited people – or harmed the planet – as they were being made.
Increasingly designers are wanting to be eco and ethical, they see these criteria as synonymous with a quality product. This makes my choice editing a no-brainer! I get both, the satisfaction of supporting greener production and something really special to wear. It’s fair to say that an organic product might be more expensive than one that’s not, but not always by much, and I’d rather contribute to ethical production. There is an element of trust that supply chain contributors, including farmers, are benefiting from this price tag. But I think there is more work needed to improve trade conditions for organic.
prAna: What is the impact of organic, not only on the environment, but on farm workers and people in the supply chain?
Liesl: For those that like numbers, the agricultural sector has a lot on its plate these days – and big job ahead. The sector produces 10-12 percent of the worlds greenhouse gases (up to 30 percent if you include land clearing for more agriculture) (IPCC), it uses 70 percent of the planets water supply (OECD), and continues to pump 5.2 billion pounds of pesticides into the environment each year (EPA). Apparently we are losing the equivalent of five to seven million hectares of farmland through erosion each year (peopleandplanet), and unimaginable numbers of species through land clearing (often for agriculture). I’m talking about agriculture generally – not just cotton – but ‘conventional’ farming practices; typically monocultures, dependent on agrichemicals and irrigated water, and increasingly GMO seed, are placing a significant burden on the environment. Yet hardly to the benefit of the world’s small scale farmers (of which Greenpeace report there are 2.6 billion). These men and women (and approximately 45 percent are women) are busy producing the majority (70 percent) of the worlds food (Gia Foundation). Society and trade needs to better support these people and contribute to their sustainable development, not keep them in poverty on degraded landscapes.
The scientific community knows so much more these days about the role organic plays in our understanding of food and fiber production systems; ranging from technical innovation on one hand to addressing the ‘pro poor’ agenda on the other. Basically, this means creating scenarios that reduce risk for farmers and enable farmers to develop, gain independence, and go on to taking more responsibility for their own communities (rather than be dependent on others). We need the agro-ecological knowledge, tradition, and science organic agriculture contains. Equally, we need to improve livelihoods and quality of life for the world’s small scale food and fiber growers.
Even if we never see ‘organic’ as the dominant form of agriculture around the world, the lessons it provides, and the precautionary principle it embodies means organic is critical to our understanding of how humans can work together with nature – not against it – to feed and clothe the world. The closed-loop cycle of organic agriculture means nutrients are recycled, organic matter (which plant growth depends upon) is built up not used up, polycultures rather than monocultures support biodiversity and keep production systems balanced and yields robust in the longer term without increasingly expensive agrichemicals (we have now ‘peaked’ in available phosphate) and fossil fuels. Lessons from organic in an increasingly water scarce and carbon restricted world are critical to understanding how to farm in the future. Bottom line is organic farming is mind-blowingly sophisticated yet beautifully simple all at the same time – reflecting the processes of nature.
The other point with organic, if we return to our 2.6 billion small scale farmers, is that we know around 1 billion people around the world are hungry (Soil Association). Organic farming systems, for all sorts of on-farm reasons, promote the growing of a mix of crops. Among these crops can be staple food crops, fruit and vegetables. For me, this must be one of the most critical advantages of organic – its polycultural status. The thought of food producers going hungry is appalling. The other point, and it’s connected to this, is that according the World Health Organisation, 5 million incidents of harm and more than 200,000 fatalities occur every year from pesticides, most of them in developing countries (PAN, 2005) –and these are only the ones reported. The food grown and stored on organic farms is safe in terms of containing no chemical residue. Plus pregnant and new mothers can work safely on organic farms, children can play safely, and accidental exposure to toxic chemicals simply won’t happen.
prAna: What relationship do you see with organic food and organic clothing, like organic cotton?
Liesl: The connection is there right at the farm level. From the increased food security through to smart business strategies for farmers. Like all business people, it makes sense for farmers to spread their risk and opportunities. For example, if the cotton is less successful one year for whatever reason then a second income can be made from an alternative cash crop. For organic cotton farmers, other high-value rotation crops such as sesame, and border crops such as mangoes, will be economically valuable. Many organic farmers in India are growing lentils, grams, and spices for market. In Africa it might be fonio, and sesame and collecting ingredients such as Shea butter which goes into beauty products. The opportunity to engage in value-adding such as pressing oils, and pulping or drying fruit is another great economic advantage. However, it takes another level of skill, organisation, and market savvy to manage all this. More capacity building and improved trade security can help farmers take this next step. Furthermore, crop diversification is proving a valuable tool for climate change adaptation, as our weather continues to become more unpredictable, particularly in the global South.
The other relationship worth mentioning is that organic certification is based on the organic status of the land, not the specific crop. This means as long as the land is treated as organic the farmer can, to some extent, pick and choose what she or he grows.
prAna: What would you tell fans of prAna to think about when they are making purchases of organic cotton?
Liesl: I would tell them to really consider their choices and where they put their money. I’d also urge parents to think about the legacy they want for their children. Consumer choice is such a powerful thing – not always acknowledged by us all.
Getting back to that concept of choice editing, there is a mass of fast fashion out there. And with new collections coming out so frequently being built to last is not a selling point (for fast fashion). Persuading people to buy clothes that are not designed to be thrown away is a difficult sell, especially for young people with limited money in their pockets and wanting to possess that split second ‘must have’ fashion item. So it is important to bring people to a deeper sense of awareness. I think it’s the responsibility of companies to help out, to lead their customers on the journey towards more sustainable consumption.
I think a deeper appreciation of quality, ‘specialness’, and ethical production is growing – in some circles it is becoming ‘classy’. It’s evident in the efforts fashion brands are making to counter-act a throw-away culture and connect their customers to the eco qualities of their products. prAna is the perfect example; fusing positive customer messaging with clear eco and people-centred values… and being prepared to take the lead. Definitely a company to watch!
Check out prAna’s current Organic styles HERE!
~Liesl Truscott, Director of Farm Engagement, Textile Exchange
Liesl has been director of Textile Exchange’s Farm team for over 3 years now and one of the five senior advisors to the organisation, supporting the managing director. Liesl’s background is in environmental systems and she has a first class degree in Environmental Assessment and Management, she is also a certified environmental and OHS systems auditor. During her time in Australia, Liesl wrote a Code of Practice on health and safety (including safety with agro-chemicals) for the viticultural industry of New South Wales. Since being in the UK Liesl worked as the Sustainability Manager for Croydon Council; and led Croydon to become the first ‘Fairtrade’ Borough in London. She has experience with global corporations on Corporate Social Responsibility thorough her time as CSR Index Manager for Business in the Community and later as a consultant. Liesl focuses on researching, developing, and promoting the opportunities for farmers that organic represents.
You can learn more about Textile Exchange at http://textileexchange.org and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.