How we turn pure cotton into the best organic sheets

June 26, 2016

How we turn pure cotton into the best organic sheets

I want to take you on a journey right from start of our pieces at Telangana India, at the organic, Fairtrade cotton farms. We pride ourselves on the transparency of our supply chain - through every single step, right back to the farm where the cotton for each product comes from. 

At Chetna Co-operative in India our long-staple cotton is organically grown and hand-picked at small-scale, farmer-owned, organic Fairtrade farms.

Chetna Co-operative was set up to improve the livelihoods of marginalised farmers in the region: to empower and enable communities to build sustainable, organic, non-genetically modified (GM) farms, improve water and food security and to build local village infrastructure such as eco-research centres, women's enterprises and schools.

Organic farming methods keep the waterways and arable land clear of harmful toxins that are known to cause considerable harm to the environment, children, communities and farmers. It keeps farmers from issues of suicide that plague conventional cotton and babies safe from the devastating impacts of chemicals leaching into supply chains. Through crop rotation, it improves the opportunity for income and food security of marginalised workers.

Cotton is graded and carefully packed and labelled in a unique system to ensure traceability of cotton, right back to the farm. It is taken to the organic ginning facilities, at the Pratima Organic Group in Odisha, where the natural cotton fibre is separated from the cotton seed. 

 

From here, cotton is transported to Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic carding and spinning facilities. This is an incredibly important step to ensure the highest quality cotton is spun as a smooth, soft, uniform thread. The quality of this yarn is the basis on which we craft the end product. 

 

Spinning and weaving mills are areas often forgotten about in the supply chain and sadly are often rife with exploitation, child labour and human rights and other labour issues.

Our mills will not hire workers below the age of 18 and often reject applications following thorough checks into their age. They focus not just on child labour, but also ensuring that shift work times are strictly adhered to enable women, in particular, the freedom to look after children or family. They provide safe transport home and ensure they uphold the standards of the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO). Above all, they pay living wages to all staff, safe working conditions and access to Unions for all workers. 

Interestingly, to achieve the standard of GOTS certification, the highest standard of organic production globally, every stage of production needs to be transparent, accessible and audited. GOTS requires that processes are free of toxic chemicals, but also that all waste products are treated, paper packaging is sustainably sourced, and that energy and water use are improved to include renewable or recycled sources.

Also, that workers are protected from discrimination, unfair termination, unsafe working conditions, inhumane treatment and that all workers have Freedom of Association and rights to work. When seeking out our partners, we ensured that not only did they uphold these principles in certification but also that it was evident across the ideology and culture of their business. 

Once spun, cotton is woven on looms, into beautiful sateen fabric which is then printed, dyed and sewn into our beautiful sheets. This entire process is also done in Fair Trade certified factories under GOTS organic certification.

It was important to us that our team got to know the place and the vibe, to understand the extent to which the factory cares for its workers. The truth comes not just from things like certifications, but from how it truly looks and feels on the ground. At the time of our first trip, I was nursing my newborn who was recovering from her time in hospital (if you have read our story, you will know that her rough start to life was one of the things that spurred this company into existence). 

So we called on some friends, Leigh and Daniel, to join our team to head over to the factories to be our eyes and ears on the ground for this trip. We just had to know that people we truly knew and trusted, had seen it all first hand.

To see how bright, airy and clean working spaces are. That the workers are easygoing, happy and confident in their jobs, their security and that they can take care of their families without others needing to work. That workers choose to remain in one place for many, many years. It is integral to us that we had full transparency into all areas, were freely given access to all wages and to speak privately to staff, at all stages of production. That we could see that women were looked after. That all staff were given safe transport home, living wages, paid leave, bonuses and wages so far in excess of the standard or minimum wage. Many, many multiples.

Which is why we end up paying a whole lot more for our products too... but we figure we don't mind taking a cut. We can ship direct to you, to ensure more can go back to the workers who give so much incredible dedication, skill, time and work to bringing beautiful pieces to our doors. 

So from here, we will let the photos do the talking...

Elkie & Ark shot during production and at the factory before boxing up for shipping.

Sample products at the factory. 

Finally, our sheets are packed into bags made from waste-off cuts, tied with cotton twine and shipped to our warehouse in Sydney, Australia. Ready to box and send straight from our place to yours!

 

Photos credits: Big thanks to Paul Matthew (cotton), Dider Gentilhomme, for Fairtrade International (farm workers). All other photos taken by Daniel Melenhorst and Leigh Munday for Elkie & Ark