We thought we'd answer a few more questions for those of you who like to know all the details. All of them.
Ethics, sustainability and transparency are important for us, not just for the product but for our packaging and logistics too.
As a family, we do all we can to live a life that is more organic, waste free, ethical and kinder. So this is important to us on every level and we are intent on bringing it in across to the business too. It is an ongoing journey and we constantly look for areas we can improve.
If you can't find an answer you want here or on our website, or have any ideas that we should look into, then do head over to our Contact Page and drop us an email or give us a call and we can chat.
Here we address:
- What is GOTS organic cotton?
- What is Fairtrade?
- Do the certifications tell the whole story?
- What about sustainability?
- Our dedication to transparency and 'cradle-to-cradle' ethos
- Do you do ethically made, organic hemp or linen?
- What next and where can we improve?
What is GOTS organic cotton?
We want the best cotton for your skin and for this little earth we all live on.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the leading organic textile standard worldwide. Certified organic cotton means that our beautiful products are made without harmful chemicals at any stage in growing or processing. No toxic pesticides, dyes, bleaches or finishing chemicals and no genetically modified (GM) seeds or plants are used. No nasties from start to finish.
This is a harder task than you would think! As just one example, non-GM seeds cost so much they are out of reach for many farmers. It is currently reported that Monsanto controls 95% of the cotton seed market(1) which is why it is integral that organic alternatives are secured for farmers. The combination of being Fairtrade and organic supports farmers to secure non GM seeds and grow cotton sustainably while focusing on food and water security too.
All of our products are certified by GOTS. This certification provides full transparency throughout our supply chain.
Other requirements of GOTS are that the supply chain is fully accessible, transparent and audit-able (including any inputs from third parties) and that:
organic processes are used throughout the entire process, meaning every single input is tested for toxicity and biodegradability
toxic solvents, GMOs, carcinogenic amine compounds, chlorine bleaches, formaldehyde, heavy metals are prohibited
packaging material cannot use PVC and all paper or cardboard must be sustainably sourced
all stages must have practices in place to minimise waste and discharges
wet processing units must keep full records of the use of chemicals, energy, water as well as waste water and sludge disposal and treatment
as well as a range of social requirements that must uphold the standards of the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO), covering human rights, access to collective bargaining and unions, safe and fair work places, anti-discrimination and fair work hours and termination.
This means that GOTS strictly oversees not just the chemicals that might end up on your skin - but all chemicals used throughout farming and processing, the environmental impact of all processes, including energy, water and waste and on habitat/wildlife, and the social and human rights practices and impact of operations.
The toxic chemicals used in conventional textile farming or processing (cotton or otherwise) are harmful for farmers and workers, consumers and entire water, land, food chain and wildlife eco-systems.
Toxic pesticides and processing chemicals have been reported to be responsible for over 20,000 deaths each year and the poisoning of 77 million cotton farmers(2). Suicides due to pesticide use, the associated costs and stresses, have been reported to have been the cause of almost 300,000 deaths in India in the past 20 years (which puts it at a rate of about 1 suicide every 30 minutes).
This is not just an issue in India. Globally WHO has estimated that pesticides are estimated to cause 20,000 deaths each year in developing nations while being responsible for 10,000 cancer-related deaths in the US each year.(3) In terms of environmental impact, there is a staggering impact on the health of soils and waterways and pesticides are even estimated to be the cause in the US of the death of over 67 million birds. So imagine this on a global scale.
In rural villages, it has been found that these pesticides get into food chains, finding their way into breastmilk and causing devastating neurodevelopmental and physical impacts in children in villages close to pesticide use or conventional textiles factories.
Worse, a range of toxic chemicals are conventionally used throughout the dyeing, processing and finishing stages, washing into waterways, oceans and food supply chains. Many of these have been linked to issues of hormonal and endocrine disruption both in the areas where they made and for the end user.
Organic cotton farming has also been shown to require just 1/10th of the irrigated water of conventional cotton and less than 50% of the primary energy. This has been said to be about on par to bamboo from a water need point of view.
So you can see, that when we wanted to make something that was doing significantly less harm to the environment, animals and people - to be truly cruelty free, to humans, the broader environment and animals - we dedicated ourselves to sourcing fabric that was purely GOTS organic. From the very start, right to the very finish.
What is Fairtrade?
Our bed linens are made from hand-picked, long-staple Fairtrade certified cotton. It is spun and woven to an impeccable quality into the softest cottons and processed in family-run, Fair Trade certified factories.
To display the Fairtrade mark, we must meet strict social, economic and environmental standards (as set internationally by Fairtrade International) that provide cotton farm workers with fair prices to support fair wages, better terms of trade, better work conditions in addition to paying a premium price for the cotton sold. Every single step of our process is audited and recorded repeatedly by FLO-CERT or Fairtrade ANZ. Right from the farm to our local warehousing. We trade under our registration number FLO 33825.
This means we can trace each product we sell, right back to the farms it was produced on and through every single step of the manufacturing process.
Fairtrade requires that fixed minimum prices are paid for all cotton as well as an additional premium, used to fund community projects like schools, women's centres, seed banks, eco-research centres, or warehouses and pre-payments to store cotton to enable farmers to wait until a higher price can be gained. Chetna Co-operative where we source our cotton deals only with small-scale family run farms and ensures that child and slave labour is kept out of the supply chain.
Did you know, that a further percentage of the final sale price of every cotton product is paid back to the farmers to support their community as a whole? Fairtrade then also supports farmers with education to improve farming practices, to help them to become more sustainable and organic.
Chetna Co-operative in India, where we source all of our cotton, was established as an organic and Fairtrade co-operative and has robust systems for ensuring full traceability and segregation of cotton from throughout all processing. Due to its small scale and farmer-owned model, it provides insight into the farms to truly ensure that it keeps child labour or slave labour practices far out of its system.
For us, the most important thing, is that we have a means of supporting the farmers to building their own businesses, to pay them enough to be able to send their kids to school and slowly, but surely, to enable people to get out of the poverty cycle for good.
One point to keep in mind is that many countries, like the US and Australia, provide some mechanisms also for farmers to receive subsidies during tough times. Unexpectedly, farmers in India, without these subsidies, can have a tough time competing on price. (I know. We were really surprised by this too). So rather than creating a false economy, in some respects, Fairtrade prices can start to even the field.
When assessed by the University of New South Wales Centre for Social Impact, it was found that, "Overwhelmingly, [farmers'] responses were positive... From the farmers' perspective... Fairtrade is fulfilling its purpose" (4). The big issue, really, is simply that we need more of it. That is our aim.
Distinct from the FLO International Fairtrade Cotton certification, is the Fair Trade USA certification that is held where our goods are spun, woven and made. Fair Trade USA and GOTS certifications both seek to ensure that all steps of the supply chain uphold a number of principles, primarily that a living wage is paid to every single worker, at every stage of the process.
It is particularly important when we think of where our goods are made, that we don't gloss over any of the steps. Even if a product is made in Australia, this only means a certain percentage of the end costs were spent here. But most likely, a lot of the process was done overseas.
For us, it is critical to remember and voice this. These are real people, in spinning, weaving and knitting mills, doing real work, who need to be remembered and heard. We cannot gloss over them because of marketing campaigns that sound better to say 'locally made'. Sadly, conventional spinning and weaving mills are areas where large amounts of trafficking, slavery and child labour occur.
To give you an indication of how seriously we take this, our supply chain is similar to one of Australia's only two fashion companies to receive an A+ rating in the Baptist World Aid Fashion Report, based on assessment of wages, ethics and human rights.
Beautiful sheets take incredible amounts of work. Real work. By wonderful, skilled people. Fairtrade is just one way to better ensure we respect, empower and protect them.
Do the certifications tell the whole story?
Not for us. Not even close.
Which is why we made sure to have been on the ground to check it all out first hand and to work with smaller-scale partners who show in every way that they are truly here to look after employees, and have been doing so for a long time. Long before 'ethically made' or 'organic' became buzz words. We searched for family-run businesses whose actions on the ground far surpass what any certifications or legislations require and show that they embody the same ethical and sustainable principles as us, throughout all they do.
Our team has spoken to employees, been to the factories, shared with all employees the normal company-cooked lunch in the open air tropical gardens of the factory. We have looked over the wages and benefits of every employee at every stage of factory production.
We have been granted free access to any stage of production at any time we wish during operating hours. We have spoken to employees, without any supervisors around, to understand from them how they feel working for the business. Are they secure in their jobs? Are they confident they can provide for their extended families? Are thy happy? Have they worked there a long time? Does it offer significantly better employment than other options they might have had? The answers were resoundingly 'yes'. At the end of the day, they told us that they knew, that the company was there for them and did things to support them, their extended families and most importantly their children. The way business is supposed to be.
In fact, what we truly value, are the benefits that impact not just the workers but their entire families: like health insurance, scholarships for children, safe transport to and from work, paid holiday leave, food... the list goes on and on.
We don't believe in having 'fair labour policies' that simply pass blame onto suppliers. We believe it is as much our responsibility to be aware of every single stage of our production and to be transparent in all we do. If we find room to improve, we will be doing all we can do achieve it.
What about sustainability?
Sustainability for us needs to embrace every aspect of production, logistics and disposal. Cradle to cradle.
We take sustainability very seriously, in fact, trained as an environmental scientist we have spent a lot of time working in rural areas with at-risk communities and investing in and building sustainable energy, waste and water projects for many years.
In practices, this means that we:
Reduce waste, by creating products that last and are not ruled by seasonal trends; by ensuring all products are natural and biodegradable;
Minimise packaging. We took a long time deliberating over gift packaging. In the end, we figured out a way to make our products arrive at your door in a beautiful way - without needing excess gift boxing, without plastic and in an entirely recyclable way.
Recycling. We work with factories who recycle waste into other materials. Cuttings are turned into stuffing or coarse yarn, larger pieces are used to make handkerchiefs and our own cloth packaging is entirely created from waste off-cuts and is created to be reusable too. We recycle all plastic that we receive and are speaking with our factories about how we can remove this altogether without jeopardising the products that have had so many resources poured into them.
Better logistics.We use logistics providers who better manage their logistics to use space on vehicles that would otherwise be wasted and offset emissions and domestically, who are carbon neutral through offsetting emissions.
Minimising waste during production. A big issue in textiles is that errors too often happen. This leads to waste stock and resources in a big way. It also can add to pressure on factories to commit to additional workload. We don't accept that this has to be part of the process and manage our supply chains, so we find other ways to manage errors when they happen so nothing ends up going to waste.
Renewable energy. Our factories use biomass waste in their fuel processes. It is also why we choose organic cotton above other fabrics as it has been shown to use over 50% less energy than conventional cotton and much less than viscose or rayon fibres like bamboo.
Water use. Organic cotton has been shown to be one of the most sustainable fabrics when assessed for overall sustainability, across land, water, emissions, toxicity. In fact, organic cotton has been shown to use 90% less irrigated water than conventional cotton.
Food security and land use. Organic and Fairtrade farming practices teach more sustainable farming, such as water conservation and crop rotation techniques and keeps toxic chemicals out of waterways.
Did you also know that when assessed across water use, land use, energy use, toxicity to humans, toxicity to the environment and emissions, organic cotton has been assessed to be more sustainable than conventional hemp, conventional linen and viscose fabric made from bamboo. (I admit, we were shocked about the hemp and linen too!). As an aside, we will let you in on a little secret... we are researching in the background how to get to you some other alternative, strictly ethically sourced fabrics too!
Our dedication to transparency and a 'cradle-to-cradle' ethos
Previous to establishing this business, I focused a lot on understanding the 'cradle-to-cradle' impact of renewable energy projects. There is not point in trying to fix one problem - if you are only creating another.
Textiles currently are the second most polluting industry in the world. Not just due to how they are made (the pesticides and toxic chemicals used in growing, processing, dying and finishing) but also due to how we consume them and dispose of them.
For me, it is integral to create a product that not only is made well, but lasts longer too. We don't follow trends and create designs that are expected to last many, many seasons. We design our products with more durable cotton weaves, fine stitching, generous hems and pockets to ensure it lasts. If a button falls off, then we will happily send you new ones to repair an item rather than throw it away. Similarly, we encourage all customers to pass on their cot linens when they are finished with them, to friends, family or charities. They are designed to far outlast a child.
The cradle-cradle mentality also ensures that crops are farmed in a way that minimises depletion and ensures soil quality, to minimise need for irrigation, maximise nutrients and to ensure food crops can continue to grow and provide for the communities reliant on them for food or alternative income. It requires that any waste products are in the first instance minimised, and then treated. The GOTS certification is one of the only certifications that requires not just an organic end product, but assesses the waste products and environmental impact all the way along production.
Sustainability carries right through to our packaging. In all of our packaging to customers we use sustainably sourced, recycled and entirely recyclable materials.
Most of all, we are one of the only bed linen businesses to offer full transparency over our full supply chain, right back to the farm.
Do you do ethically made, organic hemp or linen or bamboo?
We love organic hemp and organic flax linen. In particular if you find organic hemp bed sheets you love, then we back you all the way!
Organic linen and flax are two wonderful crops and when farmed and made truly organically and sustainably they are just brilliant!
But for us, it needs to be not just great quality and soft, but organic and ethically made from seed to finished product to make the cut. Getting to the root of our products is just the kind of people we are! As hemp and linen are such labour intensive crops and flax linen can cause serious environmental issues at the retting stage, we will not do it until we know we are doing it right.
So we will continue to watch developments in hemp processing and would love to include hemp or combined hemp products.
But as for linen... watch this space! It is integral that it is made organically and ethically, right from the flax. Unfortunately, non-organic flax linen has been assessed to be a less sustainable fabric than organic cotton (across land, water and energy use, toxicity to humans and environment, and emissions). It is integral to ensure that retting is done through dew-retting (not dam) processes, and that the labour-intensive processes of turning flax into a fine fibre are done ethically. We are working on it, but the supply chain needs to be up to scratch!
We don't use bamboo because it didn't provide us with the organic production we needed (it can be grown organically, but not processed organically for bedding) and we weren't able to gain the transparency into the supply chain that we needed. (We do have further details on the blog too!)
What next and where can we improve?
This is a question we are always asking. We would love to hear your ideas and feedback too. The areas we are specifically working on to improve right now are:
(1) 100% Recycled Packaging. We have ensured all our packaging is 100% recyclable, locally sourced and recycled in part and we have cut out excess packaging. As an example, we don't currently offer a separate gift-box but have uniquely designed our packaging to be be beautifully presented, while minimising packaging. We have been getting some amazing feedback about our packaging and how good it looks arriving at people's door.
In our second run, we found new printing partners Words With Heart to work with to use only eco-friendly dyes, sustainable paper sources and to support local producers who are themselves truly giving back to the community they live in.
(2) Range of fabric options. We love organic hemp, ethically sourced wool and organic flax linen as a sustainable fabric and are developing more products in the background! However, it is critical that these are low-tox, sustainable and ethical throughout the entire supply chain. We are currently working on this! (Please see the above question too on our fabric choice.)
(3) More direct logistics. As we scale, we plan to ship directly from our factories to the country where our products will end up to reduce fuel, energy and travel miles.
(4) Be plastic free (even getting rid of the degradable stuff). I live and have worked as sustainably, organically, kindly, as low-tox and as waste free as we can (in the city, with kids... If you haven't discovered local organic greengrocers who deliver plastic free - it is life changing. Do find one!)
So, this is again something we believe strongly in for how we run our business and work spaces. For our next run of quilt covers currently being made using natural corozo buttons, so this is one area we are already solving. (The current range do have plastic buttons due to minimum order issues, but it is something we laboured over for a long time and have now found a solution with corozo buttons which we know people will love.)
We are also in discussion with our factories to find ways to minimise plastic in shipping.
To avoid damage from water, mildew, mould, damp and fumigation while our goods are stored or shipped from India, we use some oxo-biodegradable and recyclable plastic to ensure we don't risk damage to products and all the time and resources that have gone into them and this plastic is then recycled here.
We would love to remove this altogether and are in discussion with our partners and researching plastic-free alternatives, or truly biodegradeable plastics that don't have the issues that most existing biodegradeable plastics do.
We do however strictly recycle all plastic in our office and warehousing through special recycling centres as they aren't collected in regular council pickups.
(5) Doing even more to improve the lives of the people behind our goods and expanding the communities we work with, locally and internationally. A priority for us is to give even more back to support schooling of children, particularly in rural areas. I was always brought up to believe that even when you think have nothing, or if someone has taken everything away from you: you still always have your education. So this is somethingof great importance to us.
We also have some great new projects planned for Australian grown, processed and made goods (in fact, that never leave Australian soil) and some exciting projects being looked into in other communities and countries too. This is a big aim for me in setting up this business. To give back more and more to the people we work with and their communities. It isn't always as easy as a simple charity and we are very aware of on the ground issues. We have outlined much of what we are currently doing on this site, but we have so much more planned!!!
Read more on our organic bedding...