Many of us now want to make our own clothes, and many of us who are concerned about the chemicals in industrialised clothes-making processes want to use natural fabrics, for example you might choose organic cotton like that found on the myfabrics store.
The Soil Association says tests on conventional clothing have showed traces of toxic dyes, fire retardants, formaldehyde, and pesticides. These residues might go on to be absorbed through the skin, and could increase the risk of allergies or respiratory problems.
There are companies which cater for the ethically-minded home sewer, providing a good range of eco-friendly cloths like cotton, denim, jersey, and fleece.
A number of suppliers have become aware of the problems pesticides used in growing cotton and other plants made into cloth were causing to farmers’ health in other countries. Most small farmers in developing countries have just a few acres of land, and allowing them to farm organically means they are healthier and can earn more for their produce. Instead of pesticides, farmers use natural repellents, crop rotation and hand picking of pests.
Look for companies which can show you the chain of sale – from how the plant is grown, how it is harvested, prepared, and made into thread, and how the cloth is woven. Also look for companies which show commitment to FairTrade principles, and those which are accredited by the Soil Association. Buy from suppliers using the mark of the FairTrade Foundation.
Cotton is vital to the survival of a number of low income countries. It accounts for 26.4% of Benin’s exports and 58.7% of Burkina Faso’s. In China and India, up to 100 million households are directly involved in cotton production with triple that number working in dependent industries.
Initiatives like the Chetna Organic Agriculture Producer Company Limited, which supports 15,000 Indian farmers, allow farmers to produce organic cotton sustainably, and for a fair price.
The company’s farmers produce approximately 6,300 tonnes of organic, FairTrade seed cotton. They do not use child labour, fertilisers, GMOs or synthetic pesticides. If you find cloth with the Soil Association mark, you know it has passed the gold standard for organic textiles, the Global Organic Textile Standards. That certifies the whole supply chain, from the farmer’s field through manufacture to the final product.
Closer to home, it also certifies organic wool producers, those with good animal welfare and which don’t use harmful chemicals during the processing of fleeces into yarn. This is a great help to both home sewers using organic fabrics made from wool, and knitters seeking to find sustainable, ethical sources of knitting yarn.