I today’s post about fair fashion myths, I want to outline in which way a fair fashion item is different compared to a conventional fast fashion item: however, not too much about how the final product is different but rather how the whole production process is different. From the way the cotton is grown all the way up how the different pieces of fabric are sewed together to the final product.
I am going to take a PJ from Comazo as an example here to show the way these pieces are taking – and in which way this is different to a conventional homewear product. All information shared here is coming first hand from Comazo. I had a long and interesting phone call with the daughter of Comazo founder, Caroline, in which she told me everything from what the cotton fields look like, up to how she having coffee with the truck driver taking the fabric to the garment factory to get it sewed.
No matter how much you read about all of these topics, it is always something different to have a first hand person telling you how things are going on. It was really interesting for me to get to know all the details behind why the company is sewing the final products in Croatia, why the cotton is dyed in Germany, and other.
The pieces I am wearing on the pictures here, are, of course, from the same label that I interviewed for this blog post. I chose this label because Comazo is one of the biggest and oldest underwear and homewear label in Germany with a lot of experience in what they do. They have been the first company selling Fair Trade certified underwear back in 2009 here in Germany and they are one of Germany’s largest importer of organic cotton. Hands up for that!
So let’s begin disproving that fair fashion doesn’t make a difference!
Step 1: the cotton production
As far as I know all fair fashion labels use organic cotton. At least all I worked with so far. And the same counts for the fair fashion collection from Comazo. The cotton is not only organic but since it does carry the fair trade label, there is a guarantee for the farmers not only to get fair prices for their cotton but also that the cotton is actually bought. So first of all the price of the cotton is around 10-15% higher and second the farmers can be sure that their cotton is actually bought and they are not left with no money but a ton of cotton at the end of the year.
In conventional cotton farming a huge amount of pesticides is used! Cotton is mostly grown in monoculture and is a very pesticide-intensive crop. Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 6,8% of all herbicides used worldwide. This is huge!!! This high use of pesticides poisons our air, water and soil, and has a severe impact on ecosystems, causing harm to plants and animals. Beneficial insects in and around the cotton fields can be killed and other animals eating these insects end up poisoned. But not only that, it is getting worse: 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years due to the stress of debt they accumulated through buying genetically modified cotton seeds to keep up with demand.
This is why conventional cotton simply isn’t an option! Not if you want to have this world continue to live…
By the way, at comazo you can actually find a fair trade code in each piece so that you can track the entire process from where the cotton is harvested all the way to where the yarn is made.
Now after the garn is made, it needs to be dyed …
Step 2: the dying and cutting
Comazo is dying all their cotton in Germany. The factory was build back in 1884 to support the garment sector in Germany, which was actually pretty strong in garment making – before globalization took over. So while the biggest part of the garment industry left the country centuries ago, there are still a few labels here and there that do their best to support the local garment sector. Comazo is one of them. Around 60 workers are dying the cotton in the swabian mountains and cutting it into the respective pieces afterwards.
Since the dying process in taking part in Germany in their very own company, comazo can control all wastewaters and make sure they are cleaned carefully. Also, they use homemade dyes which are are all GOTS certified. This means they are totally non-toxic!
Many conventional labels are dying their cotton somewhere in China where toxic chemicals are used to give the cotton the respective color. Up to 250 ml of chemicals are typically used in the production of a single cotton T-shirt. The working conditions in these factories are not to be compared with any of the European standards, quite in contrast, actually; workers are getting in touch with the toxic chemicals by direct skin contact, they are breathing the toxic air without breath masks, and many of them get tumours, cancers, cerebrovascular disease and lung disease because of the constant contact with those toxic colors.
The consumer, obviously, also get those toxic chemicals used for conventional coloring on their skin – and directly into their blood streams when wearing the clothes on their skin. Something you simply can avoid by buying fair and organic items (or second hand – since it takes around 10 rounds in the washing machine before all toxins are washed out of a piece of clothes).
Step 3: the sewing
Finally there is the sewing process. This is actually what is most talked about when thinking about how garments are made – even though it only is small part in the whole process. Still, the sector is huge! There are currently 75 million people in the world working long hours to produce the many cheap clothes that we buy, and 80% of those people are women. In fact, the garment industry is the top employer of women in the world, however, 98% of their employees are paid less than a living wage for up to 14 or even 18 hours per day of work. In Bangladesh, for instance, the median salary is around $340 per month, however, the average clothes maker is paid just $68 per month.
And let’s not forget about child labor. There are currently over 168 million children involved in child labor across the globe – that’s 11% of the global population of children. And many of them are working in sweat shops. Well known high-street brands such as Nike, H&M, Gap, and Adidas, among others, have all employed the services of offshore manufacturers that were later exposed for using children working in unsafe conditions.
Different story at Comazo! The garment pieces are send to Croatia. Here, the company is having a subsidiary company since 1990 that is taking care of the sewing process.
I was asking why they make this part in Croatia, even though the whole dying and cutting is taking place in Germany. So Caroline explained to me that back in the days when her father took over the company, the war in Croatia has just come to an end, and the country was in need of production facilities. So Caroline’s father decided to have the products getting sewed there to be able to generate jobs in a country deeply in need of them. Today, it is much more expensive to do it this way, compared to going to another country, however, Comazo is continuing working with their affiliates in Croatia since they developed a relationship with the factory and the workers over time and they do not want to miss the trust they have in each other.
So to put it in a nutshell: it is not all about the money in fair fashion! It is about paying fair salaries, about using resources in way that isn’t harming the environment, it is about actual relationships with a to the people in the production chain, it is about transparency, and respect for both humans and nature!
It was a pleasure learning all of this from Caroline and to hear her talk with so much passion about her father’s business Comazo.
I hope you enjoyed this post and I would LOVE to know your opinion on what I wrote!