Susanne Kreuz from the BEST-Sabel Vocational school for design in Berlin this morning took the floor in the plenary session. She claims that the schools have an important role in promoting organic cotton. They could contribute a lot to sensitizing the fashion world from the start to the conditions of production in other parts of the world. Susanne was invited to vistit Mali, Westafrica and has established an exhange with the first designer school in Bamako, initiated by Mimi Konaté. Now Susanne would like to find producers in Germany who are interested to let collections be produced there.
The World Congress on Organic Cotton kicked off this morning with its opening session. Three speakers provided food for thoughts and framed the issues that this congress will address in the coming days.
Melchior Lengsfeld form Helvetas recalled the work his organisation is doing on organic cotton and fair trade. Helvetas is committed already for several years in promoting sustainable management of natural resources. It now supports about 50000 farmers and families in producing and trading organic cotton. In his views, it is clear that nobody can promote and manage organic and fair trade cotton all alone; it’s only possible to do that by building true partnerships and working together along the value chain to make it sustainable. Farmers, processors, traders, retailers have different interests, hence it’s important to create spaces to discuss openly about the challenges ahead and understand each others. This congress aims at providing such opportunity for dialogue and exchange.
Peter Tschannen from Remei AG offered the perspective of a manufacture that recently switched all production to organic textile. For Peter ‘organic’ has been a choice of life for many years now, and in the 1990s together with Patrick Hohmann started a project with cotton producers in India. Their vision is to improve the leaving conditions of small farmers, integrate them in the value chain and make consumers aware of the issues of rural development and agriculture in developing countries. What started almost as an hobby is now a leading organization in the sector, described as a successful business model.
Today, organic cotton constitute almost 55% of all cotton consumption. Organic clothing has becoming mainstreamed, but a lot of challenges are still very much present.
To start with, farmers need training and education; besides, they are very vulnerable and affected by the current economic crisis. Besides, prices have to be decent and still in line with the market. All this requires patience and the creation of partnerships among producers, manufacturers and retailers all willing to work in a long term perspective and not keen on “quick money.” Further, we need to broad the perspective and not think only about cotton, but also about ecology and the all supply and production chain.
In this perspective, the WCOC 2009 provides a great opportunity to make the different stakeholders aware of the needs and enormous possibilities that are opening up in the sector; it’s the ideal platform to “share views and opinions and learn from each others.”
Lastly, David Bannell from Organic Exchange elaborated on the issues of broadening the perspective and moving the discourse from organic cotton to sustainable textile. Brands have power and decisions on all aspects of value change; they don’t see difference between cotton and other fibers, they are just interested in the product. Therefore, it’s crucial to talk now about sustainable textile, and to clearly define what we mean with it. Further, he recalled the importance of working together along the all value chain, advocating for more collaboration and less competition
Cooperative of producers of organic cotton from Paraguay is looking for partners in Europe. Carlos Ortigoza Rojas, an agricultural engineer speaking for a network of farmers in Paraguay, is looking for partners to sell and process their organic cotton.
Peter Ingwersen of NOIR tells me he gets very scared when he sees the WCOC community. ‘We talk about the backend, about the supply chain, but not about the product, how nice it should feel, how good it should look, how well you will attract other people when wearing it. We wear clothes to get laid, it’s all about sex, sex, sex and emotions’.
‘If we don’t pick up on this, we will fail. If producers don’t develop sexy fabrics in the next few years, I won’t be able to do my work anymore. Because designers don’t want fabrics that feel like cardboard, it should follow the lines of the body, flatter, be sensual. And we can do that with cotton, I work on it every day’.
With the aim to get to know each other (better) and to bring forward ideas for joint activities the first face-to-face meeting of the Global Organic Cotton Community took place this afternoon. Out of the 153 registered members about 50 people met and discussed in small groups on burning issues and potential joint activities as suggested by the community members themselves. Intensive discussions in at least three different languages led the participants of the session to define next steps and to reveal even new ideas.
One group for instance discussed about reduction of certification costs. Here just a few ideas that came up:
- reduce certification costs by trained local inspectors for organic certification, as most of the certification bodies are located in Europe and therefore (travel) costs for inspection are high
- bring together organic and fair-trade certification into one certification
- Try to get more group certifications than individual certification.
- Harmonize the Internal Control Systems.
It is planned to bring in the new suggestions of the discussion groups into the Global Organic Cotton Community online dialogues. If you aren’t already registered at www.organiccotton.org you might catch up on this as soon as possible.
First impression after talking to some conference participants: they’re here to meet new people, to learn more about organic cotton and to get inspired by the developments in this exciting field!
Tobias Meier from Helvetas highlights aims and expectations for the World Congress on Organic Cotton. The event is meant to bring together the different actors involved at the different level of cotton value chain. He feels that there’s a need for the sector to move further, and many actors wants this move. Helvetas is keen to facilitating this process and provide a platform for partnerships creation and knowledge exchange.