Our Partners Helvetas and White Gold

Helvetas and White Gold

Producing organic and fair-trade cotton has become the white gold of farmers in the African nation of Mali. There, Swiss development organization Helvetas is involved in a number of projects, including the sustainable growing of cotton. Find out how this helps the farming families, what you should pay attention to when buying cotton products, and how you can help through the "Slow Fashion Container" project.

Where exactly does the cotton in the clothes you are wearing come from? Have you ever asked yourself this question? Although the demand for sustainably produced fashion is on the rise, we often place too little value on the origin of our clothing.

The lion's share of the cotton traded around the world is produced in India and China. A much smaller portion of the cotton comes from Africa. While cotton production is an important source of income for many families in those nations, heavy use of pesticides, genetically modified seeds, and low market prices are taking a toll on the countries and their people.

Organic Farming with a Vision

In the western African country of Mali, Helvetas is helping to grow cotton organically and fairly. Matou Kelly, a cotton farmer from Faragouaran, explains: "Organic farming has opened the door to progress for the village. Thanks to organic farming, we women each own a piece of land and, with it, a degree of freedom." That is because women earn about 80% more with organic and fair-trade cotton than with conventional cotton. With the additional income, they can buy their own land. What's more, they can use it to improve their overall living and working conditions. They can dig wells and build and expand schools.

Avoiding Monoculture

Helvetas’ commitment to organic farming in Mali is driving even more changes. The Malian Organic Movement (Mobiom), the cotton industry's organization for organic farming in Mali, advises women on farming techniques. For example, thanks to Mobiom, they learn how to extract oil from the neem tree to fight off pests and how much cheaper it is when they use household compost instead of store-bought nitrogen as fertilizer. Not using pesticides also protects the environment. The three-field system typically used in organic farming, in which crops such as soy beans, wheat, or sesame are rotated with cotton, also makes the families more independent.

How to Grow a T-Shirt

 «Slow Fashion Container»

To raise awareness of sustainable fashion, Helvetas created a project called "Slow Fashion Container" this past April. The objective is to buy a container of Malian organic cotton, from which 100,000 T-shirts will be produced, through crowdsourced ordering. The interested parties are then able to track every step in the transparent production process with text messages, photos, and videos. They can follow the making of their T-shirts from the cotton seeds being sown to the cotton being harvested to the material being woven—all the way to the final product. Anyone who orders a finished T-shirt today will receive it next spring. Hence the term "slow fashion." The shirts were created by British designer Katharine Hamnett, who has been a proponent of sustainable clothing for years.

Sustainable Fashion: What to Look out for When Shopping

Roughly half of all clothing is made from cotton or contains a certain amount of cotton. So, there are various things to look for when buying clothes.

Tip 1: The Label

If a product is made from organic cotton, that does not mean that it was also produced under fair labor conditions. Besides a recognized seal of approval for organic cotton, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), IVN, or the EU's Ecolabel, you should also look for the fair-trade symbol for textile goods. The website www.labelinfo.ch provides a good overview of the labeling jungle.

Tip 2: The Place of Manufacture

for environmental protection and social standards are stricter. In addition, these products usually have a better ecobalance due to the shorter transport distances during production. If the cotton comes from overseas, make sure that the cotton, such as that used in Helvetas products, was produced under not only organic, but also fair-trade conditions.

Tip 3: Durability

Clothing is not meant to be disposable. Place importance on quality, and buy fabrics that are durable textiles instead of bargain hunting. Give preference to organically produced, natural fibers (wool, linen, hemp, cotton) over synthetic materials, or buy products made from recycled synthetic fibers—for example, recycled polyester.

Sustainable products in the Bonviva Rewards Shop!

A selection of sustainable products and fair-trade fashion items made of organic cotton can be found in the Helvetas Fair Shop and the Bonviva Rewards Shop. How about a felt iPad cover or a silky scarf?