Dirty White Gold : The film set to make waves

Image from Dirty White Gold film

Ethical fashion advocates have been pushing organic cotton into the spotlight for some years now, even a few mainstream retailers have committed to switching some production to organic. H&M has been the biggest user of organic cotton since 2010. But how many consumers actually know why conventional cotton is bad, and organic good? A new film in the pipeline is setting out to raise awareness of just such issues, and make some waves across the whole supply chain along the way.

The producers of the film Dirty White Gold are giving the public the chance to be a part of the change by asking them to directly support the making of this ground-breaking film.

What are the issues?

The people affected most by conventional farming practices are farmers and farming communities who work and live with these chemical pesticides on a daily basis. Serious health issues caused by inhalation of pesticides are common There are also major adverse affects on the natural environment and complete destruction of delicate eco-systems. These issues and many more face thousands of small scale Indian farmers caught up in the cycle of conventional cotton farming.

All farming started as organic, reliant on well balanced eco-systems. Then came some clever representatives who persuaded farmers that using chemical pesticides and GM seeds would bring them greater crops. Excited by this huge potential many farmers converted.

The sad truth is that although they may experience increased yield initially, the pests build up resistance and the farmers are forced to use more and more chemicals to sustain their crops. After a few harvests the natural ecosystem becomes so damaged that any benefits provided by the once rich soil has completely disappeared, creating a total reliance on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and GM seeds.

Just a small number of multinational agro chemical companies control all sale and distribution of pesticides, seeds and chemical fertilisers in India and across the world. They have the power to control the market and create demand for their products, increasing prices as they wish. The farmers have no choice but to pay, they must purchase their seeds.

While the majority of organic farmers use local seeds stored from their previous harvest, the pesticide reliant farmers must purchase seeds from the same companies selling them their pesticides. And there is no guarantee of a good harvest; if the crop fails the farmer has no come back on the companies who supplied the seeds. They must start over again by purchase and re-sowing more seeds.

The ever increasing price of seeds and pesticides, along with failing crops, are causing farmers to get into spiralling debt. They are leading simple, rural lives and do not have the knowledge or power to challenge the system they find themselves in. They take loans to pre-pay for their seeds and chemicals, and when their crops fail, many have taken their own lives with the same chemicals that had promised them a better future. The irony is sickening.

Organic Cotton – a way out?

Organic cotton farming is one way to stop the heavy reliance on chemicals, but converting to organic is a transitional process which takes up to five years. Only then can ‘organic’ status be applied for. Many consumers are aware of organic cotton, but at the moment there is little awareness of ‘transitional’ cotton; cotton on the journey to become organic. One other lesser known classification is ‘better cotton’, identifying that not all farmers will have all the right conditions to produce organic cotton, but still want to work within improved ecological systems.

For farmers to consider converting to organic they need to see the financial benefit. This can often be gained through the higher premium offered for organic cotton, but at the moment there are few companies who pay high premium for ‘in transition’ or ‘better’ cotton. Education is needed to show farmers the wider benefits of pursuing more sustainable farming practices which include increased health, more fertile land, possible crop diversity, no reliance on third party, possible self sufficiency and less financial risk. But going organic or making said improvements is not an easy process and requires an initial capital investment which for many is enough to scare them off. It also involves re-learning farming and eco-systems which will differ from farm to farm, depending on their location, availability of water and many other factors.

The solution?

If governments and multinationals put as much effort into supporting the organic movement as they do into promoting, supporting and selling chemicals and GM seeds to farmers we would no longer have a problem. But that may well be the problem; multinational agro chem companies are happy travelling to all these remote farms promoting and selling their own brands as they get a nice financial return.

But who will pay for the organic farming training programs? The Indian government? it is the government who for many years have been offering subsidies on chemical fertilisers. Earlier this year they announced that they would reduce the subsidies on chemical fertilisers to encourage the use of more ecological fertilisers. But this kind of action needs to go hand in hand with educating the farmers about the alternative options, otherwise it is just taking more from those already reliant on chemical fertilisers.

The team behind the film ‘Dirty White Gold’ have decided enough is enough, they are out to make some waves by exposing the truth about conventional cotton production and its link to the many thousands of farmers committing suicide in India.

I hope this film can not only raise consumer awareness on the cost of cotton, but also ask serious questions about why only a handful of companies are allowed to control the livelihoods of vulnerable farmers. It is too late for so many, but this film has the potential to instigate lasting change. The more people involved and backing it, the harder it will be for those in power to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

Dirty White Gold : The Cotton Film:

This film will illustrate the horrific fiscal and physical effects of pesticides on cotton production, explore the viability of fairtrade and organic alternatives and try to prove that you don’t have to look like a patchouli-scented 60s throwback to have an ethical fashion industry.

Filmed in the fields and factories of India and the high streets and catwalks of London, this film and campaign incorporates reportage, video montage, direct action, artistic intervention and a multi-platform transmedia distribution plan. It will call for supply chain transparency across cotton industries….

Here is a great article from Urban Times which gives an overview of the film, including interview with the director Leah Borromeo. CLICK HERE

You can show your support by sponsoring the film : CLICK HERE

And follow Dirty White Gold on FACEBOOK

Here are a few links to further information on the subject:

PAN North America : Chemical Cartel – This is a real eye opener, we should be worried.

Times of India – Farmer Suicides You just need to search on Times of India for farmer suicide to see the scale of the issue.

PAN Europe – Pesticide Campaign Lots of info about pesticides including health and environmental risks.

EJF Foundation – Have you picked yours carfully EJF campaign for organic cotton and have evidenced the negative impacts of pesticide use.

Article: Greenpeace and farmers welcome government plan to shift subsidy from chemical fertilisers to ecological fertilisation

People Tree – Organic Cotton Fibre – Comparison between conventional and organic cotton.

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Testing out some of my new batik blocks!

Batik Indigo Dyeing

I’ve been spending time at The Colours of Nature in Auroville, South India to learn about the process of batik block printing. It was such a pleasure to be able to get down and do some printing, I miss having a good old play, haven’t done it for a long while. It wasn’t, however, just for fun; this experimentation has proved invaluable insight into how best to format designs when making batik blocks.

The print blocks I am using are made out of a series of nails banged into a block of solid wood to create a flat dot pattern surface, different size nail heads are used for different pattern qualities. Nails are used as they retain heat, this ensures that the wax remains at the maximum temperature and does not cool too soon. By retaining the heat, the wax easily absorbs into the fabric, which is key to successful batik work.

The fabric is spread over a bed of damp sand to ensure that the wax stays in the cloth, and the block is pressed hard onto the fabric. The tricky bit is lining up a repeat block, there are no markers it’s all done by eye. Once the wax is dry the fabric is soaked in water before being submerged in the indigo vat. When the fabric is removed from the vat it is a wonderful yellowy green colour, which reacts with the air and oxidises as the fabric turns blue. This process is repeated several times until the required depth of colour is achieved.

I’m so excited about creating my own designs, the blocks are ordered I just need to wait for them to be made! Watch this space!

Preserving Traditional Sari Design

The Weavers Service Centre in Kanchipuram is bursting with master craftsmen employed by the government of India (as part of the Ministry of Textiles) to push their craft to the limits, research traditional techniques and explore new ways to keep the hand loom sector alive in face of modern day competition. It was there I met K.G. Narendrababu (or Babu for short), who took me through the process of designing for hand loom saris. He is an artist at heart and pursues his own work in his spare time, telling me that it is important to have a balance between creating commercialised designs and expressing your own feeing through your art form. I agree with this whole heartedly, but it is good to be reminded sometimes, having decided to work for myself and make textiles my career. There can be a feeling of push and pull, the desire to be creative and explore ones own practice, with the need to commit time to areas of work which will bring in an income.

Babu talked me through some of the changes in sari design. In the traditional design the formula used to create the pattern goes back generations and will differ from region to region. It is inspired by the surrounding landscape of the area, nature and animals. He shared with me the centre’s hand drawn directory of symbols used in Kanchipuram sari design (see images).

Designing takes a modern twist as digital CAD packages are used to produce the patterns to convert it into the many templates used to create the warp and weft threads of the design. Some of the digital designs of sari pallu (the exposed end of the sari) are pictured. The colours maroon, mustard and green are all very auspicious, as is the mango, peacock and lotus flower – all official emblems of India.

A peek inside a natural indigo dye house

Last week I visited Colours of Nature, a traditional indigo and natural dye house based in Auroville, South India.

Colours of Nature are reviving the 1,000 year old traditional technique of indigo dying, while using scientific research to develop the dyes and improve on the colour-fastness (one of the main issues with natural dyes in the commercial market). There will be more posts about natural dyes to come, as I pursue this field of interest and integrate it into my ideas for a collection…

A peek inside the Earth Positive factory in Tirupur

Here are a few pictures from my visit to the Continental Clothing Earth Positive Factory in Tirupur, India.

Inspired by the first ‘green’ factory set up by Marks and Spencer’s, which drove the owners to set up their own version in India, they really are setting new standards for ethical garment production. I will be writing an article about my visit for Ethical Fashion Forum SOURCE Intelligence in the coming weeks.

To read my article follow this link: Continental Clothing: Setting the sustainable factory standard

India Calls

In just over two weeks my boyfriend (Berg) and I will be moving to India from the UK to spend a year living in Chennai. Berg is working on a migration project based in the city. My time will be split between working for an NGO and researching and writing about ethical fashion.

I have been working for Ethical Fashion Forum for the past few months and will be continuing my work with them while in India writing for the SOURCE Magazine.

I will be visiting sustainable fashion & textiles organisations and meeting contacts I have made through working in ethical fashion and via the Ethical Fashion Network.

I have also connected with an NGO called Rural Institute for Development and Education (RIDE) who I’ll be working with on a long-term basis.

Image: http://www.rideindia.org/activities.htm

RIDE work to support those people living and working in the rural villages of Tamil Nadu in the areas surrounding Chennai.

They carry out fantastic work by supporting children in the villages out of child labour and into education. They provide them with catch up lessons until the children are ready to enter regular schools. They also help the adults to start businesses which have the means to create sustainable income for their families. This is supported by their Entrepreneurial Development Programme which offers practical training in various different fields.

Many of the villages that RIDE work with are known for their exquisite hand-loom woven silk used for the most luxurious saris. This is an area I am very keen to learn more about and develop my understanding of this traditional craft. I’m also interested in the possibility of creating a knowledge transfer programme for those who would like to develop their skills in the fashion & textiles industry.