Monday, 31 December 2007

Fairliebt in Nairobi

Fairliebt is a fine, young ethical T-shirt label from Hamburg in Germany. They use fair trade shirts from organic cotton and sustainable screen print techniques. The shirts are recognizable by their clear, playful designs.

Their T-shirts are made by Lamu Lamu in a factory in Nairobi, and certified fair trade. During my visit in Kanya I coincidently visited the factory. My photo's of this visit are lost, but here a short impression: it was rather stuffed in the factory. They started with only about twenty workers, now every corner of the working place is used. In one corner sewers were busy for a local Kenyan clothing brand, full of colors and patterns. On the other side I found the shirts of Lamu Lamu. As they also produce non organic basic T-shirts for the local market, I could compare the quality. Indeed, the organic cotton felt much, much nicer and softer!

As I wrote already in another article, it is hard to see the fair trade aspects in a factory if you are not trained for it. The area is really industrial, dirty and rough. For someone with a lot of beautiful ideas about sustainable production this can be rather disappointing, but the reality is off course that we also have to create better working conditions inside the dirty industrial areas. And respect for those sweating to realize this on every day base!

The cotton from the Fairliebt shirts comes from Phenix in Uganda, please read the articles below if you want to know more about this organic, fair trade cotton from Uganda.
Fairliebt are selling their shirts online to keep prices low. A succesful concept for them, and a good example for others. Thanks to Fairliebt for your positive spirit!

*** I wrote this article shortly before the unfortunate happenings in Kenya of the past weeks. Let's hope that peace will return to this lovely country. Frans

See one of the Fairliebt clips on MySpace:

happy 2008!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Eco-fashion is getting hot in Stockholm

Stockholm is becoming a meltingpot of hot, organic fashion and anticorporate blackspot. Thursday we went for a few hours eco-fashion hunting in Stockholm, in search for future Pamoyo selling shops and for general interest off course. First we visited Red & Fairy, a shop who opened their doors just five weeks ago. The clothes they sell are completely organic and fair trade. Red&Fairy prefer labels that produce fairtrade in the South. They sell clothes from two Swedish labels, Righteous Fashion and Dem Collective, and furthermore Kuyichi. A small but very nice shop, and we hope they will make it and grow!

Next stop was the Ekovaruhuset in old town Gamlastan, very well located between arts and crafts shops and chique fashion boutiques. The Ekovaruhuset, with a second store in New York, has a large offer of fashionable clothes, shoes, and accessories. On the one hand they sell fashion, on the other hand a selection of organic cleaning detergents, ethical living magazines and chique organic chocolates. Considering all the Christmas rush, the personal was very calm and spreading a peaceful atmosphere with a lot of attention and love in creating one-of-a-kind packages. One of the women in the shop said that the skepticism against ecological clothes had been hard, but that they now notice a change of attitude. They sell a selection of very wide range of cool, well known ethical fashion brands and local Swedish ethical designers like American Apparel, Anja Hynynen, Bergman Sweden, Birgitta Ericsson, Blackspot, Camilla Norrback, DEM Collective, Demin, Gossypium, Günay Kulbay, Howies, Johanna Hofring, Lovisa Burfitt och Stina Johnson, Kuyichi, Misericordia, Modiga barn, Nana Baah, Peau-Ethique, Pelle Backman, Loomstate, Steward&Brown, Solius, ThreeAsFour, Tor Söderin, Zion Clothing, Åsa och Taneale and Veja.

On our way to hipster area Söder we accidently passed Sarabia, the agency office of Kuyichi, Misericordia, Edun, and Steward & Brown. Unfortunately closed, but showing a nice location and good windows to look in through. Just afterwards we spotted Adbusters’ Blockspot sneakers in an ordinary, large Swedish fashion store, which made us believe that ethical fashion is really getting hot in Stockholm. As young people in Sweden generally are well dressed in style and seem to spend a little budget on fashion, there might be a good market for ethical fashion as well, with still quite a space to grow. Considering that the new cool Swedish ethical brands are focusing on the young generation in particular, with designer fashion like Camilla Norrback, and a range of smaller, upcoming labels, ethical fashion might in Sweden work best being style conscious. But as ecological and social awareness in Sweden is relatively progressive, it sounds logical that the ethical side will also market itself here upnorth, which is recently proved by the succesfull exhibition “Fair Fashion?” in Göteborg last autumn.

After all, the most ethical fashion is to be found in Söder, where lampposts and traffic signs are dressed in handmade knitwear. An original form of street art taking care of the freezing street furniture and the stubbornness of bypassers...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Organic cotton farming in Uganda

In Northern Uganda, in the region around Lira, there is as much as 27 thousand farmers (!!!) growing organic cotton. The farmers are united in a cooperative with chosen representatives. The organic cotton project here is started by and running through the Dutch company BoWeevil. The cotton from the Phenix factory in Kampala which I visited the day before, origins from this project as well. As might do the Edun or M&S clothes you are wearing on this very moment.

I went to see the project and visited some farmers. It was quite a trip from Kampala, it takes about six hours on crazy roads. As I understood, this area has been under control by the cruel guerilla Lord’s Resistance Army until very recently. Now there are peace negotiations, so the area is calmer and the farmers, who lived in refugee camps, are living on their lands again. So until one, two years ago they had to go to their lands with fear and go back to the camps before the evening fell. One could understand that’s not an easy way to work. Okay, no Army anymore, but on the way back our driver refused to stop at the beautiful Nile waterfalls because there was a danger for guerilla bandits.

The farming life looked all quite romantic to me, traditional huts, some chickens running around, people hanging around or working a bit. The farmers have small fields with different crops. They do not make use of irrigation, so depend on the rain seasons that occur a few times per year. Next to cotton they grow sesame, red peppers and vegetables for local consumption. The income from cotton and sesame, which is exported, gives income which the farmers can use to send their children to school or buy medicines from. From the extra income they gain with growing organic, the farmers can afford building small houses instead of huts. This is a development from the last years, and if it continues, traditional huts might disappear pretty fast from the landscape.

This is the ambivalence of development. On the one hand it is a positive achievement for the farmer, having a good roof, a house with a door that you can close of, on the other hand it can be a loss of cultural value. An even stronger ambivalence I felt when visiting the Maasai women project in Kenja. In this project, run by catholic nuns, they make traditional jewelry to be able to send their children to school. As they said, they hope that their children will then be able to give the Maasai a stronger presence in municipalities, politics, and that this will decrease their oppression. But while these children go to school, they will live less tightened to their traditional culture, and if they become successful, they will most likely be westernized.

There is not much enemies of cotton in Uganda, so the need for pesticides is not all that high. Often farmers do not have the money to invest in chemicals either. So the step to become organic is not all to large. What makes a difference, is that the organic farmers are trained in methods to prevent their crops in a natural way. A rather genius but logical invention is to plant red peppers around the cotton. Quite some animals don’t really like peppers so they will stay away. And by using this method, they also produce peppers. Another part of growing organic is using crop rotation. The different crops use the ground different, which keeps the soil fertile, so one does not need artificial fertilizers to pimp up the ground. The crop rotation also results in a more efficient use of the landfill and a higher production. In this way it is also more economic. And off course also the non-organic farmers are very interested to see what their neighbors are doing…

In the end, the social effect of this organic cotton project might be much bigger than the ecological impact. The farmers get a guaranteed price and buy for their cotton, the get training and a organic-bonus of twenty percent. This can mean the difference for sending their children to school or having a proper housing. As they are organized in a cooperative, they are relatively self-organized. In that sense, it is a logical step that the project is becoming fair trade certified now. But also the ecological impact is important, as it supports and conserves a relatively traditional way of farming, and is a good alternative to technolization, GM production and ‘improvements’ with pesticides, often introduced or forced by large corporations, who also try to get more grip in Africa. In this fall, the Ugandese case is an interesting example because the success of the organic production, the support from the Ugandese government and the result might be that the whole North of Uganda will be organic within a few years.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Uganda: the reality of production

After the workshop in Kenya I took a bus from Nairobi to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The trip with Akamba bus took about fifteen hours. It was relatively comfortable, compared to Matatu traveling, where you sit in a small van pressed against each other, but the roads where wobbly, sandy and dusty and one feels quite exhausted after such a trip. On the way I spotted a lot of colorful birds, zebras, antelopes, and apes. After being in wealthy circumstances of hotels, restaurants, and good company, this was quite a difference and I felt arriving in Africa for real!

Kampala roads are much worse than Nairobi roads! And traffic jams are relative if you get used being stuck five hours a day... In Kampala we visited a few projects, in example a designer who makes jewelery and bags from recycled materials (see picture left, she is holding a bag made from recycled plastic), which are produced under a women support program. We also visited the Phenix factory, where they produce fabrics and garments form organic cotton. It was interesting to see, since they work hard to make the factory vertically integrated, one could see the whole process from bringing cotton in to a ready sewn and printed garment in one factory.

Actually it is really worth visiting so many places of production because it gives much more of an insight in the reality of garment production. One of the things I learned on my journey is how complex the matters of fair trade is and also how relative it can look. Complex because it is a whole production chain involved. The cotton can be organic and fair trade, but that doesn't make the final product organic or fair trade. Relative because fair trade, even when certified, is not always visible directly, fair trade does not automatically mean smiling workers (as the marketing of fair trade will make you believe), so it is more in the invisible part (control on labor rights, transparency of the production chain, etc.) that makes the difference.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Ethical Fashion in Kenya

Last weeks Frans visited Kenya and Uganda and visited several projects there. The trip started with the workshop Africa Inspires in Nairobi, organized by the Ethical Fashion Forum, an international platform for ethical fashion brands and initiatives, and the ITC. The workshop provided a program of visits to social projects, fair trade initiatives, recycling, etc. If you are working with ethical fashion or are a fashion designer interested to do so, the projects of the Ethical Fashion Forum might be of interest for you as well!

We visited projects in and around Nairobi and the Rift Valley. They included breadwork and weaving, shoe and bag production, etc. TO BE CONTINUED SOON...