Growing the organic cotton is only half the tale. How does it go from fibres spun into thread, to woven squares of wonderfully decorated material? The answer is re-wrap, a social enterprise founded in 2002, interested in social and environmental change, based in Mysore, India, with the aim of empowering the seamstresses who create the products by hand, whose close attention to detail has seen them qualify as artisans.
“The idea was to uplift rural women in particular who wanted to learn a new skill that they could take home and give them independence to make a sustainable living,” says Janjri Trivedi, the founder of re-wrap, which abides by a philosophy of recycle, reclaim, reinvent.
“They can take the skill of sewing wherever they go or whatever they do in life.”
In 2009 re-wrap set up its own production unit in Mysore. Starting with 9 women, re-wrap were able to train previously disadvantaged women by empowering them and enabling them to earn a fair wage with dignity. Today the enterprise comprises of over 250 artisans, some of whom are given machines to allow them the flexibility of working from home.
Food and snacks are provided, and time is scheduled in for the artisans to partake in prayer, group stretching and yoga.
“Yoga benefits overall health and wellbeing,” explains Kaamila Qazi, re-wrap’s Head of Operations. “In particular because they are sat at their sewing machines for a large part of the day, yoga stretches help to improve their blood circulation and flexibility.”
Alongside more serious benefits such as a pension and family insurance policies, every year re-wrap organises a company wide excursion to a religious or historical site of the artisans’ choosing.
Janjri explains: “We encourage them to bring their entire family, children included, and they go away for three to four days. It allows them to socially connect, and have the freedom to express themselves.”
There is a handmade element behind every step of the process in producing Knot Wraps, so no fast-fashion here, including the part where the colourful and creative designs are printed on the organic fabric.
“We work with local printers who hand screen print each colour, to produce multi-colour prints,” says Kaamila. “For example the Ready Jelly Go Knot Wrap takes a total of 16 screens to complete, with each colour being layered separately by the artisan.”
As a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) certified supplier, re-wrap adheres to the strict organic methods across its entire supply chain, which includes using Azo-Free dyes. Azo dyes, which produce a far-reaching palette of bright colours that won’t run as easily in the wash, can be used to dye fabrics at lower temperatures, thus are more commonly used in the textile industry. However, it’s been discovered that up to 5% of Azo dyes break down to form compounds known as aromatic amines, a carcinogenic byproduct that can severely impact the environment. Not only does this harm the aquatic life living in the water it is released into, but also the entirety of the ecosystem, and by extension the water cycle which all life on this planet depends upon. Furthermore a link has also been found between certain cancers, including bladder and liver, and Azo dyes, which come into contact with the body through the skin, posing a danger to those handling them during production and those wearing the finished article, as sweat can cause the hazardous dyes to leave the cloth and enter the skin. Vehemently opposed to Azo-dyes, re-wrap ensures a zero chemical output in all of its products.
The social enterprise doesn’t only empower women with sewing skills, it also aims to support the farmers too. Working exclusively with farmers who produce 100% organic cotton, as well as transitioning conventional farmers to organic farming: re-wrap offers pre-financing to farmers who need a cash injection to get started or to make the switch to organic methods, negating their reliance on high-interest money lenders. According to the enterprise, since these farmers have converted there’s been a decrease in the number of miscarried pregnancies and an increase in school attendance by the farmers’ children.
There’s a story behind every product you find at Lush, but with the cotton Knot Wraps there are several woven into the multicolor material, proving that what’s on the outside really does count.
Images from top: Organic cotton growing in India; Ananbappa makes vermicompost.