Cotton Knot Wraps: From seed to shop
We’re told ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’, but shouldn’t what’s on the outside matter just as much? Discover how our cotton Knot Wraps go from seed to shop, and you might just agree.
A wonderland of wraps
Someone you know is having a birthday, they’ve passed their exams, having a baby perhaps, and you want to get them something special. Only too aware of the problems traditional wrapping paper can bring, your eye is drawn to the captivating array of beautifully designed patches of fabric, Knot Wraps, some made from recycled plastic bottles and others from organic cotton. They hang from the ceiling of our stores like flags and adorn the walls like paintings, providing cheery splashes of colour every which way you turn, while others have already been delicately furled around gift sets in a mind-boggling pattern of twists and knots, a work of art in itself. You reach out and touch a piece of fabric, the label tells you that this one is made of cotton. While your fingers explore, your mind wanders, you can’t help but contemplate its origin, and by extension, the ethics behind its creation. Where was this made? Who made it? Did they receive a fair wage? Where was the cotton grown? Who grew it? Did they use anything they shouldn’t to grow or dye it?
Wonder no more. This is the story of how many of these eye-catching, cotton Knot Wraps are created with people and the environment firmly in mind.
It begins with a seed
Ananbappa gently digs his fingers into the soft, warm soil surrounding an organic cotton plant and lifts out a thick clod of earth interwoven with dozens of pink earthworms who soon begin wiggling their way to safety below the surface. Their presence is highly-prized here in the state of Karnataka, India, it means the earth is rich and healthy, no easy feat in the sweltering temperatures that are recorded here.
Unlike the majority of cotton growers in the country, Ananbappa prefers organic practices to grow his crop, opting for methods that have been around for centuries rather than introducing GM hybrid varieties that require vast amounts of pesticides and fertilisers that damage the land and a crop’s natural resilience. Instead of harmful chemicals, he uses homemade vermicompost, an organic compost produced by legions of earthworms that turn food waste into rich nutrients that feed the soil, a technique which also helps to naturally suppress plant disease and improves water retention, something he has happily shared with the Indian organic farming community. Endowed with this new skill, farmers can reduce their overheads and increase profits. But more importantly, as organic cotton growing produces up to 94% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, it’s helping the bigger picture too.
Water scarcity is another issue facing growers of the notoriously thirsty crop. Intensive irrigation can be costly and can ravage a once lush landscape, so organic cotton farmers like the Dodaverabhdregowda family, use the topography of the land to their advantage. Poor soil and a lack of natural obstacles will see water run off the land in seconds, so the Dodaverabhdregowdas added contouring, boulder bunds, ponds every 10 acres, and multiple groves of newly planted silver oak trees across the family’s near 100 acre plot to retain and slow the flow of water captured during the monsoon rains. Not only will this benefit what they grow and how successful the harvest is, but also the environment and those that live within it. The approach has been so successful in fact, the family are now trainers within the organic farming community, gladly sharing their knowledge and experience to help improve India’s farming land and the lives of those who work and live on it.
Weaved in the hands of empowered artisans
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 hundreds of 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 multicolour material, proving that what’s on the outside really does count too.