If you had to put into words the feeling you get when you put on a new pair of pants or t-shirt, or even underwear for that matter, what would you say? Fresh, crisp, clean, or amazing? We all know it’s a pretty good feeling when you can literally smell the newness and see every detail stand out. Imagine how much better you’d feel if you knew that these clothes have not harmed the environment and contributed towards making the lives of farmers and workers a little better.
We talk to Rajat Jaipuria, director, Living Green Fashions, about their brand Soul Space which focuses on organic farming of cotton and responsible manufacturing to create sustainable and fashionable clothing.
“Cotton is one of the most pesticide incident crops in the world. Almost 25 per cent of the total pesticide manufactured around the world is sprayed on the crop,” says Jaipuria, emphasising on how this affects the health of cotton farmers. “Pesticide is basically poison that they spray to kill insects, and often, farmers inhale it themselves and end up with serious health conditions, which may be fatal. I did my internship in the cotton fields, and I saw that the farmers were using a lot of pesticide that doesn’t only affect their health, but also drains them of finances. The multinational companies, which make the pesticide, brainwash farmers that they must use their products or their crops will die. And the pesticides cost a lot of money, which leads the farmers into a debt trap. Financial problems have been the cause of the suicides of farmers for over two decades and it still is a burning issue in India,” says Jaipuria.
To remedy the situation however they can, they have tied up with foreign companies to train the farmers to grow cotton organically. “We’re trying to teach them what their grandfathers did — how to use compost, manure, and make do with less water,” he adds.
Soul Space sources cotton from Chetna organics, a development initiative aimed at improving the lives of smallholder and marginalised cotton farmers in different rain-fed cotton growing regions in India. There are around 15,000 farmers, who belong to different parts of the country including Andra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Maharashtra. The farmers own 10 per cent of the brand and are entitled to profit sharing.
Coming to India
Once they were able to produce cotton organically, the next thing to do was to find markets to sell their products. “We started exporting our products internationally 25 years ago. Our first customer was Greenpeace, an NGO with a global presence. They had campaigns about saving water, saving whales, saving the earth, and their t-shirts were made from our organically produced cotton. But it wasn’t the same as having our own brand, so we started Soul Space. We’ve been online for a while, and our first flagship store was launched in Phoenix MarketCity Pune on Thursday,” says Jaipuria.
Soul Space is launching in India after being a success in Europe, Australia and other markets abroad where customers are more aware about the environment. Jaipuria feels that it is the right time to launch in India because consumers here are becoming more and more conscious about using eco-friendly products and are condemning crimes like child labour, which they wouldn’t have given a second thought to some years ago. The youngsters are changing the way India thinks,” he says, adding, “When you’re doing all this good, and nobody knows about it, it’s easier for a consumer to switch back to using conventional products which are not environment-friendly and might even be cheaper than our products. We’ve made it a point to keep the cost as low as possible, so our products are about 10-15 per cent more expensive than a product that is mass produced, but you know that you’re paying that much extra to stop the exploitation that goes down in the demand-supply chain and make the lives of the workers and the farmers a little better. We ensure they get living wages, not just minimum wages, so that they can take care of their families, send their children to school and so on,” adds Jaipuria.
The fabric is organically produced, but what about the detailing like the zippers, buttons or dyes? Jaipuria answers, “The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an internationally recognised organic textile standard which was set up in 2006. Many countries have come together to set the expectations and standards. They have given us a list of dos and don’ts, what we can use and what we can’t, and our products are compliant with their standards. We use low-impact dyes which are proven to be least harmful to the environment. Our zippers are nickel-free and lead-free, and though they are still metal, we make sure we don’t use metal from mines that are in conflict. For making the fabric white, we do not use chlorine and no formaldehyde is used in softening or colour fastening,” says Jaipuria.
But no matter how eco-friendly the product is, consumers will pick it up only if it appeals to their fashion sense. The clothes need to be trendy enough to compete with apparel from leading fashion brands. “We have a designing team located in Amsterdam who make sure that the line is at par with global trends. The collection for Soul Space is divided into three segments — essentials, studio and athleisure. The clothes are highly functional with edgy designs, which is what the youth are wearing in India nowadays,” says Jaipuria.