10-15-2014 International Day of Rural Women
Strong women are instrumental in combating poverty and hunger in rural regions in Africa. At the same time, they suffer the most from the precarious living conditions. This is where the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) Initiative comes in. CmiA provides women in the CmiA cotton growing regions with the opportunity of equal access to education and economic independence primarily through training and financial support. In total, currently around 85,000 women benefit from the program. The initiative, in collaboration with its partners, supports women's cooperatives in northern Côte d'Ivoire in which over 2,800 women are members.
The world needs strong women. Strong women whose self-confidence is steadily growing thanks to the special support they receive, the solidarity, and mutual support in a group, are key to sustainable development in rural Africa. In the Côte d'Ivoire, women's cooperatives have enjoyed a long history of tradition. The Aid by Trade Foundation and the DEG (German Investment and Development Company) together with the local cotton company Ivoire Coton support 38 women's cooperatives with more than 2,800 members in northern Côte d'Ivoire with 100,000 euros.
By joining a cooperative, the women receive financial support to cultivate fields, grow vegetables, and sell their harvest together. This provides them with their own additional income which guarantees them a bit of independence and benefits the family directly. Whereas this joint income often has to be used for daily needs, the cooperative enables them to finance necessary expenses of individual members. These expenses include hospitalization in case of illness or birth as well as school supplies for the children. Koné Fomegokama, a 40-year-old mother of 5 children from Boundiali, is excited about this opportunity: "My husband left me nine years ago. I was all alone and did not know how I would be able to feed my children. I now grow vegetables, corn, and rice in the cooperative. The best thing about our cooperative is that we women always come together when one of us needs help. The cooperative has also helped me to earn money for my children's education. Each of my five children now go to school. I could not have done it alone. But together you can achieve a great deal."
"By supporting women in the CmiA growing regions, we make a significant contribution to helping CmiA smallholder farmers improve the living conditions of their families and entire communities," said Tina Stridde, Managing Director of the Aid by Trade Foundation, "since the cooperative's activities are not only designed to advance and promote women. Some groups invest their income to repair water pumps in the village or donate part of the harvest to school cafeterias."
Officially, the International Day of Rural Women was adopted in 2007 by the UN General Assembly and celebrated for the first time on October 15, 2008. According to the United Nations, women in rural areas including indigenous women, play a crucial role in promoting agricultural and rural development, improving food security, and in helping combat rural poverty.
Sustainable cotton initiative displays its work at this year's Future Fabcris Expo
For the first time, the Aid by Trade Foundation will present its Cotton made in Africa initiative during the Future Fabrics Expo that takes place from September, 28th until September, 30th in London. In an interview with Charlotte Turner, researcher and project manager of the Sustainable Angle, you can learn more about the fair and the underlying organization, the Sustainable Angle.
1. What is the aim of the Sustainable Angle?
The Sustainable Angle is a not for profit organization which initiates and supports projects which contribute to minimizing the environmental impact of industry and society, and that help make it easier for companies to make informed decisions when it comes to sustainability. We do this through projects including the Future Fabrics Expo, which focuses on how fashion's environmental impact can be lowered through textile innovation, and novel ideas to transform the fashion system and design practice.
2. When has it been created?
The Sustainable Angle was set up in 2010 by Nina Marenzi, as while researching for her dissertation 'Organic Cotton: Reasons Why the Fashion Industry is Dragging its Heels' for her MSc in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, she interviewed numerous fashion designers, representatives of the textiles industry, and NGOs. As a result, the need for a curated sustainable textiles showcase became apparent and the Future Fabrics Expo was born.
3. Who stands behind the Sustainable Angle?
The Sustainable Angle's core team includes founder and director Nina Marenzi, researcher and project manager Charlotte Turner, and curator and educational consultant Amanda Johnston. The team has diverse experience in the sustainable energy and agriculture sectors, fashion design and production, education, and of course textiles.
4. What will be presented at this year's expo in London? What will be the highlight of this year's event?
This year we are planning to show hundreds of globally sourced fashion fabrics, trims, and components with a reduced environmental impact, along with in depth but easy to understand background information on sustainability and textiles, and short films introducing new companies and innovations. The Future Fabrics Virtual Expo is a new online tool to make the expo content available any time, from anywhere. In addition, we will be presenting a seminar exploring the future of fashion fabrics, and how as an industry we can become more sustainable.
5. Why has CmiA been chosen as partner of the Sustainable Angle and will be present at the Expo in London?
We will be showcasing Cotton Made in Africa as it is a viable sourcing option, highlighting the importance of responsible cotton cultivation to livelihoods and local economies across Sub Saharan Africa where CmiA is active. Additionally, we feel Africa is an emerging market for sourcing low impact cotton and textiles which benefit workers and communities, and we want to make it easier for designers and buyers to actually see, feel, and experience these textiles which they otherwise might not be able to. An essential element of the Future Fabrics Expo is the fact that we can show a curated range of globally sourced sustainable textiles in one place, which would otherwise be time consuming and difficult to source -- this is a perfect opportunity to be able to connect designers and buyers with African textiles.
6. Has sustainable fashion already reached a broader market?
We are absolutely seeing an increased commitment to lowering the impact of textiles and the fashion supply chain overall in the UK fashion market, as well as abroad. Mainstream brands like H&M and M&S started introducing lower impact textiles to their ranges some time ago, also highlighting the issues surrounding the afterlife of clothing. We're seeing cross industry collaborations, for instance the Pharrell Williams and G-Star Denim 'Raw for the Oceans' project, and brands including Burberry, Levi's, Adidas and United Colours of Benetton have signed the Roadmap to ZDHC, aiming for zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. There is a very long way to go, but brands from across market levels and countries are beginning to see it is imperative that the industry makes real changes to stop the degradation and depletion of our natural resources.
7. What is the impact of the Sustainable Angle and the Future Fabrics Expo on the sustainable fashion branch? What has been your greatest success so far?
The Future Fabrics Expo has achieved a winning combination of increasing the visibility of innovative textiles, and promoting and communicating textiles with a reduced environmental impact to designers, buyers, press and global organizations, in a setting that is designed and curated to introduce textiles for the future with a lower environmental impact in a jargon-free manner. It has been recognized as an essential platform to learn more about the efforts of global textile mills to design, manufacture, and function more sustainably; to discover new fashion textiles and innovations for the future, and to extend networks in the fashion and textile industries. We have also received a large amount of positive press, with publications including Guardian Sustainable Business, Drapers, WGSN, EcoTextile News, Textile View, Sportswear International, The Fashion Spot, and TimeOut featuring the Future Fabrics Expo, which shows the widespread interest in making the industry more sustainable.
8. What are your future plans for the Sustainable Angle and the Expo?
We plan to continue reaching key players in the fashion and textiles industry, to showcase and promote solutions to reduce the environmental impact of industry and consumers, and to highlight that we can reduce negative environmental and social impact whilst maintaining and even increasing the quality, desirability, and functionality of products and services. We'll be doing this through the Future Fabrics Expo, and also through the recently launched Future Fabrics Virtual Expo, to which we plan to add a fabric sourcing pool to allow visitors to purchase fabrics in collective orders to overcome the problem of large minimum order numbers.
Guest Blog Post by Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, ISEAL Alliance
ISEAL, as the global membership organisation for sustainability standards, is the leading authority on what good practice looks like in this space. As a subscriber the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) align with ISEAL's mission to benefit people and the planet and is part of a community that is aiming to strengthen the standards movement. As one of the largest organizations for sustainable cotton, representatives of the foundation regularly participate in ISAEL meetings. With experts and the standards community, they discuss and further develop different approaches and the impact of sustainability standards. One major theme is the claims jungle, Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, at ISEAL Alliance stresses in our guest blog:
"Today we can say that there is a definitive movement of sustainability standards and certification, with the recent showing that certified goods across sixteen leading certification programmes in ten commodities now hold an estimated trade value of USD 31.6 billion (as of 2012). At the same time, there are hundreds of standards and certifications programmes on the market, and not all of them are credible.
Most people engage with sustainability standards through an ecolabel, certification mark or some other type of sustainability message, and bringing clarity to this often confusing landscape is a challenge that ISEAL is now taking on. For those that use standards and need to interpret sustainability claims -- particularly buyers and NGOs that advise these buyers - we want to improve their ability to navigate this jungle and differentiate those claims that relate to trustworthy sustainability standards versus those that might actually be greenwashing.
We are approaching this challenge on two fronts -- on the one side developing a Good Practice Guide for certification programmes, and on the other, a navigation tool for people trying to understand different claims. The Good Practice Guide will be an international reference for any certification programme to strengthen its claims and labelling processes. It will provide the building blocks to manage claims and reduce the risk of inaccuracy or confusion. This includes clear protocol for who can make a claim or use a label, also how procedures for monitoring these claims and dealing with label misuse.
We are also hoping to drive dialogue in particular key areas. This could include a common understanding of what makes a 'complete claim' (is a logo sufficient on its own?) and consistency in the language that is used on certified products. The navigation tool will be a user-friendly way for stakeholders to make informed decisions about the sustainability labels they are contemplating using and, ultimately, we hope it reduces the proliferation of non-credible claims. It will be a sort of decision tree that leads people through the essential questions they need to ask, such as 'what type of claim is being made' and 'what social or environmental issues does the claim refer to'? It is essential that buyers, retailers, government procurers and others understand the differences between claims, as some are based on compliance with sustainability standards and other rigorous checks, while others might only be labels added for marketing purposes but with no systems beyond them."
8. CmiA and COMPACI Stakeholder Conference in Cologne
Making African cotton competitive and providing a sustainable basis for people and nature are the goals of Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and COMPACI (Competitive African Cotton Initiative). Over 150 experts across the textile value chain from nearly 20 countries attended this year's Stakeholder Conference from September 24--26th in Cologne. The discussions focused on issues such as tapping new markets for African cotton and thus securing income for cotton farmers as well as establishing a textile value chain in Africa.
Host of the conference opening event was DEG - Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH. Philipp Kreutz, member of the Management Board of DEG, pointed out the impressive development of Cotton made in Africa and COMPACI in his welcoming speech and stressed, "DEG is proud to have been given the opportunity as a founding member of COMPACI to support this process from the beginning." Alamine Ousmane, the acting Minster of Finance in Cameroon, emphasized the importance of cotton production for the West African country and praised CmiA for its work. Andreas Söffker, Managing Director of Gerhard Rösch GmbH was invited as additional guest speaker. A pioneer in the textile industry, the company produces textiles whose value chain can be traced back to the growing region of CmiA cotton in Africa. The fashion show by the Mozambican upcycling label "Mima-te" was met with great enthusiasm. Twin sisters Nelly and Nelsa Guambe presented for the first time their exceptional modern vintage designs made from old clothes during a fashion show in Germany. Among the unique designs were the first CmiA dresses made from old CmiA clothes.
For the first time, some manufacturers such as Ayka and Else from Ethiopia and Buetec from Cameroon took part in the meeting. They made clear that Africa is being discovered more and more by the textile industry as a production location. "The opportunity to be able to produce within a country from the cotton field to the finished garment, establish a sustainable foundation for textile production, and to discover growing sales opportunities locally makes African countries attractive to the American and European market," said Jas Bedi, Managing Director of African Cotton and Textile Industries Federation (ACTIF). The group of experts agreed that Cotton made in Africa can lay the foundation for a sustainable textile industry in Africa. A further developed textile industry could be a great opportunity for millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Interview with Donald Grant, children's book author and illustrator of the picture block
On the occasion of the fight for the rights of children, the Aid by Trade Foundation (ABTF) and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative in collaboration with the prestigious American children's book author Donald Grant publishes illustrations on child labor. The picture block is used as training material during CmiA cotton cultivation trainings in order to inform the people living in Sub-Saharan Africa about this important issue and to sensitize them. On Friday, the Foundation has invited its partners and local representatives of political and economic institutions to a workshop taking place in Zambia in order to discuss on the protection of children as well as on the newly created CmiA illustrations. In an interview, Grant reports on the project and his gained experiences on the ground.
Why did you choose to become an author for children's books?
Travelling for me has been the best school of life I could imagine. It has given me the chance to observe and reflect about my own life and of those around me. On one of my travels that led me to India, I experienced one unforgettable moment: Walking the hard back streets of Delhi I noticed through an open doorway of a small workshop a young girl who seemed incredibly sad. She looked like a princess dressed as they do there. She looked up at me and I was able to exchange a fleeting glance of eye contact with her. She was working making carpets with other girls just like her, most likely through forced labor. I will never forget that moment which eventually brought me to create children's books dealing with cultural issues, children's rights, and lifestyles.
What is your biggest challenge working as an author?
The biggest challenge in producing children's books on these issues are that potential buyers might feel over protective with their children. These realistic stories of life might seem to be negative to adults but I have found children to be extremely adaptable and understanding when the subject's are correctly presented.
Child labor is a very complex and difficult theme to deal with -- especially in a picture's block. How did you tackle your task?
At first, I had to learn in theory what child labor means. AbTF strictly forbids all forms of exploitative child labor and adheres to the respective ILO conventions. However, what do these regulations mean in practice? I had to figure out for myself what the conventions forbid and what they allow. Therefore, I travelled to those areas in Sub Saharan Africa where Cotton made in Africa cotton is grown. During my trips, I accompanied the verifiers who go to the fields and verify if the CmiA farmers respect the CmiA exclusion and sustainability criteria. An integral part of the exclusion criteria is e.g. the ban on child labor. Additionally, I participated in workshops on child labor. Most important for me though was to get to meet the people firsthand the picture's block address -- the smallholder cotton farmers and their families. I made many sketches beforehand, during and after my trip when I was in the CmiA project regions but to be honest, I created my best drawings during the long journeys in the 4X4 while going from one place to another. These took me through some wonderfully beautiful African countryside. The images I gained along the way and in the villages helped and inspired me enormously.
How did the CmiA farmers and their families react to you and the theme you wanted to talk about with them -- child labor?
At first, they appeared nervous to talk about this subject, especially with me, an European. However, when I explained with the support of the local CmiA teams that I wanted them to explain to me what child labor means to them and that I wanted to learn from them, I was able to gain their confidence. Laws concerning child labor are confusing at best and abstract to these illiterate smallholder farmers, but they do want to know what is considered acceptable or not. Nevertheless, when I asked them to explain to me what children should or shouldn't do, they seemed to have a clear image about that. Their openness and willingness to help me was essential for my work.
You have travelled the world and have already published many books. What was the main challenge you had to face with this project?
The most difficult part of the project was to distinguish between what is "help", "work" or "labor" on the family farm. This is not as easy as one might think. I wanted to create a realistic picture that interprets the requirements of the CmiA standard in day-to-day situations of an African farmer's family. Additionally, I wanted to show them what their children could do -- according to the international conventions. The farmers explained the fear that their children would become lazy if they had no work to do and would not be prepared for the future on the farm. Through the imagery created for the picture's block, I want to explain to them that school education doesn't mean that their children will not be part of the family farming learning process. I want to show them that educated children can even be a great asset to their parents, e.g. by reading instructions from training manuals, expiration dates on medicines and farming products, doing math calculations and accounting. Additionally, I had to design a picture block that is self-explanatory for those who cannot read, as there are many illiterate people living in the rural cotton growing areas of CmiA.
What has surprised or impressed you the most on your journey?
The strong and straight-forwarded women I met in the villages impressed me the most. In a male dominated region as this is, one woman came and said to me in private how much she appreciated a girl having an important role within the story. That having the girl go to school and help her illiterate parents calculate, understand and implement the training measures gave her hope for the future. This was wonderful feedback in which I felt a dept towards her to emphasize. Additionally, it was rewarding to have farmers see themselves and their stories in the pictures.
How would you describe the picture block?
The picture's block, which was created for the CmiA families in the African cotton growing areas, shows an exemplary, realistic but simplified image of the daily life of African smallholder farmers and their families. The artwork I used is simpler than my usual style. Why? Because I wanted to focus on the message -- what is allowed according to CmiA standard and what is child labor and thus forbidden within the CmiA system. Besides, I adapted it to the « Boîte à image » established style recognized and common in Sub Saharan Africa. CmiA already uses this practice to especially inform illiterate farmers about e.g. new agricultural training methods. For me, it is a very fruitful and inspiring CmiA project that I am pleased to be involved and to support it.
Donald Grant was born in 1954 in Brooklyn, New York. After his Art Studies at Pratt Institute in the United States, he spent six years traveling the world. His passion for travel lead him to France, where he finally settled thirty years ago. He has illustrated many books for young readers, in fields as diverse as literature, detective novels and fiction. He is also author of children's books and worked with UNICEF and Amnesty International. His last project took him to Sub Saharan Africa where on behalf of the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative he has created a picture block on child labor issues that will be distributed in the cotton growing areas where the Foundation works.
Foundation Discusses Sustainability Strategy with Experts from the U.S. Textile Industry
To reflect the increasing importance of sustainable raw materials for retail trade, the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) in collaboration with the consulting firm Accenture invited experts from the American textile industry to New York City. The goal was to provide information about the use of sustainable cotton as a basis for a responsible clothing industry and to discuss a sustainability strategy for the US market.
Together with experts from the US textile industry and the consulting firm Accenture, Tina Stridde, Managing Director and spokesperson for the AbTF and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative, discussed the prominent role of sustainable raw materials for people and the environment. During the workshop, she pointed out that companies can take on responsibility with their demand for raw materials. Already today, many textile companies purchase the Cotton made in Africa cotton as partners of an international demand alliance of the same name. They benefit from an array of communication options as well as by the fact that the Cotton made in Africa standard is reliable and transparent, while also perfectly combining sustainability with practicality. During the dialogue, the question was discussed whether the North American market requires a particular marketing approach. The initial conclusion showed that even in the very price-sensitive US market, there is great interest in sustainable raw materials and importance is particularly attached to a transparent and efficiently organized supply chain.