Category Archives: Susan’s Musings

Africa’s Fairtrade Cotton Farmers

I read this article today.  It is a little old, written by Elizabeth day in November 2010  for The Observer.  However it is still very much up to date.

It explains the subsudies given to USA, European and the Chinese cotton farmers – and then the impact this has on the cotton farmers in the very poor nations.  The subsidies really manipulate the price of cotton and has such a negative impact on the farmers in such places as Mali, West Africa.

Liz outlines the way in which Fairtrade has a positive impact.  The “Premium” resulting in access to health care, clean water and some education.

There is also an interesting video.

I have recently had an update from the Fairtrade Foundation regarding the fair trade cotton production for the garments we have made for us in India.  The organisation at the start of our Fairtrade chain is an organisation called Delight.  What a great name. 

The premium has partly financed water tanks for the groups livestock, as well as a communal stage for meetings and entertainment. They have also spent their premium on helping to finance and construct an English medium school called Swayam Academy through the Mahima Education and Welfare Society trust. The children of the tribal farmers (approx. 110) receive free education, transport, stationary and books at this school.  I have visited this school and some of the cotton farmers.  Once again I am reminded that when I read articles like the one Liz has written and think back to my visit then the inspiration it gives me results in our range of Fairtrade t shirts, aprons, school uniform and and polo shirts.

The real idea is to share.  Although the recession is having an impact on us here in the UK.  Our wealth is beyond the experience of the cotton farmers  I met.  If we at Cotton Roots together with our customers share just a little, the effects are magnified in such a important way to those growing the cotton in India and Africa.

Corporate Clothing Range

Many of our customers require corporate clothing from us. As we specialise in supplying company clothing with the best possible sustainable and ethical provenance this can be quite a challenge.  Our flagship range of Fairtrade certified and organic garments are part of the range of corporate clothing.  In addition we do have the ethical policies for our more formal range and can advise, and point people in the right direction.  For example we have a range of corporate clothing which includes ethically sourced shirts and blouses, suits, trousers, skirts and workwear.  This is manufactured for us by the Co-op who are founder members of the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative).  This range of corporate clothing is excellent quality and we supply one of our larger clients, Canon,  trousers from this range for their technical support staff throughout the UK and Ireland.

One way to increase the sustainable provenance of corporate clothing is to manufacture bespoke clothing for our clients. Here at Cotton Roots we  have the facility to manufacture shirts and blouses using organic cotton or even made with recycled fibres.  Although we have manufactured bespoke items using our Gold rated WRAP certified manufacture we have the no orders yet for the organic or recycled fibre options.  As it is relatively new I am sure this will change soon.  I will definitely celebrate our first order for these on the blog 🙂

Our full range of sustainable and ethical corporate clothing is being put on our website  over the next few weeks as at the moment only a tater is online.  So much to do and the time just keeps ticking by.

“Bee Lovely” Organic T shirts supplied to Neal’s Yard Remedies

I have recently spent a Saturday on a “keeping bees” workshop.  It was riveting. I loved it. Sue Bird ran the workshop and as she has fifty bee hives she certainly knew her stuff.  But it was obviously more than a business for her and she loved her bees.  I came away loving them too and full of admiration for them.

Did you know that the worker bees are all female. That the queen bee makes one mating flight in her life and that the drones all think yipidy do da and race after her, elbows sharpened, in full buzz,  to try and be “the one?”  When the hive gets too full the old queen if slimmed  down again (by feeding her less) so that she can fly again.  She will then leave the hive taking a swarm with her and leaving a young queen in her place.

I wish Sue had a website I could point you in the direction of  – her workshops are so worth going to.

Anyway back to business.  Just at that moment Neal’s Yard Remedies came along and asked us to supply organic yellow t shirts. Printed with their “Bee Lovely to Bees” design.  You see they have a campaign to help the endangered honey bee and have an online petition which you can sign here.  They want to promote banning particular pesticides which directly impact Bees.  SIGN UP!

Supplied "Bee Lovely" Organic T shirt

Jenny worked hard on this order and the final result was certainly very effective. It was great that Cotton Roots organic t shirts were selected for this promotional campaign. We are proud to have supplied Organic and Fairtrade garments to another outstanding company. I was especially rewarding that it was right at the time I was learning all about keeping bees. 

Gave us a Buzzzzzz here at Cotton Roots 🙂

Honey Bee in flight with full pollen sacks

Cotton Prices

Well…..times are very “interesting” shall we say at the moment.  Cotton prices have reached all all time high by a considerable amount. They have $2 a pound and it has filtered through to garment manufacture over the last year.

The reasons why are many.  But basically there is a world shortage.

Less and less cotton has been grown globally because other crops have been more viable for farmers to grow.  particularly in th USA where farmers were given money by their government to grow crops which could produce fuel.  So they have reduced production of cotton and grown corn instead.  Cotton  a little while ago in the USA was being sold for around 40-50 cents a pound.  However in time we think that some of these farmers will switch back to growing cotton and help reduce the short supply

Then there was the bad weather and severe flooding in Pakistan and a bad monsoon in India hit their production hard.  The final blows were a poor crop in China and then the Indian government slapped export quotas on raw cotton.

The result – a shortage of cotton. Shortages of anything means higher prices as we manufacturers rush to buy cotton so that we are sure not to let our customers down.

Phew.   It si taking its toll but in one way it has given more “clout” to the farmers who are now able to influence the price where once they were in the control of the big buyers.

Fairtrade School Uniform

I have a skip in my step.  Simple things make such a difference.  Finding new ways of doing things here which improve the way we work.  A delivery which excites us.  A new customer with a wonderful design.  Ah happy days.

We had a delivery recently – directly from India full of our top quality aprons made with Fairtrade certified cotton. These are loved by the artisan manufacturer for example making speciality breads, sweets, pies. 

eing They boxes always arrive literally “stitched” up.  Take a look at the photograph.  There is no chance of these boxes being tampered with.  It’s sort of wonderfully “not mass produced” , so effective and looks very interesting.

I am always childishly pleased when I look at them and open them.  Ahhhh the joys of changing our company into an ethical specialist. 

Delivery of Fairtrade Aprons "stitched up" in cotton

Visiting the Cotton Farmers

Women and children Fairtrade cotton farmers

I visited India to spend sometime with the people who grow the cotton for our Fairtrade polo shirts and T-shirts which we supply to schools for their uniform. It was adventure rights from the word go and was fascinating from the moment the wheels of our plane wheels touched down in the City of Ahmedabad.

The whole trip was fascinating and wonderful however, there were two main highlights. We were talking to spinners at the large Mahima factory when we were suddenly ushered along, being told that the children were going home and that we would miss them. ‘Children? What children?’ I was puzzled as I  looked around at the adult filled room. We squeezed into an old car and soon arrived at the colourful Swayan School Academy which was an inspiring experience! I was able to briefly visit each class and meet the children who were from the rural farming cotton growing communities surrounding the school.   The school was financially supported by Mahima the spinning company we had just visited who produce solely organic and Fairtrade cotton.

 The children themselves were so polite and a little shy with us but they were clearly very happy. It was one of those rare moments that I know I will remember forever.  As I left the school I realised that the whole trip to India would have been worth that one special visit. The knowledge that by manufacturing Fairtrade and organic school uniforms we were connecting directly with, and supporting this school made everything seem real and worthwhile.

Swayam Academy Class

I squeezed into the car again and was driven along a very bumpy track to a Fairtrade co-operative of cotton farmers. I had no idea what to expect as I had been told that the harvest had already taken place. However, another memorable experience was about to take place.

Drummers making us welcome

On arrival two young men drummed us a greeting and as I walked into the village I was surrounded by excited children and smiling adults.  The harvest was not over and I was shown around the crop by a group of proud farmers. . They seemed honoured by my visit and interest which was so touching because of course it was me who was so honoured at their kind and excited reception.. Later I sat with the head of the village in the yard, and was presented with an Indian doll carrying Fairtrade cotton which was a very touching moment for me. These people, who in comparison to our Western lifestyle have so little, gave so much to me in time and smiling pride, and it may seem cliché but I was truly moved by the whole experience.

Once back from our trip I was absolutely committed, even more so than before, and it seems to me that we to supply Fairtrade school uniform seems the perfect thing for Cotton Roots to concentrate on. It’s fairer, has a good impact on the environment, and helps these children with an education that all our children in the UK already enjoy.

Natutally Dyed T Shirts and Aprons


Well the order for the Eden Project, aprons dyed with tea and coffee, have all been safely delivered.  I am genuinely proud of them.  The are of great quality, the weight of fabric and the construction and the colour……I love the strong but somehow, still soft colour.

We decided to have some made to hold in stock for potential new customers.  It is this type of judgement  that we have to make – to hold stock or not?   Do we take the risk of buying garments without having confirmed customers or do we wait for customers and then manufacture to order for them?

I have made a few mistakes – and although I realise that this is the only way to learn – my mistakes are not my most favourite thing. For example I have lots of organic bar aprons in both unbleached and black fabric, but I have found that we have had sold far more of our Fairtrade and organic bibbed aprons – the bar aprons wait patiently (but not me).

Naturally dyed garments in our industry (company clothing, uniforms) are a step ahead. It will take us a while to find the customers who are committed and leaders themselves to take this route with us.

We have had t shirt fabric manufactured and dyed so that we can show potential customers. Currently we have pomegranate, madder, coffee,  tea plus swatches of a huge range of other colours we can supply using less familiar plants found in India.  My favourite colour at the moment is the beautiful orange dye made with the skin of pomegranate.

My current idea (as I am writing this) is to ask Jenny and Ros to come up with a print design for the front of  naturally dyed T shirts. A design that gets across the message of “Dyeing for change”.  We will then print it, or embroider it and see if we can find a committed organisation who would like to use it for their uniform or to sell in their shops to promote the idea of dyeing naturally.

Maybe there is a museum out there whose theme will be dyeing,  or textiles, or sustainability and the idea will fit perfectly

……Well it’s Sunday and I am expecting a visitor so I have to stop thinking about business and start 1. to tidy the house 2. to think about preparing food (maybe a picnic).  But before I go,  if you are interested in “the perfect t shirt”  take a look at I found this article sometime ago and found it useful and interesting.

Blasting the Company Horn


Company HORN

Here we are again. Another busy week.  We have lots of orders coming through and I am really pleased with how our Fairtrade company is doing. 

When things go well we have a “company horn”.  It is an old brass antique horn and if someone in the company has something to celebrate then they honk the horn!  This week it got honked twice.  

The first time Karen and Ros finished embroidering around 1000 fleece jackets. Whew! A real time for celebration and a good old honking of the horn.   

Ros and Karen honking!

The second time was was Ros received her Fire Marshall certificate.  Ros had been on a workshop to learn all about fires, how to stop them happening, how to put them out, and how to get everyone out of the building.  Everyone who has been on the course finds it very interesting.  So we are looking forward to Ros teaching us all she knows.

I am looking forward to the next time someone wants to “honk our horn!”

Salvation Army New Customer

Salvation Army Fairtrade T shirts

More great news. It just seems to keep coming at the moment!  Lisa has been working away with the Salvation Army on a project they have and they placed their order yesterday.  We are supplying them with Fairtrade cotton t shirts and I am really pleased, of course,  that they decided to use Cotton Roots.

Offering Fairtrade garments is a niche business but one I find really fascinating and fulfilling.  The Salvation Army are a growing band of new customers from the charity sector that are keen to use ethically sourced clothing.  On a personal note my grandmother Maud Smith who ran the public houses “The Lion” and “The Royal Oak” in Abertillery from around 1925 – 1965 would have been pleased.  The Salvation Army often came to the pubs and she made them very welcome.  It was tough times for the miners and their families in the valleys of South Wales and the Salvation Army did lots of supportive work.  So my Grandmother, although  a publican, really respected them and especially asked for them at her own funeral, a fitting tribute of mutual respect.  She was a business woman, family woman, strong woman and I think she would have been proud of us supplying the Salvation Army – so it gives me an added thrill.  Fairtrade T shirts, my Gran, and the Sally Army, a good combination.

School uniforms making children ill?

Here we are again thinking and learning.  I have had a number of telephone calls recently from parents worried about the school uniform their child has to wear made from polyester/cotton mix.  The polyester content has irritated the skin of the children.  Cotton is a naturally “breathable” fabric and is much kinder to the skin for both adults and children.  I certainly prefer cotton and wear it myself.

I then stumbled across the following article in “Wales online”.  Wales is my homeland and I enjoy keeping up with the news.  The article comments on the chemicals often applied to fabric to make it especially easy to care for.  It is sometimes called anti wrinkle or Teflon coated.   Perfluorinated compounds are added during manufacture and the World Wildlife Fund are worried about the effect of this man-made chemical on wild life.  It’s a really thought provoking article – School uniforms making children ill? 

Many schools choose polyester mix fabrics so that the garments can be washed very easily.  However the arguments for “just cotton” are significant, breathable, kind to the skin, wash at lower temperatures and if you add the Fairtade cotton as an extra reason then I think the decision should be a wise one.

Barn Owl
By the way on my way home form work Wednesday a magical barn owl accompanied me for about 200 yards.  It made me wonder………..what do I need to make wise choices about in my life at the moment.  Dig deep Susan.  But that’s for another day.