By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY
China is the world’s largest manufacturer (Euromonitor) and the largest clothing maker, producing a quarter of all textiles and clothing. It is a global fashion production hub, and many major global clothing brands have their products made there – whether they admit it or not.
Although most people probably do not give it a second thought, the fashion and clothing industries can be highly polluting and exploitive. The use of toxic fertilizers to boost cotton yields leaves behind a legacy of contaminated soil and water tables. Dyes used to colour clothing also can be toxic and pollute water. For people working in this industry – many of whom are women – conditions can vary widely and include low pay and high stress.
According to the Ethical Fashion Forum, “it is difficult for companies sourcing from China to be sure of fair working practices. There have been many reports of low wages, long hours, and unfair working conditions in factories in China.”
But one innovative fashion brand is out to transform the way the garment business works in China and to develop a template that could be used in other places such as Africa.
The design duo of Hans Martin Galliker and Amihan Zemp has set up their clothing brand’s studio in one of Beijing’s historic hutong (alley) neighbourhoods – narrow streets of low-rise buildings that were the traditional urban dwelling environments for generations of Chinese people. The NEEMIC (neemic.com) brand, founded in 2011, makes sustainable fashions and champions green production methods in China.
The business’s belief is that the world has enough fabric already to meet the clothing needs of the population. In response, NEEMIC makes its clothing from a mix of recycled natural materials and new organic materials. According to its website, NEEMIC collaborates “with young designers from London to Tokyo to create a particular metropolitan aesthetic.”
“We use the finest natural fabrics for a perfectly comfortable feel,” Galliker said. “We pick the finest natural materials from leftovers of the industry, recycle used clothes, and strive to order new fabrics only from certified organic producers.”
Hans Martin Galliker began as a farming apprentice in his native Switzerland, and brings a practical bent to his approach to fashion. He draws on his knowledge of farming and agriculture to create a unique eco-conscious fashion product in China.
Galliker got his start in fashion working for a brand in Shenzhen, southern China. He worked with the organic farms there, and this inspired him to explore sustainability in fashion design and ways of introducing the principles of fair trade to the fashion and textile industries in China.
Galliker is passionate about taking a different attitude to fashion: “There are many fashion brands and many of them are … meaningless,” he told the China Daily newspaper. “They do fashion which looks more or less … the same, which has no creativity and does a lot of harm to the environment.
“Growing cotton is highly chemicals and labour-intensive, which degrades the soil and pays people very low salaries. And the dyeing and colouring processes pollute rivers and people receive low salaries but have to work long hours. The whole textile industry is really bad for the environment.”
NEEMIC has completed three collections of clothing since it was founded in 2011.
“We started selling some of our designs at a boutique in Beijing that focuses on upcycling fashion. People like it and want to buy more,” said Galliker.
Upcycling is the process of converting waste material into new products (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upcycling).
And to counter any negative perceptions that organic cotton clothing can only ever be unfashionable, Galliker is out to prove it is possible to create stylish organic clothing.
On top of building the brand, Galliker also works to educate the industry and change ways. He is also setting up a branch in China of the Hong Kong Organic Textile Association (http://neemic.asia/organic), which encourages fashion designers to jointly buy organic materials. He also publishes a website on sustainable agricultural practices in China, with details on current policies on organic farming.
“It is very normal for Chinese farmers to use many fertilizers, but the environment is going bad and consumers do not like this kind of farming,” Galliker points out. “For farmers, it’s not meaningful to produce only to make money to live a decent life. It should be more than that.”
The NEEMIC operation is lean: the Beijing studio does all the designing of the clothes, programming of the multilingual websites and runs the online shopping and payment sites.
For now, the goal is to not only increase the use of organically grown materials but also to introduce the fair trade concept into China.
“In two years we want to do fair trade production,” Galliker said.
And he has Africa in his sights with his green fashion template.
“In the long term we will have many successful projects here or non-profit companies … a lot of creative force and investment so that we can help rural regions in Africa to do sustainable agriculture projects.”
1) Ethical Fashion Forum: The Ethical Fashion Forum is the industry body dedicated to a sustainable future for fashion. A not for profit organisation, EFF aims to make it easy for fashion professionals to integrate sustainability at the heart of what they do. Website: http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/
2) Hong Kong Organic Textile Association: Its mission is to promote organic textiles in Hong Kong Website: http://www.facebook.com/HKOrganicTextileAssociation
3) Tips on how to upcycle. Website: http://www.independent.co.uk/property/interiors/the-insider–how-to-upcycle-without-much-effort-2343100.html
4) How to create a Lookbook for a fashion brand. Website: http://noisetteacademy.com/2011/05/creating-a-lookbook/
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