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From the field to the shirt: A glimpse behind the scenes of Knowledge Cotton Apparel in Turkey

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Organic cotton? Check. GOTS-certified production? Check. Fair wages? Check. Cool, sustainable design, fair prices, and humane working conditions? Check, check, check. We could easily continue this list. But what about Knowledge Cotton Apparel’s claim of offering sustainable menswear that makes a difference? There’s certainly more to that than a checklist of buzzwords.

For us it all comes down to the principle. Our eye is always on the bigger picture. And on something that should actually be a given: thinking about our environment and a sense of fairness to the people involved in our production processes. Instead of exploitation and simply maximizing profits. So what do you get out of all this? Find out by accompanying us on a visit to our heroes on the cotton fields and knitting, weaving and sewing machines. 


Gain Knowledge – An awareness of the harsh realities

Let’s be honest: conventional textile production is often a dirty business. And it’s also quite a complex one. Which is why it’s all the more important to communicate honestly and face facts. When Mads established Knowledge Cotton Apparel together with his father Jørgen Mørup in 2008, they were both certain that they didn’t want to be sustainable just when it suited them, but consistently and in all production steps. Which isn’t quite as simple as it sounds:

Synthetic fibers are mostly petroleum-based. But doing without them and only opting for natural fibers doesn’t necessarily make things any better. The production of natural fibers requires an extremely high water consumption, mostly takes place in arid regions and the majority of the seeds available are genetically modified. And the cultivation of cotton, which is by far the most relevant natural fiber, is associated with an absurdly high use of chemicals. It consumes, for example, eleven percent of all the pesticides used worldwide. Fungicides, defoliants and other chemicals are sprayed in abundance. Still not enough horror stories for you? Okay: many of the chemicals used are neurotoxins, which contaminate the groundwater, threaten the biodiversity and are also suspected of causing cancer. As if all that weren’t enough, the fibers are also traded on commodity exchanges. For the farmers this means a completely incalculable dependence on big corporations and global markets.

And the following processes – the spinning of the fibers into yarns, weaving and knitting, and especially the wet processes like dyeing, finishing and the refining of the fabrics – are, from an environmental point of view, catastrophic. Vast amounts of toxic, hormonally-active and carcinogenic substances are used, at least some of which are also released into the atmosphere. If the finished fabric then makes its way into the sewing factory, the social aspects become relevant. Minimum wages that are barely enough to survive on, an insufficient level of occupational safety, child labor and many more are unfortunately often still the harsh reality. All aspects that Mads and Jørgen couldn’t, and didn’t want to ignore, which is why Knowledge Cotton Apparel has taken a different path right from the start.


Take Action – Knowledge Cotton Apparel’s factory heroes

Mads and Jørgen decided to work only with people who share their visions and ideas. Ever since the early days of Knowledge Cotton Apparel, for example, they have had their shirts, knitwear and trousers produced by the same manufacturer in Denizli, Turkey. Using organic cotton only, of course. Because in the cultivation of organic cotton the aforementioned practices are all forbidden. The seeds are not genetically modified, artificial fertilizers and the use of pesticides are banned and the organic farmers follow classic rules, using crop rotation strategies, as well as natural rainfall for watering the crops. And in return they also get a fair and higher price for their fibers. In Denizli we produce exclusively with Turkish organic cotton so the fibers aren’t shipped around the world. They are processed into fabrics in nearby Izmir.

 A very close and trusting cooperation has developed over the years and we are all working with our sights set on the same goal. At least once a year we travel to Turkey ourselves to make sure that every production step is proceeding as we envisage it. To guarantee we keep our promises and that our fashion meets Mads’ and Jørgen’s high standards, we also rely on external checks. The Swiss IMO Institute is an internationally reputable certification body whose inspectors check ecological and social production and working conditions worldwide. As an approved certifier, they also granted us with the Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS for short.      

 “We decided to go with GOTS because this standard not only places the highest demands on our production and products, but also because it combines the different production strands in one certification,” is how Mads’ sister Mette explains the decision. Another reason that’s important to Mette, who is responsible for production and sustainability at Knowledge Cotton Apparel, is: “GOTS examines every single process. What does that mean specifically? If you buy a Knowledge Cotton Apparel shirt with a GOTS logo, you can be certain that all production steps – from the cotton field to the further processing of the fibers down to the dyeing factory – have been carried out in adherence to the label’s strict criteria.” And on top of this, we are also setting other voluntary benchmarks where it makes sense. Our sewing factories are BSCI-certified and in India we also work with Fair Trade and SA8000. That is only possible because we, and all of our suppliers, have a common goal: the vision of a fair fashion world. And that’s what makes them our “factory heroes”!


Earn Respect – Making sustainability tangible

For Mads and Jørgen, fair working relationships with our partners form the foundation of Knowledge Cotton Apparel. But fairness is not always enough: that’s where consistent management comes in, in order to face the challenges associated with our visions and beliefs, whilst ensuring economic viability at the same time. Integrated corporate social responsibility, abbreviated as CSR, is the key. And like every management approach, CSR is not possible without the hard facts. Johan, our Swedish sales manager, summarizes ours: “Not only saving the environment from 400,000 liters of chemicals and pesticides by the year 2020, but, by means of recycling, also freeing it from over 4.5 million plastic bottles – that is Knowledge Cotton Apparel’s goal.”

Impressive figures? “Of course, but unfortunately just a drop in the ocean when you consider the negative impact of the entire fashion industry,” points out Johan, before adding: “That’s why it’s all the more important to change the way people think. To take new, different paths. To convince our business partners, suppliers and customers of our ideas so they take them on board. We are positive that this works best if everyone communicates honestly and openly with one another.” But how? Let’s try it: avoidance of negative environmental impacts? Check. Happier, healthier farmers and fairly treated production workers? Check. Check. A smaller carbon footprint. Check. Better quality? Check. Garments that are incredibly soft on the skin? Cool styles? A good conscience? Check, check, check.


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