Honesty and transparency are at the core of ORIGIN so it's important for us to give you some no bull, 'greenwashing-free' answers to some questions about our new supply chain.
Here are some questions that may have crossed your mind about our new Made in Kenya products and the supply chain behind it all...
- Why use cotton? Doesn’t it take loads of water to make cotton? That doesn’t sound very eco friendly!
Interestingly, the recent 2021 Transformers Foundation Report (Cotton: A Case Study in Misinformation
) actually de-bunks the myth that cotton is a water thirsty crop and instead informs us of the relevant truth with necessary detail to make informed decisions. The reality is, of course, that all crop production requires some consumption but there are ways to minimise the negative impact on the environment. For this shirt we have chosen to use rain-fed
African cotton. While it has some complexities, particularly with the long growing process, using rain-fed cotton promotes significantly less water consumption, safer working environments without the use of harmful pesticides, impacts a healthy food system and promotes soil health and fair pricing.
This Fashion Revolution Kenya report
concludes that using organic, rain-fed cotton in Kenya promotes the use of sustainable resources and is better for the environment. And it’s something we strongly want to support in Origin's work.
Follow the step-by-step journey of the shirt and learn more about our choice of fabric here.
- Why don’t you use more recycled materials?
As we mention above, all production requires consumption which includes recycled materials. Then you need to consider the impact of the life-cycle of the recycled material - for example recycled polyester will shed micro-fibres each time it is washed. Finally, at the end of life for the recycled garment the challenges still remain of how to safely dispose of the fabric itself without sending it to landfill. All things considered, we decided to choose a natural material which has been grown in Africa for centuries. In choosing rain-fed African cotton we are also keeping the carbon footprint of the garment low as all steps of the supply chain happen in Kenya. See more about the supply chain here.
- Why don’t you have certifications? Is the SAWA shirt organic?
The honest answer to this is that certifications are complex. They take time, and money, and while they are important we must also understand the context of production when considering their merit. When choosing to use rain-fed cotton we found there were limited options available. When finding Tosheka we understood that the 'organic' certification takes a long time and though it is in progress for this fabric it is not a label we are currently able to use. We believe in being transparent and giving you all the information on this supply chain, so you can choose for yourselves whether or not this fabric is ethical and sustainable in the way it has been produced.
- What does 'profit-share' mean and how is it different from giving away profits like you did before?
Since Origin was first created we have donated 100% of our profits to social impact projects. This will still continue but now the profits will also be split with the supply chain too. The way it will work is that we will split the profits into thirds. One third will be donated to the textile production team at Tosheka. The second third will be given to SOKO Kenya, the garment CMT team. The final third will be donated to other social impact entrepreneurs across various sectors in Africa - as per our profits to date.
This has a number of benefits:
We are supporting the continued growth of production and value added activity in Africa;
We are bolstering these small businesses and the creation of more jobs and financial security for the workers, plus
We are continuing to fund social impact through donations to inspiring entrepreneurs, and this is the evidence-based best current method for irreversibly breaking the 'poverty trap' (Duflo & Banerjee, Poor Economics, The Surprising Truth about Life on less than $1 a day).
100% of profits - 100% impact. For more on this, click here
- Why do a profit share? Why not just pay more money at each stage of the supply chain?
We have established this supply chain because we truly believe in it. We have visited every stage, interviewed staff members and interrogated every decision. We absolutely have paid fairly at each stage, which has dictated the final retail price of the garment (see ‘Why is it so expensive?’ for more info). The point of this profit-share concept is that once the product is sold, we get to share in that success by sharing the profits with those who helped create it. We cannot give that money before we make it - that would just be charity, not social enterprise, and would be unsustainable. This model is incredibly exciting for us and our partners in the supply chain as it really does represent a new way of thinking in fashion and can propel us into conscious creation that makes a real difference to systems that we had all become used to. These production systems needed to change and this represents an opportunity for that.
- Why does the SAWA shirt cost £79?
The price of the shirt is dictated by the standards we have set throughout the supply chain. Society has become accustomed to unsustainably cheap garments and, in these systems, individuals and communities in the global south invariably pay the price. In the creation of any garment there are opportunities to cut corners and to make easier choices to cut costs. We did not cut these corners. We went into this journey determined not to compromise and to try to prove you could make a garment that proudly reflects a fair supply chain. So we stand firmly by the RRP of this garment. We understand it’s not affordable for everyone, and we do really hope that as we grow, we can expand the range and cater for more price points. We hope you’ll stay with us on this journey as we work towards that and support us to get there if you can.
- Why are you selling fashion? That’s the worst industry if you’re trying to be ethical and sustainable.
It's true that fashion is one of the worst offending industries when it comes to environmental impact. All the more reason why we should be campaigning to change it and demand more conscious and sustainable production. Too often the onus is put on the consumer to 'buy better' but we believe that companies must take responsibility for the supply chain and ensuring it has minimal impact as well as creating garments made to last rather than enforcing a 'throw away' culture.
We believe we can actually go beyond that and instead of simply minimising harm we can maximise the positive impact - from regenerative farming to job creation and community support networks.
- Why don’t you offer more sizes/colours/styles?
We make no secret of the fact we are a small brand and unfortunately that does mean we are restricted in some ways until we grow a little bigger. Variants (colours, styles and sizes) are the big restriction for us at this stage - particularly until this new supply chain is up and running. The reason for this is that new sizes require new patterns, colours require multiple fabrics and styles take a lot of hard work and time to get right. We are never going to be a brand that brings out new SKU’s each week, but we do have a vision in the future to offer more pieces, in a variety of colours and sizes to suit a wider scope of customer. For now though, we are having to focus on our best selling sizes and classic unisex garments - like our new cotton shirt!
- Why are you producing the clothes in Africa? Why not in the UK?
Even though there are lots of great small brands creating garments 'made in the UK' the reality is that farm to finished garment production is near impossible in this country. Most fibres are grown abroad and most fabric production happens outside of the UK too. Then value added steps are achieved in the global north. It was our goal and passion to not just export the cotton from Africa, but to keep all the value added steps in Africa too. That means that the cotton for our shirt is grown in Kenya, the fabric is woven in Kenya, the garment is stitched together in Kenya and the embroidery... yep that happens in Kenya too! This means the economy and workers are benefiting and that has a huge impact. And don't forget, we are sharing the profits generated with that supply chain too.
- How can you prove this supply chain is ethical?
Brilliant question! This is one that we want everyone to be asking themselves and it is one we asked ourselves over 2 years ago when we set out on this journey. We extensively researched the options for production in Africa, and finally we found some fantastic options in Kenya. But we knew that desk research wasn't going to be enough which is why we decided to go and experience it for ourselves.
We have visited and experienced each step of the supply chain and we have met the people looming the cotton and making the clothes. We have seen the conditions, felt the fabric, interviewed the workers and discussed it with them. We fully immersive ourselves in the process and the impact it can have. We are confident in being honest and transparent about the entire supply chain because we have seen it with our own eyes and the positive impact it is having on the individuals and communities behind the garment.
At Origin, we keep no secrets so you can follow the journey yourself. You can also track the impact we are having by signing up to our newsletter and following our blog where we publish our ongoing impact report.
Thank you for reading and, if you have more questions, please do get in contact with us: