Reading Time: 4 minutes
New school uniforms for Sydney kids, a better way of life for India’s cotton farmers – thanks to Change Threads
Mahatma Gandhi’s enduring dictum, “Be the change you want to see in this world” has inspired and catalysed thousands of everyday people into action. One such is Blue Mountains social entrepreneur and mother of four, Anna Dohnt.
In 2012, the Indophile founded clothing company Change Threads to enable ethical consumer choices and combat the complex web of exploitative economic systems.
Free from labour malpractices, Change Threads currently offers competitively priced, sustainable alternatives in school wear, with Hazelbrook Public School becoming the first in New South Wales to stock Fairtrade uniforms. Sourced and manufactured in India from organic and Fairtrade certified cotton, their woven fabrics are blended with polyester made from recycled plastic bottles.
By making Fairtrade certified products easily accessible in Australia, what Change Threads offers is more than just a uniform, but rather a lifestyle choice that Dohnt hopes will eventually alter consumption patterns and address market inequities.
Partnering directly with Indian cotton farmers and garment producers to provide a range of uniforms and garments in accordance with the international Fairtrade standards, her aim is to provide sustainable livelihoods for marginalised producers in poor communities, while also educating, equipping and empowering Australians to make enlightened choices that help change the world.
To do so, she quite literally ‘followed the thread’ of the clothing supply chain, understanding the people who are involved and investigating the hierarchy and processes in place. Her trail took her to cotton capital of the world – India. Quite ironically, Dohnt’s unique brand of Gandhigiri started with the charkha.
Reputed for its high-grade cotton, India has played a pivotal role in the textile industry for centuries, influencing both fabric and design. While the Deccan plateau in central India is blessed with fertile soil, manufacturing hubs in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra have reinforced its position as the world’s largest exporter. Sadly, cut-throat competition, dwindling margins and unsustainable trade practices adopted by multinationals and middlemen have strangled many out of the market. Suicides are rampant.
“We’ve all heard of Fairtrade chocolate and coffee, but have we stopped to consider the labour practices behind the school uniforms our kids wear?” Dohnt asks the dollar-conscious consumer, candidly.
“What I discovered as I ‘followed the thread’ of the cotton supply chain is that exploitation occurs at almost every stage of clothing production,” she adds with passion. “Alarmingly, the clothing industry often involves forced labour, including child labour. To me, it is not okay that our children are wearing cotton every day that is often produced by slaves. It’s not okay that my family is part of someone else’s suffering. If you stop and think about it, it’s outrageous that children in India are unable to go to school because they’re making school uniforms for kids in Australia wear to school. I don’t think any parent would argue that this inequality is okay, so I think it makes sense for schools to be offering Fairtrade uniform options.”
Change Threads therefore strives to restore justice through certification, direct contact and visits to factories, projects and farms, offering people involved in the supply chain a living wage.
Steady, ongoing work has allowed communities to alleviate poverty and fight slavery. Through transparent and ethical business practices, choosing environmentally friendly options, including organic cotton and non-toxic dyes, which ensure the soil fertility is not compromised through the various stages of manufacture, Change Threads has already galvanised the local community.
It has teamed up with Secundrabad-based Chetna Organic, to invest Fairtrade certification funds in community development initiatives.
Besides making a range of school-wear, the company also offers Fairtrade business uniforms and business consultations for other clothing companies who want to ‘follow the thread’ of their own supply chain.
“We really went through the hard yards of understanding the garment supply chain in starting this business, so we know how difficult it can be for other businesses to get straight answers from suppliers about the ethics of production,” Dohnt says. “Now that we’ve done the hard work, we want to share our knowledge with other businesses and help grow the Fairtrade movement.”
Meanwhile here in Australia, Change Threads has also developed programs to educate school communities, enabling them to understand equitable supply and trade systems.
“What could be more powerful than Australian school kids combating exploitation of children enslaved in the cotton fields and garment factories, so they themselves can go to school? So far, we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with interest from schools from different parts of Australia. We are therefore organising our structure to cope with all the enquiries,” an upbeat Dohnt says.