Written by Mayu Jarnkrok, translated and edited by Maya Ushikubo
Hello, I am Mayu (Owner of ukA).
In this article, I want to share with you our journey to incorporating GOTS-certified fabrics.
- Why ukA chose to use GOTS-certified fabrics
- My wake-up call
- What’s the outlook for UKA?
- GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
- Live with Nature concept
Why ukA chose to use GOTS-certified fabrics
We decided to include GOTS-certified products in 2015, nearly 3 years after ukA started up. As we began our journey with ukA, a growing number of customers started to take a liking to our garments. I have such fond memories of running around Thailand and China with buyers and production staff to supply our online shop. However, gradually various negative parts of the fashion industry became clear to us.
My business partner Jigtag and I were truly taken aback and had to re-evaluate our systems, production, and vision. We began to question the apparel world. What was revealed to us at this time of deep contemplation was that our lives need to coexist better with nature. And with this, we introduced a new motto and logo – Live with Nature.
In the starting years, a large part of the collections that were available on ukA were synthetic fiber blends. Synthetic fibers are predominantly derived from petroleum. Many of the garments did not align with our new motto – Live with Nature.
I had this nice tapestry made for us with our new logo. We had it made for our big debut at an exhibition in Shanghai but after realizing that many of our products were still not aligned with the new motto, we decided to hold off from using it.
With the goal of one day using it, we dug into what it entails to be an eco-friendly brand. We also researched how we could become a sustainable business. In the process, we met various people to evolve our vision of ukA and continued to add more eco-friendly products that were more in alignment with the image of Live with Nature.
Eventually, in 2018, I finally felt we had a selection that we could be proud of. I feel that the tapestry helped us get trajectory and pushed us where we wanted to go. We made significant changes from where we started in 2011. We felt deep in our core that we were on the right path.
My wake-up call
I had my wake-up call in China.“Made In China” products are not what’s bad. What’s bad? Mass production and fast fashion products that are poorly and cheaply made with no concern for the environment. It’s not a sustainable way of conducting business.
Fast fashion is not made to last long. Fabrics and trims that are typically used are of low quality and deteriorate quickly. Poor quality is noticeable and the life-span of fast fashion products are short-lived. Not long after the product makes its journey to the ever-growing landfill or incinerator, it’s replaced with something new. This might be cheap for the customer, but it is a big toll on the environment.
In 2011, I lived in Shanghai. At that time, my husband was working for a Scandinavian button manufacturing factory. It was a 4-hour train ride away from Shanghai just outside the suburbs of Wenzhou. Many button and zipper factories are all gathered in one small town.
When we were there in 2011, China was soaring as a production country. Around Wenzhou, nearby fields were full of crops yet the water pollution was evident. The sight of growing vegetables in such an environment was shocking. It was not just bad for the environment, it was saddening to see the villagers who had to live with that pollution.
At the time, there were about 120 button factories and about 50 zipper-producing factories. Astoundingly, the main street of the town only had buttons or zipper shops.
I believe there are similar streets like this in Japan but the number of shops in this town was jaw-dropping and over the top. During this time, it was an opportunity for economic development, but waste-water treatment was often too simple for just a robust town of production. Each factory was responsible for its own water treatment. Some factories didn’t seem to care at all about the environment. Polluted water would run out of the factories and into the local streams. A few years later, the government started to increase inspection of all the factories in the area and enforce change. All factories had to send the sensitive part of the wastewater for treatment at the new government facility.
A major problem that the industry faces is this: if costs of production go up in a particular country, many buyers switch to a cheaper production country. For garment factories, most of the costs are for labor. Due to rising labor costs in China, buyers have been moving to India/Bangladesh where labor costs are lower.
Although the factories outside Wenzhou are now cleaner, the buyers are now sourcing more of these materials from garment factories in other countries.
From people like us who worked in that workforce firsthand, it’s evident that buyers care about the cost of the products, not about the environmental costs.
What’s the outlook for UKA?
After these experiences, we have reflected on how to move forward with ukA in a sustainable way. Rather than selling cute, cheaply made garments, we choose to be environmentally friendly. It’s an exciting journey but challenging and difficult.
So, what’s challenging and difficult?
A single garment often passes through many hands, factories, and transportation before hitting the shops. The production of raw materials starts with growing the crops, spinning the yarn, weaving the fabric, dyeing, stitching, etc. Knowing exactly how these steps are conducted is carefully examined by certification organizations. With the rise of eco-conscious brands and companies, perhaps sustainable practices will increase with the demand. For now, since it can be difficult to source environmentally-friendly materials and certification for small quantities, prices are on the higher spectrum.
Producing smaller quantities makes our products more expensive. As ukA continues to prosper, we’ll be able to produce larger quantities which will allow us to lower our prices. As we also work with other brands and designers that are aligned with our vision I hope we can grow better together.
One of the things we decided to do was to produce our own GOTS-certified quality hemp/organic cotton fabric. GOTS Standard was to be socially responsible from seed to finish. And that was our aim for Live with Nature.
GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers. GOTS allows for the organic fibers to be tracked using a chain-of-custody certificate issued by approved third-party certification companies. GOTS tracks the process of growing the organic raw materials, as well as the harvesting process. From there, they investigate how these raw materials are manufactured into garments.
GOTS was developed by four organizations: OTA (US), IVN (Germany), Soil Association (UK), and JOCA (Japan). They established a company in 2008 in Germany, and today the organization has a global network.
The GOTS label is meant to give the consumer a credible assurance that the textiles used have been environmentally and socially responsible produced from start to finish. So apart from verifying that the product is organic, the standard also requires ethical work standards. ukA feels that GOTS certification will not only bring joy to those buying the product but also joy for the people involved in making it.
The fabric we sell at ukA is now certified, as well as the factory that made it. It took us 4 years to get here, and it is still not perfect but we will continue to work on it.
GOTS certification types
There are a few things to pay attention to on GOTS labels.
If you look closely at the pictures above, one says “organic – in conversion materials”, which means that the farmer is on its way to becoming organic. It usually takes 3 years to convert the land to qualify as fully “organic”.
So far our fabric has all been organic, but if the organic fibers in the fabric are less than 95% then the label must state what percentage of the fibers are certified organic. GOTS requires a minimum of 70% certified organic fibers for any textile product carrying the label.
Our hemp/cotton certified fabric is composed of 70% certified organic fibers, however, the 30% hemp fibers were not certified by GOTS.
There is also a license number on the tag issued by an approved third-party certification company. Our fabric has been certified by Control Union in Holland.
Live with Nature concept
We truly feel that our Live with Nature products live up to our new motto.
ukA’s concept has 3 main parts: hand-craft, tradition, and eco-friendly choices. The “Live with Nature” collection has been manufactured with consideration for the environment and sustainable practices. When you see this “Live with Nature” tag in our collection, I hope that you’ll be reminded of my revamped vision of ukA. As well as the extensive process that goes into developing products that are eco-conscious, not just for ukA but for all environmentally-friendly products around the world.
Remember, to take care of the environment.
We, and our future generations, only have this beautiful Earth to reside on.
We can begin with small steps, right in our closets and in our home.
Take care of your body and the earth with sustainable, ethical living.
If you feel aligned with UKA’s vision or have been a returning UKA customer,
we’d love for you to share this blog post. Let’s spread the love of eco-friendly fashion.
May we all thrive to be more loving to our planet and our fellow people.
Thank you for reading!