A Journey to the First Fairtrade Cooperative
Fairtrade organic cotton from Pakistan is unprecedented. And Ethletic is right in the thick of it!
You might remember that Ethletic boss Marc Solterbeck and designer Johanna Balzer were in Pakistan back in November of 2015 to found the country’s very first Fairtrade organic cotton cooperative. Ethletic launched an initiative and the 13 small private farmers in the village of Basti Jandheerwala joined forces in converting their fields exclusively to the cultivation of organic cotton.
We thought about how we could minimize our CO² footprint. Perhaps by shortening the distances along the supply chain? So we came up with the idea of buying our organic cotton directly in Pakistan where our Ethletic sneakers are already manufactured. To do that, we put together this Fairtrade-certified cooperative.
“The region around the village of Multan near the city of Muzaffargarh is pretty unstable, and not without its dangers”, says Marc Solterbeck. This is why we initially weren’t able to establish an organization in the village to certify the farmers. But in the end we managed it. Marc explains, “On his most recent visit an auditor from Union Control gave his approval. Now an additional audit by FLO-Cert is scheduled”. This second audit will likely take place during an upcoming visit by Ethletic employees.
Ethletic paid for the required certifications so no further costs would be passed on to the farmers. They profit from the elimination of the middleman, increasing their margin on top of the Fairtrade premiums.
The first crop from the “SAS FairTrade Farmers Society” will now be harvested, with the Ethletic fans right alongside. Marc is intent on shooting videos in the cotton fields, ideally even streaming them live on Facebook. He will be joined by a photographer and a cameraman. Marc tells us, “We will be in the fields with the farmers for two days followed by one day at the FLO-certified cotton mill nearby”.
From now on with each harvest the cooperative will produce around 40 tons of cotton lint fiber with the seeds already removed. That’s a lot! A lot more than Ethletic actually needs to produce its sneakers at the moment. “We promised the farmers when we founded the cooperative that we would definitely buy all of the cotton”, Solterbeck explains. So now the next step is to find reliable partners who also need organic cotton for their products, such as Shirts for Life.
The Karma Classics campaign is also set to use only this organic Pakistani cotton for its new production cycle this autumn. We’re currently negotiating with other potential buyers, and new bidders are welcome to join in the fray.
Marc explains, “The farmers have very high hopes for this new joint venture. They showed great trust in us when we founded the coop, even though we had only seen each other once or twice before”.
We intend to honor that trust. Marc elaborates, “This also obligates us to visit them regularly”. And we most certainly will, despite any security risks. He continues,
“What we hope for is to set an example in the region that will motivate many more farmers to join in”.
These new cotton suppliers reduce the CO² footprint for Ethletic sneakers. Designer Johanna Balzer happily sums it up when she says, “We’ve turned a distance of 2,500 kilometers from the field to the factory into only 500!”. And the cotton mill and spinning mill in Pakistan are even located on the same site. Perfect!
Right about Christmastime the spun canvas fabric will arrive at the factory in the city of Sialkot and be transformed into Ethletic sneakers, making them the first shoes of any kind ever made from Pakistani Fairtrade organic cotton. It sure has been a long journey.
But if there were ever any doubts about whether all this effort was worth it, they vanished in the euphoria shown by the villagers toward Marc and Johanna on their first visit. The Fairtrade premiums also primarily benefit education projects, ensuring that the next generations here will also have greater prospects for their own future.
Can shoes change the world? We say “Yes”! Thanks to you, and together with you.
Your Ethletic Team