Covid 19: More and more of us are looking to protect ourselves when we venture outside for shopping and exercise. Face masks are now being recommended for situations where it’s hard to keep a necessary distance. At
we feel it’s important that these face coverings are natural and breathable, plus we wanted to create washable/re-usable masks which would be good for you and the planet. Where Does It Come From? M – Organic Cotton Face Mask Cultivating organic cotton – photo Medha Shah
We’ve got together with
and our social enterprise partners in India to create our new range of masks that are: Khadi London created from 100% organic cotton grown in India grown from seed native to the area, so fed by the rain and with no chemical pesticides, spun and woven by hand into fabric, without bleach or non-natural dyes or other additives, without any plastic, in a social enterprise providing rural livelihoods.
We’ve designed the masks to have a double layer of handwoven fabric so they offer protection for personal use whilst being comfortable, natural and re-usable. The string ties mean the size can be easily adjusted.
Each pack purchased will give a donation to UK Charity The Trussell Trust and the khadi social enterprise in India Gram Sewa Mandal, Gopuri where the cotton is grown and processed.
G – Rainfed Organic Cotton from Maharashtra and Gujarat, India
Your organic cotton face mask is made from desi cotton. Desi cotton is a sustainable crop, indigenous to the region where it is grown. It grows naturally and is watered purely by rain. It is resilient to the climate and the local pests that threaten the crops and therefore requires little or no additional water or pesticides. Since the introduction of genetically modified varieties (known as BT cotton) most indigenous varieties have died out, sucking farmers into a cycle of buying BT seeds annually instead of the traditional process of saving seeds from the previous year’s crop. Initially the new varieties save the farmers money on pesticides but soon they lose their effects and the farmers often end up in financial difficulties due to the requirement to re-buy seeds annually, plus chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The BT crops are also much more likely to fail in a drought. Indigenous cotton works with the climate and not against it – as one farmer put it ‘cotton is as old as the land here’ – fields can grow sufficient cotton for thousands of metres of fabric from no rainfall at all.
We’ve sourced the fabric for our masks from two of our social enterprise partners – one based in Gujarat in North West India and the other in Maharastra – in the West of India. This cotton was selected for your mask not only due to its social and environmental benefits, but also because it has a unique feel and is comfortable to wear.
1 – Spinning Khadi Cotton
Both fabrics we’re using to make our masks are khadi, the hand spun and handwoven fabrics which were revived by Gandhi more than a hundred years ago as part of India’s non-violent campaign for independence. Ideally all processing, from cotton picking to ginning, carding, roving and spinning takes place within a cluster of villages – providing additional income and an important source of livelihood to farmers and artisans. Khadi forms part of Gandhi’s vision for decentralised, democratic and diverse systems of production in village clusters. Innovations in spinning, weaving and related technologies have helped khadi survive and evolve over the decades.
Lady at Gram Seva Mandal spinning cotton by hand on an Amber Charkha – photo Gram Seva Mandal
The spinning for both fabrics is done on Amber charkhas – a mini version of the industrial ring frame spinning machines. These are traditionally operated by hand. There has been a recent trend for using solar power to reduce strain for the spinners and improve quality and productivity. One of our partners, Udyog Bharti, has been at the forefront of developing adapting solar energy for Amber Charkhas. The majority of the khadi spinners in India are women, working from home or in work units. They are paid fair wages and benefit from health and welfare programmes.
2 – Weaving Khadi Cotton
Hand weaving was the first local industry to survive competition from British mills. This happened prior to the revival of hand spinning and khadi by Gandhi a hundred years ago. A handloom sector which mostly uses mill made yarn has developed independent of khadi, often competing for state resources and markets. Khadi organises its own weaving. In recent years there has been a welcome trend of the two sectors working together.
Weaving organic cotton by hand at Gram Seva Mandal – photo Gram Seva Mandal
Except in more remote regions of India the traditional pit looms have been replaced by stand looms – generally easier to operate and more efficient. Weaving traditions have evolved, often while staying rooted in the family. A recent innovation that has helped both the handloom and khadi sector is the adaptation of looms for weaving denim.
We’ve partnered with the following two social enterprises to source the khadi fabric for our organic cotton face mask.
Gram Seva Mandal (GSM) is a centrally located social enterprise, a few miles from Wardha, a junction where two major lines of India intersect: one from Kolkata in the east to Mumbai in the west and the other from Delhi in the north to Chennai in the South. Gram Sewa Mandal Gram Seva Mandal – photo Project Pico
Located in a rural setting GSM has an organic farm, a khadi unit where the cotton is processed and spun, a mini oil crushing unit and a printing press. Within GSM there is a strong sense of community and commitment. Life in the community is enriched by their connections with neighbouring villages and beyond. They are playing a lead role in helping farmers make the change over from BT cotton to organic desi cotton, providing them with seeds, marketing and training support.
In recent years, the khadi unit where the cotton is processed and spun has undergone a makeover. Young professionals from urban Maharastra have been at the forefront of this change. Old machines used for pre-spinning processes have or are being replaced by more modern, efficient ones. Connections have been made with ethical consumer networks to help market the cloth. There is a focus on exchange of ideas, not just goods and money. There is also a focus on experimentation, experience and learning.
GSM also has a weaving centre in a nearby village, Nalvadi. Weaving in the region has traditionally been a men’s preserve; with men doing the weaving and women playing supplementary roles. GSM is changing this by training women in weaving.
Udyog Bharti Picking organic cotton by hand for Udyog Bharti – photo Medha Shah
The production of organic khadi at this social enterprise started with a small collaboration with two other organisations – Jatan Trust which has been promoting organic farming in India and nationally for the past 30 years or more and Weaverbird, an ethical fashion start-up founded by Medha Shah. Medha started working with one farming family in Rajkot district about five years ago, close to where Udyog Bharti is located. The premise of her interaction with the farmers was simple – if they agreed to go organic, she would help them get a premium price for the cotton. She coordinated with Udyog Bharati for getting the cotton spun and woven. She then helped with the marketing of the fabric and of clothing and accessories designed by her.
Udyog Bharti has built on this to expand the production of organic khadi in response to a growing demand for natural ethical products. The number of farmers it sources from is growing as is its range of organic khadi fabrics. The latest editions include naturally dyed indigo organic khadi denim.
UK – Your Organic Cotton Mask was sewn in the UK
In normal times we have our clothing and accessories sewn by social enterprises in India or Africa. Unfortunately this has not been possible due to export restrictions and so we have built a small team of sewers in the UK. We are very grateful to them for getting involved!
Fortunately Where Does It Come From? had already been working on a face mask design for our sewing group – Where Does It Come From? Make and Mend. To turn this into a product for sale required further design work and testing by our product manager Lucy Kerry. Lucy has been sewing masks and has been joined by Asha Buch from Khadi London and Claire Couchman who runs the ethical tailor
. Couchman Bespoke
Due to Covid 19 our design meetings have been via Zoom – here we are planning our mask production….
Mask Makers – photo Where Does It Come From? W – Where Does It Come From?
Your organic cotton face mask was brought to you by
Where Does It Come From?, a brand set up in 2013 to create clothing and textiles that are kind to the planet and the people who make them. We also believe that they are kind to you too, not only because of the natural way we make our clothes but also because knowing the story gives you peace of mind that you are supporting projects that help the environment and are fair to the makers.
For this project we worked with our friends at
Khadi London, an organisation which supports and promotes the use of natural fabrics from India, for positive social and environmental benefits.
Both organisations are passionate about inspiring others to shop with more thought about the impacts of their clothing and to offer insight and alternatives to mainstream ‘fast fashion’ and cheap merchandise. We really hope that your face mask gives positive benefits to your life at this time.