As an ethical fashion brand based in the UK, responsible cotton production is at the heart of our thoughts. Cotton production, cotton history and the historical human impacts of this industry are in our hearts. While the world desperately tries to move on to reusable fabrics during the ensuing environmental crisis that builds (especially the dreaded plastic), a continent must not be ignored by this fashion industry that was so integral in its being economically pushed to the back of the queue: Africa.
Our search for Gambia’s cotton
My wife, Alice (locally known as Fatoumata and ‘Boss Lady’) and I were searching the Gambia for evidence of the revival of the organic cotton industry with little success. Needless to say, days traipsing around the Serrekunda market had found little by way of organic cotton sourcing. And we were beginning to think the import of China-made polyester clothing and second-hand clothing from the global north had saturated the Gambian clothing market so densely that organic cotton had all been forgotten about.
Ethical fashion brand
We spent time with the Wolof weavers from Senegal in Brikama getting to know the industries at work and still, it was synthetic dyes being used on polyester fabrics.
They are beautiful fabrics and highly skilled people but there’s no point in being an ethical fashion brand if you source fabrics that will harm this planet we all share so the search goes on.
So we drove to Tanje fishing village to visit the museum thinking there might be some clues.
We came across a piece of fabric that was definitely natural cotton and had clearly been hand-loomed.
So we bought it and used it as our compass to guide our search.
The museum manager informed us the man who made that piece of fabric had sadly died but his grandson might be doing similar things and is working on the grounds of an eco-lodge down the coast.
We are getting close!
Off we go! An hour or so later (we get lost with alarming frequency), we took a turn off the coastal road south. Following the sign to ‘Footsteps Eco Lodge’ wondering what this journey might provide us by way of clues. We were in The Gambia out of tourist season so we assumed such a lodge would be closed. We were right. Disappointed, we made to leave to see where our compass might take us next. ‘Boss Lady and husband! Come in!’ A charming man approached us and introduced himself as Lamin. He gave us a fistbump (which we loved and was clearly ahead of its time being 2 years prior to the pandemic) and said we should come in and explore the lodge even if they are closed.
Just what we needed! We told him about our quest for organic cotton and artisan working with it. He smiled and took us to meet Ousman. 2 years later, we are still working with Linda and Ousman reviving the organic cotton industry of The Gambia with their tireless efforts for The Gambia Cotton Trail.
Written by Tom Cracknell