Children's ShoesEcologyCotton as an alternative fabric: POLOLO also uses the "white gold"

Report on POLOLO‘s B2B lecture evening in Berlin of September 10th, 2020

Once again we had an interesting specialist dealer lecture evening in our Berlin based POLOLO showroom in September. Some of the participants took quite a long way to follow the presentations of POLOLO’s executive director Franziska Kuntze and guest speaker Heike Hess, managing director of the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN), on leather, cotton, wool and hemp (all materials processed by POLOLO for shoe collections) and we would like to thank them for their participation! The photo for this article shows to the left a cotton capsule (Source: IVN e.V.) and to the right the POLOLO cotton shoe lace-up “Pepe” and velcro “Arena”, here – e.g. – with checked patterns, available also in Red, Khaki and Jeans.

Lecture evening recorded as a video

The aim was to present the special features of organic farming and ecological leather production and to highlight the health benefits for the consumer. Aspects of occupational safety and social criteria for certified clothing and leather were also discussed.
As with our specialist dealer lecture evening on the subject of “learning to walk”, we have summarised the lectures in short reports and would now like to inform you about each fibre, starting with cotton, in four individual B2B newsletters. We have also recorded the presentation as a video. You can find it at POLOLO on YouTube: “Lecture: Ecological cotton as a material for children’s shoes / textiles” (“Schulung: Ökologische Baumwolle als Material für Kinderschuhe / Textilien” – only in German).

Cotton – the white gold as “top dog” of natural fibers

Heike Hess started her remarks about natural fibres with a reference to cotton, which is also used by POLOLO for shoe production. This “white gold” is regarded as the “top dog” among natural fibres.
It was cultivated in Egypt more than 9,000 years ago. In the 16th century it was regarded as a luxury good from Asia, until then in the 17th century in the course of the first Industrial Revolution first linen and hemp were displaced in England and cotton spread as a mass product in Europe.
It was not until 2007 that “organic cotton” was defined by an EU organic regulation. Hess explained that the German term “Baum-Wolle” (“Trees’ Wool”) is rather misleading because the fibres originate from bushes. In most languages the term is borrowed from the Arabic word “qutn” [kutt:n], see e.g. “cotton” in English.

Cotton cultivation: India and China share top position

Cotton is cultivated in almost 100 countries: India and China share the top position in production, followed by the USA by a wide margin. The annual output is about 23 million metric tons. Approximately 2.5 percent of the global agricultural land is used for this purpose. Only about 1.2 percent is organic cotton from “controlled organic cultivation” (kbA).
In conventional cultivation, i.e. as a monoculture, eleven percent of all pesticides and 16 percent of all insecticides are used for cotton – a threat to biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers and herbicides also contribute to soil and water pollution.
In the case of organic cotton, on the other hand, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are deliberately not used – alternatively, plant products and humus are used; pests can be collected manually. Furthermore, it is crucial to select suitable sites at all and to refrain from monocultures.

Aral Sea – a warning example for non-sustainable irrigation management

Hess showed the Aral Sea, which belongs both to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as a deterrent example of extensive irrigation and salination of the soil. The once fourth largest inland lake in the world is now largely silted up.
Hess explained that 10,000 to 30,000 litres of water would be needed for one kilogram of cotton in conventional cultivation. Up to 60 percent of this water evaporated during surface irrigation. The soil was threatened by salinisation and erosion. In addition, the sprayed pesticides polluted the drinking water sources.
In organic farming, on the other hand, around 30 percent of rain-fed agriculture is used to dispense with additional irrigation. Droplet or furrow irrigation can save about 40 percent water – 7,000 litres of water are sufficient for one kilogram of organic cotton. The undamaged soil also stores much more water.

Use of defoliants for mechanised cotton harvesting

The machine harvest in conventional cultivation requires that all capsules of the shrub ripen at the same time – for this one forces an emergency ripeness by employment of defoliants (nerve poisons – see “Agent Orange” in the Vietnam War), explained Hess.
The problem is that the capsules, which are then open, absorbe the poison. In the medium term, the soil would be devastated – this would also threaten biodiversity and groundwater.
In organic farming, defoliants are generally prohibited and the harvest is carried out manually over a longer period of time.

Growing of genetically modified cotton with supposed advantages

The growing of genetically modified cotton for conventional cultivation initially promises a number of advantages: Resistance to poisons, reduction in the use of chemicals, increased yields, but also influence on fiber quality or lower water consumption.
Nevertheless, according to Hess, the use of genetic engineering in organic farming is prohibited: Genetically modified plants are infertile and do not provide seeds for the following year, which means higher costs and drives farmers into a debt trap.
In the course of time, insects themselves could also develop resistance and the application of genetically modified plants would be an irreversible experiment. It is not possible to make a clear distinction in field cultivation and GM plants could contaminate other areas.

Cotton cultivation: lack of awareness of the problems associated with the use of chemicals

The social consequences of conventional farming, particularly in relation to pesticide and paint poisoning, should not be ignored: Due to the prevailing poverty in many of the growing countries, no money is available for protective clothing.
The poor or inadequate labelling of chemicals and the lack of awareness of the problem resulting from inadequate education and training lead to millions of poisonings, of which thousands are fatal.
As a rule, protective clothing is provided for the organic cultivation of cotton. The employees receive education, training and advice – as well as information in their native language. Farmers support each other. The income situation is improved by bonus programmes.

The reverse side of cotton use: child and slave labour in extreme cases

For the cultivation and processing of conventional cotton, there have also been excesses such as child labour and sometimes even real slavery. In sweatshops, for example, children have to work ten to 14 hours without a break.
The use of sweatshops within the family is also often accompanied by dropping out of school. According to estimates, around 175,000 children are employed in the Indian cotton industry.
On the other hand, projects and initiatives are trying to avoid child labour from the outset in the cultivation of organic cotton. Instead, school projects are dedicated to them. They have also committed themselves to the claim of paying fair wages.

Cotton is characterized mainly by its skin friendliness

The popularity of cotton, for example, is due to its skin-friendliness – according to Hess, it isn’t itchy and it is quite breathable. It also has a good absorbency.
Due to its heat and alkali resistance, it is easy to wash and durable.
Cotton is not prone to matting and is moth-resistant. Its elasticity is higher than that of bast fibres and is more tear-resistant than wool or silk.

Cotton – very suitable fabric for summer

Cotton refreshes and offers rather a cooling feeling (it warms only a little) and therefore supplies fabrics for the warm season. We at POLOLO like to use cotton as an alternative to leather for our sneakers, as this material is particularly elastic and light on the foot – it is ideal for children’s feet, especially during the summer months.