How many cotton tote bags do you now have at home? It’s hard to imagine our streets without these tote bags which we’re increasingly receiving as gifts, using as shopping bags and even using them as fun accessories. They’re obviously a good alternative to disposable plastic bags, but we tend to forget that these bags also have an impact on the environment and on the lives of millions of cotton farmers.

A study by the UK Environment Agency showed that cotton bags have to be used 131 times before they become more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic bags. That’s why it is important to make the most of the cotton bags you already have!

From the cotton plant to a trendy tote bag: what is the environmental impact?

In recent years, our cotton consumption has enormously increased. In just half a century, the worldwide production and consumption of cotton has more than doubled, reaching around 25 million tonnes today. Cotton farming though is unforgiving with farmers working long hours exposed to chemical pesticides, which lead to health problems further down the line. Child labour is also unfortunately often present on cotton plantations.

Looking for a cotton item of clothing with a low environmental footprint? Opt for recycled cotton or GOTS-certified organic cotton with a Fairtrade label.

How Fairtrade is cotton?

Unfortunately, the reality is that a large proportion of cotton farmers still don’t have basic human rights and earn a living wage. The Fairtrade label is committed to ensuring farmers’ rights are respected. The minimum price and premium set by Faitrade help ensure the health and safety of the cotton farmers' families. In addition, Fairtrade also guarantees strict environmental standards, such as a ban on genetically modified seeds and dangerous chemicals, to protect the environment.

A second life for unused cotton bags

Fairtrade Belgium and COSH! have joined forces to raise awareness about the social and environmental impact of cotton through their competition ““Wat te doen met al die zakken katoen?”. This competition asks creative millennials, who have a passion for fashion and sustainability, what we should do with all these cotton bags we now have.

A large number of cotton bags were collected throughout March and then given to five designers who were tasked with transforming them into a totally new creation. The designers then presented their pieces to the public and a professional jury, which included COSH! founder Niki, at the Fair Fashion Fest in Ghent on the 23rd and 24th of April.

Chloë Vandevyvere

The next design was created by Chloë Vandevyvere. She created a unique cardigan from the donated cotton bags. The loose pieces gave it a real hipster fashion week vibe. This design is also very creative and a fun way to upcycle tote bags.

Simon Gerin

This fishing vest was made by Simon Gerin. You wouldn't know it, but this designer has no background in fashion but wanted to give the competition a go anyway. It’s great to see how this Fairtrade x COSH! campaign really encouraged people to upcycle. The beauty is in the details of this design: a number of subtle features make it the fishing vest it is, and he used just one colour of fabric!

Pikoh Kunsthumaniora Hasselt: Hanne Geerts

The Hasselt-based Pikoh Kunsthumaniora’s creation looks a little bit different. Contrary to the wearable designs of the other entries, they chose to make a banner displaying the extremely topical message of “No War”. This creation is especially interesting because they experimented with a great amount of different techniques in designing it, and used different fabrics to create the letters.

Winner: Billie Vermandere

Last but not least is Billie Vermandere’s winning design, which was the most wearable of all the entries. She made her outfit by upcycling cotton bags and deadstock fabrics. It was easy to see how much care had gone into finishing this creation and the messages on the donated bags really came out well: a fantastic circular design and a deserving winner!

Billie, the winner, in the spotlight

The winner won a photoshoot and an article in the Weekend Knack. Would you like to read the article about Billie?

Photo by @elisaoclock

Read the article here

Would you like to learn more about circularity and find circular and sustainable shops in your neighbourhood? Then check out our shopping guide!

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