Interview – Fair uniforms from Bosnia & Herzegowina


Interview – Fair uniforms from Bosnia & Herzegowina


What does “made fair-trade in Banja Luka” mean? We asked Emir, the director of the manufacture that produces our gis:

Is your company fair-trade certified?
The company is not fair-trade certified for various reasons: One is that the certifying organisations are not established in Bosnia & Herzegowina (BiH). Fairtrade for instance has a seat in Macedonia, but not in Bosnia. Some organisations such as certify brands and not the manufactures. To fill this gap, we offer a maximum transparency: for example, the designers are welcome to visit the company whenever they want, even without telling ahead.

Do you offer written work contracts?
When we look for a new employee, we start with a test period to check the abilities and if the new employee fits well into the team. In our company, each seamstress produces a piece from the beginning to the end. It’s not like in a factory where they would do only one part all day long. Thus they need some more capacities. After 10-14 days, they receive a written contract for 3 or 6 months. Some employees have long-term contracts.

You need to know that Bosnia is a corrupt country. As the law system doesn’t work properly, a trust relation with the employees is key for a successful business. One important element is that we pay the wages regularly, on the 10th day of each month. The wages in our company are about 20% higher than in comparable companies, around 300-600 EUR per month. The bus tickets are also paid by the company. In 2016, we could even pay a bonus of 50 EUR before the summer holidays.

What are the working hours?
Working hours are from 7:00 to 15:00. This is business as usual for the sector. Two breaks are included. The ladies decided to take them at 11:0 and at 13:00. We would like to offer them a hot lunch meal, but we can’t yet. The ladies are happy to spend a part of the afternoon taking care of their children or of their garden. Tending for food is an important complement to their revenue. The children go to school in the morning for two weeks, and then in the afternoon for the following two weeks. We wish to adopt a two-layer rhythm as well.

What about over-hours?
High peaks challenged our company in 2015 and made over-hours unavoidable. The last bus departure is at 15:30 and doesn’t allow for over-hours on workdays. But the ladies are very committed and come to atelier on Saturdays during peak times. They want to finish the garments in time. They can compensate by taking days off during less busy weeks. The support by the employees impressed us especially in 2014, when the river flooded the region. The employees rushed to the workshop to help before taking care of their own flooded homes. To reduce peak times in the future, we are orienting towards no-fashion-labels and continuous collections such as Misogi Dogi. The customers can also contribute to diminish peaks by allowing for a longer delivery time.

How much holidays can the employees take off?
There are two weeks of company holidays in august. One reason is the high temperatures, reaching 38°C+. This is too hot to work in the workshops. Beyond this, the employees take off during religious holidays depending on their faith. Once, this led to the curious situation that one employe was alone at work for several days in January while all her colleagues were celebrating sacred holidays.

What about social security?
The social security charges are rather low: 30%. They cover health insurance and a pension fund. Women have a right to 18 months paid maternity leave. However, the countries finances are ailing, and the services accordingly.

What would you like to do to make your company more sustainable?
Electric power is very expensive in Bosnia. We wish to install solar panels and LED lamps. We also would like to buy new glasses for Anka, our master seamstress.

Thank you!
(Zurich, July 2016)

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International Women’s Day


The International Women’s Day was celebrated at our manufacture in Bosnia. This is very touching: so many women in this sector get so little reward for their hard work. We are very proud to contribute to a better practice by working with SlowFashionFast!

TJR Part I – White Gold of Aydin


My journey started in Izmir. While most of us will associate Izmir with beach holidays, the region is also famous for its textile industry. Turkey is one of the worldwide largest producers of organic cotton, together with India and China. Syria as well, before its crisis started.

The cotton used for our first piece of fabric was grown near Izmir – maybe exactly on the fields in the pics – a year earlier. This region offers optimal conditions for cotton: a lot of sun and a lot of water.

Aylan, whom I identified as the farmer’s son, kindly let me shoot pictures. Unfortunately, the language barrier reduced our communication to little more than smiles.

After the harvest, the cotton seeds are removed in the ginning process. During my visit, the cotton hadn’t been picked yet, thus the ginning factories were closed . Ginning is a winter activity.

Organic cotton is hand-picked.

On conventional farms, to lower the effort and cost, farmers sprinkle some highly toxic defoliant over the fields to force the cotton to ripen rapidly and blossom all at the same time, before the whole plant dies. Then, they pick the cotton all at once with huge machines.

On organic fields, cotton is grown without harmful chemicals. The plants are left intact allowing for natural ripening. In nature, cotton doesn’t ripen all at once. The ripe seeds are selectively and carefully picked by hand, resulting in higher fibre quality.

Organic cotton uses up to 90% less water than conventional one.

Conventional agriculture often heavily damage the soils, fostering erosion and leaching. The remaining soil cannot store water very well anymore and needs a lot of irrigation. Damaged soils is one of the challenges for farmers who want to convert to organic farming. But the conversion is worth the effort, because organic farming allows for the soil to regenerate and get healthy and alive again.

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TJR Part II – Symphony of Threads


Our cotton yarn spinning mill, one of Turkey’s 350 mills, is located in midst of cotton fields. Nur and Sedat welcomed me very warmly and showed me around. On the way to the storage halls, we walked by a group of factory workers, men and women, enjoying their break outside the building, in the shadow of some trees.

Our cotton was bought at the Izmir Commodity Exchange. Two main regional products are negotiated there: cotton and raisins, often grown by the same farmers. Sellers and buyers meet every day from 12am to 1pm to negotiate the daily price face to face. The company that spun the yarn for the first piece of Misogi Dogi fabric is also specialised in trading both cotton and sultana raisins.

Sedat with ginned cotton
Sedat with ginned cotton

The ginned cotton is stored in large halls. Quality and origin is marked on each bale: the mill spins 20% organic cotton, 80% conventional. Half of it is regional cotton, the other half is imported from Egypt or California.

Egyptian and Californian cotton are famous for their long fibres and are used for the finest yarns. Aegean cotton contains medium fibres. The spinning mill I visited is specialised in very fine yarns.

After enjoying the serene and silent atmosphere of the cotton bales storage halls, I receive a pair of earplugs. We enter one large factory hall full of very noisy machines for the entire spinning process. Most of them are from Switzerland, just like me.

In the entrance, last things first, we discover something that looks like a huge peak of whipped cream. It turns out to be a pile of cotton dust collected in the spinning hall.

Long lines of ginned cotton lie directly on the clean floor, with a separate line for organic cotton.

In a first step, it will be cleant from plant residuals that were not removed in the ginning process in a sort of a large laundry machine. Three of these are reserved for organic cotton only.

Then, the fibres are disentangled, aligned and combed (=carded) to form a large roll of cotton, then a thick sliver, then slightly twisted into a rowing and finally spinned into yarn. Cinderella beware: the factory building hosts 30’000 spindles, each of the 30 machines bundling a thousand.

But this is not the end. On the next machine, each yarn goes through a so-called usterizing machine to control the quality of every mm of yarn. Uster-what?? Oh, Uster is the name of a small Swiss town with a nice castle on a hill. The quality control mechanism was developed there.

Last, but not least, two or three yarns will be twisted into a single, stronger one. It is quite fascinating to watch the bobbins, furiously rotating, all aligned but seemingly independent from each other: one bobbin is nearly empty while its neighbour is reaching full size.

Is organic cotton spun differently than conventional one?

Well, not very much. The mill needs to carefully separate organic cotton from the conventional all through the process to avoid contamination or mixing up the qualities.

However, besides the cleaning stage and the choice of lubricants and additives to keep the machines running smoothly, the other processes are mainly mechanical and quite the same for both qualities.

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TJR Part III – Staccato of Thundering Looms


Our yarn was sent to a weaving mill of Turkey’s major textile city Denizli. 65% of the local companies are part of the textile sector. Tourists stop there to shop for clothes on their way to the impressive landscape of Pamukkale, the cotton castle: A single hill covered in a white shell made of limestone. On top, thermal springs were used as a spa by the ancient greeks and romans who built a whole city up there.

Already in 1332, the traveler Ibn Batuta described: “the cotton cultivated here is of the finest quality and excellent fabrics are made here, with gold or silver embroidery.” Our weaving mill also has a long tradition, as a few ancient pictures in their meeting room state.

Today, the weaving mill is situated in an industrial area full of textile companies on the outskirts of Denizli. A few turkeys greeted me at the entrance of the peach colored company building. Gülcin, a very friendly sales director who speaks German and English as well as I do, showed me around.

Weaving basics: warp & weft

Basically, on a loom, a shuttle interweaves the weft (horizontal thread) into the warp (set of lengthwise threads). It takes at least one whole work day and several machines to arrange the threads on a warp and install the loom. Then, more or less 200m of fabric can be weaved by one loom per day.

From yarn to fabric

A first gigantic machine rolls the yarn from hundreds of bobbins onto one big warp beam. On the drawn-in machine, the warp is arranged to fit the fabric pattern. The warp beams queue in a line for the next step: a wax bath to avoid the threads breaking during the weaving process. Now, the warp is ready for weaving.

At the entrance, we were warned and equipped with earplugs: “Kulak koruyucunu kullan!” You’d better protect your ears! 72 looms, continuously weaving while sitting all together in one single hall, drown each other with their roaring staccato. The looms from Germany and Belgium weave 400.000m of fabric monthly, of which 10-20.000m a month are organic.

weaving is very noisy
weaving is very noisy

As we arrived in the weaving hall, two workers were just finalising the loom and together, we observed the very first centimeters of weaving. A historic moment for MISOGI DOGI!

A first piece was cut out to be controlled. Covered with starch, the fabric was still very stiff and unbleached.

I had been told that the weaving mills produce minimum quantities of fabric because their machines are huge. When I saw the looms, my first thought was: come on, they are not THAT big! It’s in the finishing mill that I found the giants…

Organic weaving

As for spinning, weaving is also mainly a mechanical process. There is one key difference between organic and conventional weaving: to protect the threads from breaking and stabilize them during the weaving process, they are waxed. Instead of toxic wax, an environmental-friendly stabilizer such as corn or potato starch is used for organic fabrics.

As for spinning, the weaving process uses a lot of electric power. Currently, Turkish power is mainly generated from natural gas, coal and hydro-electricity. The government intends to establish some nuclear power capacity. MISOGI DOGI intends to rapidly grow and support the mills in installing renewable energy equipment. Didn’t I already mention in part I?: Turkey offers ideal conditions: a lot of sun and … a lot of wind!

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