Ethical bed linen designer, Tarsha Burn, had a casual chat about fair trade and its importance behind the Organic Bed Threads label, on Friday 13th November, with Style Editor, Penelope Herbert of the Fashion + Home Show, radio 88.9FM Hills.
Click the audio file for an enlightening listen (13.43mins) or browse the radio transcript themes below.
1. Tarsha, you are a textile designer with a soft furnishings background, how did you become interested in Fair Trade and organic bed linen.
I have had a burning desire for 20 odd years since my early days as a designer, to create my own bed linen label. Back then when the idea was in its infancy it didn't have an ethical twist. As the years lapsed with various careers and becoming involved in humanitarian projects, an awareness of creating a label with greater meaning came to the fore, not just for the end user but for the many people involved in the production line.
Plus I grew up with the concept of organics in my daily life and it seemed a natural extension for me to follow this path. As to the focus on fair trade, I have a bee in my bonnet about standing up for those that are surpressed, and question why we make such a big song and dance about fair trade as being a 'cool concept' to become involved with when in reality it is everyone's fundamental human right to experience safe and respectful working environments. My bedding certainly brings these concepts to the buyer's consciousness.
2. Selling everything and moving to India is a big leap of faith, were there times you wanted to give up?
Gosh yes. Don't we all want to pack it all in when the going gets too hard, we feel lonely, in debt, find ourselves in weird places, become ill and lack support and wonder how we are to create success? I often found myself in precarious situations while in India in my research and development phases, but my inner calling was to persevere despite the hard slog and outside negative reactions. My label is more about the many talented hands and the stories that make up my duvet covers, so in reality I am standing up for developing world producers and artisans.
3. What did you find in India that kept you going?
The extreme poverty is a huge personal confrontation in any developing country. Yet as I lived and breathed it, and connected with artisans who were passionate about reviving the age old techniques within the textile industry that are dying out to mass production and the personal inner desire to be fulfilled in gainful employment for my women's groups who carry out the gorgeous handmade embroidery on my bed linen - to just add an additional income to the family or perhaps save some money for any emergencies - was a humbling experience. We, living in first world countries, have no right to complain about our lot in life, when you compare it to people living below the rice line. I wanted to add value in some way, by the encouragement of hand ups, not handouts through education and employment opportunities within the creative sector. People find an inner strength when given a chance to help themselves.
4. When we think of Indian textiles we don't necessarily think of organic and ethical. How have you managed to combine working in India with the rigors of gaining Global Organic Textile Standard accreditation?
Surprisely enough India has had organic cotton growth before the West entered into India. Over the years, it has been the West that has enforced chemical use in agriculture for faster crop growth to keep up with world demand, and thus the famers have experienced massive upheaval at a health and financial level. So in effect, I am only supporting a farming practice they have already been accustomed to. However with the GOTS accreditation, of my cotton being 'certified' organic and while a contentious experience to go through, it was a mere matter of keep on pushing to ensure my label was near enough 100% ethically made. GOTS as a movement is rather large in India anyway.
5. When you design, to have a certain end user in mind?
Yes and no. My designs seem to come from my intuition, I don't follow trends or fads, never have. They are designed from a perspective of old world charm, so that my duvet covers can last an age, very much like the superior quality our grandmothers owned.
When it comes to the children's range, I think of their young minds engaging in the design with the view of them asking questions about the scenes and techniques so that they can have an appreciation of what occurs in other parts of the world. For the adult range, I think of men strangely enough. How many men are laying under dizzy designs that primary the partner has bought for herself? I try to find a ying and yang balance when designing so that it appeals to both sexes.
6. I love your 'Positive Nouns' bedlinen set. What motivates your designs?
'Positive Nouns' was motivated to enhance the optimistic side within all of us, how comforting to be covered in these words ha? We do it anyway through our yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer and affirmations; this design was an extension of all these personal practices we all participate in.
Daily experiences, travels and really listening help create a wide canvas of design options for me. I have years and years of designs crammed into my portfolios I would like to see developed in future productions.
7. What impact has Organic Bed Threads had on the community in India in which you work?
A positive one in my view. I have tapped into a cluster of farmers, artisans and women's groups who have had their lives changed by new design innovation, ethical processes, education and employment. All issues we take for granted here. The two obvious impacts are being paid a fair wage for their work and to work with chemical free materials.
8. Do you literally work from seed to shelf? I mean, do you oversee aspects of cotton growth as well as manufacturing?
Not the cotton growth at this stage, but I do work closely with the cotton weavers to ensure the quality and transparency of the ethics behind it. These are early, expensive stages for my start up and one day I aim to become more involved with overseeing the organic cotton farming. Not from a perspective of a novice farmer, but to become more involved with the farmers lives, to ensure there is continued advancement and support for them too.
9. You currently have a beautiful but small collection available, so any plans to expand?
Oh yes, my mind is a whirl of new product lines. I started with the duvet covers to attract the buyer's eye foremost. I have pans for sheet sets; enlarge my categories such as in cot bedding and other sizes.
10. What's next for Organic Bed Threads?
Well in the immediate future, of course to see continued sales of my duvet covers that then enables me to go into my second production of new designs thus creating my vision of it being a sustainable enterprise.
I will keep up the education of conscious consumerism, as we all need to shift our mind sets away from price points and really question - is a larger company benefiting or is it all the small, handmade artisans along the line where it is most beneficial??!! I would love to see more people buying consciously in respect for people and planet. Afterall, we are all looking for more meaning in our lives and questioning where we buy our products is the first step. You can be assured to sleep soundly when buying from Organic Bed Threads, from many view points!
- Tags: artisan technqiues, Chemical Free, designer spotlight, fairtrade, organic talk
- Posted in: Organic Health, Authenticity, Sustainability, Social Change, Ethical Fashion, Organic Bedding, Organic Bed Linen, Healthy Homewares, Visionary Ideas, Humanitarian Engagement, Artisans, Preservation, Women's Groups , Ethical Practices, Fair Trade