Like much of our knowledge and language, the word ‘cotton’ comes from Arabic ‘quton’.
As with wool and silk, so cotton is a natural fabric and is comfortable to the most sensitive skin. It is soft yet strong; is absorbent; is easy to care for. Blend cotton with silk or different types of wool and you find attractive and enduring benefits.
In England, in 1770, when the Spinning Jenny was invented by James Hargreaves, the Industrial Revolution sprang in to life with massive changes from agriculture to factory work for the average citizen. Innovation impacted on quality of life, and many marvelled whilst others shuddered.
As the British Empire followed on from the Spanish Empire, the concept of industrial prowess tied to military might grew in the world. Those who could innovate and turn their ideas into commodities could obtain influence in political circles. Builders of ships, factories, bridges, roads, grand buildings were part of the image of the growing Empire as it left its mark in countries conquered. The technology evolved and ideas spread, resulting in acceleration of new and improved production and techniques. Those in employment could gain skills over time, some could climb to great heights of industry, many slaving still at the lower rungs, never rising to acquire more secure and desirable knowledge or position in life.
The cloth making mills were the cause of tuberculosis back in the 18th century, but, since wealth was generated for the mill owners, little attention was paid to the high mortality rate amongst workers in the mills, as one of my blogs exemplifies.
Agricultural workers who toiled in the fields were considered uneducated and made to feel ashamed of their rural existence. They were drawn to the smoky, dirty cities not for quality of life, but to become part of the much needed labour force. The classic book by E.P.Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, reminds us all of the catastrophic speed of wealth creating, labour intensive, oppressive systems which radically developed and brought misery to the many and wealth to the few.
Europe’s population doubled to almost 200 million during the 18th century, and doubled again by the 19th century. This was due to new understandings about managing the health and conditions of the labour force, and mortality at birth decreased. Humans began to live longer as housing and food improved, and education was offered to more people. Poverty was seen as the main cause of overpopulation. Today, the highest populated country is China, but it comes lower in the list of overpopulated countries such as Singapore, Israel and Kuwait. . The world population is nearing 8 billion. It is important, when assessing a country in terms of overpopulation to analyse ‘per capita consumption of renewable resources and the sustainability of a country on its resources‘. The world is overpopulated by an estimate of 2 billion people.
All humans need to be clothed. But how we mass produce clothing and textiles is relevant to the dangers of climate change. Indeed, it was during the 19th century that an educated woman from Connecticut, USA, was the first person to show in her scientific paper ‘On heat in the sun’s rays’ (American Journal of Science and Art, Nov 1856) that carbon dioxide “would give to our earth a high temperature; and if as some suppose, at one period in history the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its own action as well as from increased weight must have necessarily resulted.” Since she, Eunice Foote, was female, she was never acknowledged for the discovery, until quite recently. She was 5 years ahead of the man who is named as the first to discover the groundwork for what we now call the ‘greenhouse effect’. He was an Irish scientist named John Tyndail.
In the blogs prior to this one, we have seen the natural resources required to grow cotton and produce wool and the impacts of climate change and ecosystem imbalance.
India is well known for its textile industry productivity. This site demonstrates the weaving- to -end -product infrastructure of a competitive Indian company creating organic cotton blend with wool cloth. Their machinery was imported from Italy in 1978 and it is obvious from their website they have been highly successful. The ability of Indians to create magnificent designs goes back to the Indus valley in the 5th millennium, when the first fabric was created using homespun cotton for weaving their garments and indigo for colour. The Indian culture lends itself still to being a hub for beautiful textile designs. For example the traditional India Khadi. India Khadi is a handspun, hand-woven natural fiber cloth. Also known as khaddar during the British colonial era, it’s a swadeshi fabric. Fibers are spun into yarn on a spinning wheel called a charkha. It is a versatile fabric, cool in summer and warm in winter.
Amongst the range of magnificent cloth and design are:
PASHMINA — Kashmir
Pashmina is made from the fineness of the cream coloured goat’s wool having intricate embroidery. Pashmina meaning soft gold in Kashmiri, some designs are hand block printed and those blocks sometimes date back to more than 100 years. It takes a week to get a single shawl of pashmina. Hand embroidery is done on the shawl which takes more time to make it an end product. The tedious work makes it one of the costliest fabric.
KINNAURI SHAWLS — Kullu, Himanchal
Their geometrical patterns have religious meaning and the colors of the thread used for embroidery represent the elements of nature — water (white), air (green), earth (yellow), ether (blue) and fire (red). Frame looms are mainly used to weave the shawls and the embroidery is done by hand. The raw material that is used is Merino wool, local sheep wool and Pashmina wool.
LEPCHA — Sikkim
In ancient times, the Lepcha’s of Sikkim were said to use yarn spun out of stinging nettle (sisnu) plant to weave clothes. Today cotton and woollen yarn are used with vegetable dyes and synthetic colours. The colors used are white, red, black, yellow and green.
You can see the cotton producing states of India on this map. India leads the world in cotton production.
The World Atlas states:
Each year, India produces an average of 5,770 thousand metric tonnes of cotton making it the world’s highest producer. Cotton has been used in India for thousands of years and early origins of its use have been traced back to the Indus Valley civilization that lived in the northwestern regions of South Asia. Thanks to its favorable climate, the majority of India’s cotton is produced in the zone that covers Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
The Fairtrade website states:
Cotton farmers in lower income countries, including leading producers like India and China, live in hardship. As many as a 100 million rural households – 90 percent of them in lower income countries – are directly engaged in cotton production, relying on it for their income. An estimated 350 million people work in the cotton sector when family labour, farm labour and workers in connected services such as transportation, ginning, baling and storage are taken into account. For farmers, the challenges range from the impact of climate change, poor prices for seed cotton, through to competition from highly subsidised producers in rich countries and poor terms of trade. In particular, government subsidies for cotton farmers in rich countries, particularly the US, create a market with artificially low prices that small-scale farmers are unable to compete in.
Exploiting our fellow humans was learned back in the early industrial revolution in England. No good came of it, only high mortality rates, dire poverty and ill health. Allowing poverty to grow also allows populations to increase at too fast a rate for the planet. Reducing poverty alleviates stress on the Planet as well as on those who suffer. Part of the solution to climate change is to reduce poverty with a determined will at a fast rate, not allow it to increase unseen by those who are wealthy.
India is the third largest gas emitter, and this website debates the challenge for India as the world is now in climate change crisis. It says:
The Third Pole provides fresh, high quality journalism covering the breadth of debates on climate change in India, from whether the country should also set a net zero target, to managing the rapid changes in some of the most fragile ecosystems of the world. Whatever direction it takes, India will have to curb its emissions while also lifting millions out of poverty and enabling its economy to recover in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Let us honour the ancient skills made famous by Indian endeavour and work toward trade mechanisms which do not allow unfair subsidies by richer nations to produce cloth at prices below those which India can meet. This industrious nation must leap into a better, happier existence reducing the poverty to zero just as we aim to reduce emissions to zero.
Some of the above states have been hit by surging cases of Covid.
Covid is obviously impacting on India, and you can read about the impact here.