Wraps in ethical consumerism

Probably many people know a stereotype: if parents wear baby in a wrap, they are definitely hippie, greens, vegetarians, and sometimes at all Buddhists or adherents. Public opinion is something beyond reasoning and common sense and babywearers know it even better than others. But what with these issues? Is there a grain of truth? I’m sure there is no tie-up between a way of carrying babies and religion, subcultures, food, and mental health of their parents. What about green? Do babywearers share idea of ethical consumerism? And how its principles can be applied to babywearing?

Important note. Ethical consumerism (alternatively called moral purchasing or green consumerism) is a term but not a moral category. Its existence does not mean that if you don’t follow the principles buying for example a wrap you are not ethical enough (responsible or green :)).
Ethical consumerism is to make choice of goods and services that were produced, processed and delivered in an ethical manner, in other words with minimal harm to workers, animals and environment.
In practice, this means to make informed choice of goods that are produced.

Human rights

babywearing-in-ethical-consumption (3)A manufacturer does not use child labour, gives his workers decent pay and complies with labour law. If the manufacturer wants to put the emphasis that he follows these principles working in economically disadvantaged areas (Third World countries, where there are problems) then label his products as fair trade – made in a Fair Trade. For example, so does Girasol, whose production is in Guatemala.

Animals

Regarding wraps and duds the production of mulberry silk (and also bourette) and, more controversially, wool is considered unethical.
Within production process of mulberry silk (often simply called silk) the cocoons are put into boiling water when the silkworms start pupating in their cocoons. Of course, they immediately cease to be alive, but the silk cocoon is easily unwound, has shimmering appearance and all other properties of mulberry silk. Bourette is leftovers of silk production, so it is silk of boiled silkworms as well.
babywearing-in-ethical-consumption (4)Wild silk production does not involve violence. In this production there’s no point in robbing Peter (silkworms) to pay Paul (silk). The cocoons are handpicked in natural habitat of wild silkworms. The pupae turn into a free and lying moth and the cocoons are left. Concerning wraps tussah and other wild silk are used (Oscha slings has the most famous wild silk perhaps). Because the cocoon fibers have been broken, its thread is not similar to mulberry silk, so mulberry silk blend wrap and tussah blend wrap are completely different.
Wool. Some refuse to buy it because they are hostile to this industry. Indeed, animals are often kept in poor conditions, abused and mistreated. A number of painful surgical procedures such as castration and others are carried out. In the production system the unwanted animals are killed for meat. Specially wooly breeds suffer even more (well-known part of merino blend wraps): in fact they are not viable and suffer from excessive skin folds. More information can be found by reference (at the end of the article).
Some ethical consumers select that wool which production is well aware and believe that the conditions are in accordance with their principles. And there are those who do not fully accept the exploitation of animals, especially when it’s unessential. They do not buy things with wool blends.
Different kind of wool are used in wraps: lamb (lambswool), merino, cashmere, babycamel, alpaca, yak …
There are claims against Artipoppe (manufacturer of high-end wraps) by reason of use of unique animal wool in wraps (eg, endangered vicunas). Especially there is a lot of enemies against fox-hair in the blends, as a fox is a wild animal. If you want to cut it you need to kill it first. At least so say the concerned activists who want to love both AP and animals. (At the end of the article, there is a reference to the discussion on a manufacture homepage.) Anna Van den Bogert, owner of the brand, responds to such accusations calmly: all raw materials are purchased and certified in the EU and meet the European standards of animal protection. By and large, it looks strange when the scandal around foxes, vicunas and other animals occurred against the background of complete acceptance of the same silk. But in the minds of most people there is a mysterious separation of the animals that are “sorry” and “do not mind” (to eat a kitten is bad, to eat a calf is well), and this is phenomenon of the same order. There are brands that are friendly to animals in a pointed manner. Oscha does not use mulberry silk, and a number of US manufacturers experiment with eco-friendly synthetic materials: for example, Tekhni uses yarn derived from recycled plastic bottles. You can find some of these findings on the tag Viscose in the catalog Slingofest.

Environment

babywearing-in-ethical-consumption (2)
It involves environmentally friendly materials (without chemicals, etc.), local materials (which minimizes transportation polluting the atmosphere), non-hazardous dyes, as well as the production of the most versatile products. That is, nonpareil green babywearing mom has only one wrap of 100% natural non-dyed linen produced as close as possible to the place of its habitat. In nature, these mothers are likely not to occur :)

Where can responsible buyers know these details? Of course, from a manufacturer. Those brands that care about the environment, do not hesitate to say so – of pride, and of course, the desire to attract buyers. By the way, this is not such a strong bait. My survey among Russian babywearing moms (which was held in LJ communities Slingomamy and Slingi v wkafu ) showed that only 5% are trying to choose wraps of eco-friendly brands. 57% feel sympathy for such brands, but do not prefer them intentionally, 36% do not care and approximately 1.5% get annoyed with manufacture care of nature.

Oscha Rei Victoria
Oscha Rei Victoria

I have decided to ask Zoe Masters, the Oscha founder how “caring” wrap manufacturers live and what they can tell about their principles and aspirations.

Oscha offers and promotes 100% linen slings as ones having a low environmental impact. How popular are they now? Do you believe that a linen wrap can be a substitute to cotton blends, or is it just a good change for summer?

The 100% linens are still popular with more interest over the summer. I guess cotton will probably always be more favoured since it is softer and has a bit more cush, but you really can’t beat 100% linen for breathability in the heat.

My Mum has taken over the job of doing all the dye work, so it’s all her creation now and she is busy investigating new dye techniques for us to develop. We’ve also spent a lot of the last 2 years looking at developing suitable silk screen options, which would allow us to be more creative with the 100% linen, so we hope to bring that to fruition at some point!

Linen is a hardier plant than cotton, so it requires less pesticides etc, plus all parts of the plant can be used. We are also looking at a totally organic linen to use for our cotton/linen blend wraps.

And speaking of cotton – you use different types of it, including organic Pima-cotton. What makes it organic? Is it more Eco-friendly than the other types?

It is organic, and more eco-friendly because chemical pesticides and fertilizers are not used, therefore growth of the crops doesn’t have the same impact on the surrounding environment or the workers.

We have finally found a good source of organic combed cotton in the same weight as our regular cottons, it has always been our intention to switch to organic as soon as we were able so I’m really pleased we’ll be making that shift very soon.

The organic Pima is the best quality cotton out there really, as well as being environmentally friendly, but it was a slightly lighter weight yarn, so perfect for summer wraps.

I admire Oscha for the refusal to use Mulberry and Bourette (unethical ones) silk. You found an alternative in Tussah and other wild kinds of silk. And your silk blends seem to be loved and popular! Are you often asked to make Mulberry-silk slings? Do you think you lose money on this refusal – or, maybe, on the contrary, gain customers and reputation on being unique in this way?

To be honest I wasn’t aware that customers had noticed we haven’t used mulberry silk! In some ways I guess we may lose some custom as we can’t make that super shiny silk wraps that the long mulberry threads can create, it also means that our silk has more grip. Having said that it has meant that we’ve experimented with other silks more and thankfully found the wild silk blend (like SN Nebula), which I think makes one of the nicest wrapping fabrics around. We are still on the lookout for more wild silk yarns to create different fabric types.

Do you consider wool manufacturing ethical? What can you tell about production of wool in your fabrics?

Our wool all comes from suppliers in Great Britain who source the yarns from British & Australian sheep farmers where certain criteria must be met for the ethical treatment of the animals. We have consulted with all of our wool suppliers on this and are satisfied that the animals are treated well.

You believe in working with local suppliers and craftsmen. What material can’t be found nearby and still need a far shipping? Are there possibilities of improving it in future?

Most of our yarns come from Britain, Ireland and Italy, cotton is probably the main one that is hard to source locally.

We have used American combed cotton many times (it’s the thicker combed cotton used in the original Roses Eros and Aphrodite for instance), but otherwise it has come from India, and more recently from Egypt & Turkey. It isn’t really possible for us to do much about this as its too cold to grow cotton in the UK. However, we are about to move onto using only organic combed cotton, so although it doesn’t solve the local issue, at least it addresses other major environmental concerns.

As far as I know, Oscha is the only (or one of the very few) sling manufacturer with such principles. Is it difficult? Do you have customers, who stay loyal to the brand due to its ethics? (Well, I guess you do, it’s me for a start :))

Awww, that’s nice to hear! To be honest we haven’t really received much feedback that customers stick with us for any ethical reasons. However it isn’t hard for us to operate in this way and to continue to try and improve our supply line as it simply feels like the only path for Oscha.

One thing we’ve had a lot of pressure about, especially when looking at making new products that require a lot of manufacturing time, is making things in the UK, and paying a good living wage to everyone concerned. It has been suggested to us many times that we should move production to the Far East or Eastern Europe in order to cut our costs and produce more. Whilst there is obviously value in employing people anywhere, we feel that taking advantage of cheap labour and materials would be exploitative. We want to support our own economy and local community. Also, we could not keep such a close eye on production and quality if we didn’t do it all in-house.

I know that most people (myself included) are used to being able to buy fabrics & clothes very cheaply, the idea of ‘throw away fashion’ is predominant. So it can be difficult to understand why our slings are the price they are, and the price point probably does lose us some custom.  The fact is that producing quality items from the finest yarns around and having it all manufactured in the UK is just a lot more expensive. This limits us in some ways, but in order to feel happy with our business and its impact on the wider world and community we feel this is the only way Oscha can operate.

Thank you!

Midlothian councillor Jamie Bryant with Emma Masters, owner of Loanhead firm Oscha Slings. Photo: Rob Gray
Midlothian councillor Jamie Bryant with Zoe Emma Masters, owner of Loanhead firm Oscha Slings. Photo: Rob Gray
Oscha Liberty Jig of Joy
Oscha Liberty Jig of Joy
Oscha Rive Milford Sound
Oscha Rive Milford Sound
Oscha Okinami Noosa
Oscha Okinami Noosa

So far, among wrap manufacturers that approach is rather rare. And what is the case with babywearing moms? A survey of Russian mothers showed that, in general, increased greenness is not common thing. For example, only two percent of the respondents do not buy silk culture for ethical reasons, and less than half a percent refuse from wool (0.4 % – one person , and yes , it’s me :)). A stormy debate erupted suddenly in the comments to a survey in Slingi v wkafu community, even though it did not call anybody. Opinions on ethical consumption were different, but position of “concern for the nature protection with a grain of salt” was on top. So, for good or for ill, a special concern of ecology problems by babywearing parents is another myth. At least for the moment.

Yet a wrap is an environmentally friendly thing. At least because …

  1. It is a good change to a baby stroller for many parents. According to the same survey, 24% babywearing parents have no baby stroller. That’s a pretty significant figure. Opportunity not to buy ten kilograms of plastic that harm nature, of course, is a valuable contribution of wraps to the ecology. Certainly, parents of Irish twin always need a stroller, and in other life circumstances, especially when a kid does not mind such transport. Anyway it is telling that almost one-fifth of babywearing moms do not need a stroller.
  2. Production and utilization of wraps harm nature in a less degree. Especially if the manufacturer sets this goal.
  3. Secondary market is extremely popular in babywearer communities. Purchase and sale is one of the important principles of ethical consumers. Why do you need to throw a thing if it can serve to someone else? Why do you need to initiate a new production with your purchase when you can buy it second hand? This reduces the rate of production and hence a negative influence on the nature and animal exploitation. Of course, as we learned from the survey, moms do not follow these principles when they buy second hand wraps. In addition, 35% respondents have 5-10 wraps in a stash, and 33% have more than 10. But as most of them are second hand and will be further sold to a new home – the volume of production is not such as big as it could be.

We see an interesting picture: a wrap is a really eco-friendly thing that cares about environment. But its fans often think of nature in the context of a reason for the pattern. By the way, this is not bad: at least through these zebras, geese, thistles and other grasses nature settles in the heart and conducts a dialogue with us. Do we hear and what do we respond – that’s our personal choice.

Sources and references:
1. A survey: slingi-v-wkafu.livejournal.com slingomamy.livejournal.com
2. Wool production: good2be-vegan.livejournal.com
3. Discussion of Artipoppe blends: Badass Tyger и Argus Corona Vicuña

Author of text and a few photos: Lida Pavlova.
Photo: oschaslings.commidlothianadvertiser.co.uk
Translation: Svetlana Skakun.

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