We both decided from the instant that we heard about the Sustainable
Development Practicum in Auroville, India that this was the experience
of a lifetime. Both extremely interested in filmmaking, we knew that
this would give us an opportunity to discover a story worth telling.
Our intuitions paid off as within the first week, we had come across an extremely inspiring project from a clothing design studio in Auroville called Upasana. (www.upasana.in) We set off to produce a film highlighting Upasana’s Kapas Organic Cotton Project, which was established in 2008. Kapas is designed to encourage people to work collectively towards creating and promoting a socially, environmentally sustainable cotton product. This unique venture aims to produce a completely sustainable product supply chain starting from the seed through to the production of the final product – which we discovered is surprisingly rare in the organic industry. The Kapas project also strives to protect the, often, neglected cotton farmer in India as they have fallen victim in recent years to mass production, globalization, seed modification, debt, and, sadly, a wave of farmer suicides. We believe that this brand’s particular vision for the productive sustainability of the cotton, textile, and garment industry is extremely fascinating as it truly exemplifies a morally, culturally, and socially conscious form of business.
Because Kapas is a relatively new venture for Upasana, we hope our video begins to introduce the basic ideas behind Kapas. Furthermore, it could, potentially, bring about a certain sense of clarity and awareness surrounding the organic cotton trade in India, as well as provide an awakening about the enormous human and earthly impact this massive cash crop has had on a developing community and the world.
During our filming, we were introduced to such issues such as women’s empowerment, village sustainability, environmental and social awareness, and industry insights. We learned that the organic and fair trade industries in themselves were in much need of improvement. Efforts to label a product organic are extremely expensive and exclusive. While many Indian cotton farmers produce an organic product they do not have the means to afford or attract support from the organic industry, and thus do not receive the organic label. We had the opportunity to travel – on an overnight bus – to Madurai, India to see first-hand the organic cotton fields. We spent two amazing days meeting the farmers, spinners, and weavers of cotton, and we were truly inspired by their passion for their trade as well as their willingness to welcome us into their world. We discussed the extremely harsh realities that these farmers face surrounding poverty and lack of concern from the outside world. We quickly realized that this industry is one that has surely been forgotten in the world’s quest for a more sustainable future. Cotton is Tamil Nadu’s only cash crop and is one of the largest cash crops in the world. Billions of dollars flow through the cotton trade every year, and the reality is that the social and environmental cost is extremely high as mass production has taken over much of the industry.
While the oil and food industries, among many others, have been attacked for their contribution to the issues surrounding globalization, we found that the cotton industry is no different and, thus, should not be overlooked. We discovered that we can no longer sustain a world where cheaply-made clothing items are worn once and thrown out and vanity overshadows the health and future of our planet and its people.
During our filming, we were worried that the farmers, who were demonstrating their farming techniques, were wasting their resources and hard-earned money. They responded by assuring us that more than anything they wish to have their story told because they do not have the power nor the means to do so themselves. In that moment, we realized that the power of our video camera and easy access to Internet was one thing that should never be taken granted. We will never forget our time discovering this beautiful story, and the people who helped us along the way. As cliché as it might sound, we are forever changed by our journey. We feel much in debt to those who have given us this opportunity and hope that our final video project will bring about a sense of awareness to the cause as well as some insight into one of the world’s most beautiful yet forgotten people.
Check back soon for the final product!
– Ellie Ashford and Ashley Hahn