Project-Pico( Phoebe and Isobel’s Company) has evolved from two great friends journey to produce fair-trade, organic cotton underwear that are ethical and fully traceable with a strong but simple design ethic.
Our friendship began in our school days with a shared love of textiles, clothes and provenance ; further enhanced when we both went to University in London; Phoebe going to Goldsmiths to read History and Isobel to London College of Fashion to study Tailoring. Isobel was exploring sustainable and natural fibres as well as natural dyeing and Phoebe did her thesis on ‘the hazards and hindrances of crinoline’ one of the largest undergarments. We were always talking about how little information is shared about where are clothes come from, How were they made and by who and what impact did the process of making them have on the people producing and our planet. It was at this point that we started to talk about the idea of creating a clothing business that would allow the consumer to understand exactly how their clothes are made – from the sowing of the seeds to the sewing of fabric. We felt that an openness and transparency was especially lacking with essential items such as our underwear and we were yet to find a pair of pants that fitted our ethics and aesthetics - so the pico pant plans began.
At the heart of Project-Pico is our mission to be completely transparent about how Pico pants are made. We believe in fairtrade and organic production and we want to share why we feel so strongly about it. It was only after we embarked on the project to make sustainable underwear that we began to extensively research and learn about the issues surrounding the conventional cotton industry and its devastating impact on the environment and the problems it has caused for some of the 300 million people worldwide who work in the sector.
Cotton is the most used natural fibre in the world. Conventionally grown, it uses more pesticides than any other crop, and requires vast amounts of water. For example, one t-shirt can take up to a staggering 2,700 litres of water from start of production to finish. This has led to huge impacts on the environment, such as the drying up of the Aral sea.
India is currently the second largest producer of cotton, after China, in the world. However, unlike many other cotton growing countries, 85% of the farmers are still very small scale – often working on only 2 hectares of land. Along with the serious health issues related to direct contact with pesticides, the high cost of the chemicals along with the potential for crop failure can lead to farmers finding themselves in crippling amounts of debt. This can have devastating effects and has has been directly linked to the shockingly high suicide rate of 300,000 farmers in India since 1995.
We decided to use organic cotton as millions of farmers are affected by the problems with conventional cotton and we wanted to be supporting positive change in the industry. Growing cotton organically is without the use of expensive and harmful pesticides instead using alternative and natural techniques which require 91% less water than conventional cotton. We began researching factories in India, with our prioritybeing we could work with a factory that was not only fairtrade but also used organic fabric but also and very importantly were connected to their whole supply chain.
In April of last year we made our first trip to India. A lot of what we had learned prior to our trip had been through the work and research of Dr Vandana Shiva - an environmental activist and physicist whose organisation Navdanya (meaning nine seeds) has aided half a million farmers transitioning to organic. She is such a key figure in India in terms of the rights of the earth and those who work with it. We had the incredible opportunity spend a few weeks being taught by her and other incredible figures in the environmental movement - such as Satish Kumar, whilst staying on her biodiversity farm studying Gandhi, Globalisation and Gross National Happiness. We also interviewed her (available to listen to on our website.)
We then went on to visit various fairtrade garment factories. The smallest, Mila is based in Tirupur in the South – they kindly helped us to visit their whole supply chain from some of the organic cotton farmers in the North of India, to the ginning, knitting and dyeing units, all located within a 40km radius of the factory and who all have open door policies with visitors.
Miila source their organic cotton from two cooperatives. We visited some of the farmers who are part of one of them - Pratima. While visiting the villages, we were able to hear from the women and men about some of the difficulties of growing cotton with a small scale farm. We learnt how by many cotton farmers coming together from many villages within the community and working as a cooperative and by working with Pratima and the Fairtrade scheme, they are able to receive a fair and stable price for their cotton. The programmes have also helped to implement women’s self help groups, and encouraged the women to take responsibility for the village finances, which has allowed them to provide and source loans locally for families to build homes and support the further education of their children and implement safe drinking water. It was clear that they felt empowered and supported by Pratima.
We will be returning back to India in the New Year to revisit our supply chain and hope to research and visit farmers who are transitioning to organic or are hoping to do so. We are always exploring new products too and will revisit Khadi units (hand spinning and hand weaving units) making hand woven cotton cloth as we are hoping to work with this Gandhian cloth in the near future.
We feel increasingly positive about the new wave of young designers who have transparency and an open supply chain as central to their projects and businesses, and are also proving that to be eco-conscious doesn’t mean a need to compromise on design.We hope that the more people who do it differently and share their stories of production and sustainability, it will encourage all brands to follow suit. We hope that one day soon it will become an expected notion for every business's bottom line to be about people and planet as well as profit.
We have had a brilliant first year of trading and are excited to have a new colour ecru on the horizon as well as a new design. We have been delighted with our recent press in Huffington post and also from Francis Corner - the head of London College of Fashion. We have now started the school for social entrepreneurs programme in Bristol and are happy to say you will be able to find Pico pants in all the 3 Better Foods (a lovely store in Bristol selling organic, ethical and local produce) from November. We have been running mending clubs and giving talks, including a youth climate summit in Glasgow earlier this year. You can find us at the Henri store (274 Hackney Road) until October 15th and at the Green apples event in London 13th October, Charleston House - Selvedge Fair October 14th. Do keep your eyes peeled for future events which you can find on our diary page.
Thank you so much for reading and do get in contact if you have any questions!