Prama Bhardwaj, CEO and founder of Mantis World, explains why Mantis World has signed up to the Sustainable Cotton Communiqué and her hopes for a more sustainable future for the garment decoration industry

In 2018, I’m hoping the printwear industry will come together to make a real difference to people’s lives.

At the end of last year, Mantis World signed up to the Sustainable Cotton Communiqué, which commits signatories to using 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. In January this year, I sent an invitation to all my fellow suppliers to join us in this pledge in the hope that we can all come together to make a real change to our impact on the planet.

But what is sustainability? At Mantis, we define it as ‘minimising environmental impact and improving the social conditions for everyone in the supply chain’. It is important to note the word ‘minimising’, because everything we consume or produce has an impact, therefore all we can do is try to minimise that impact.

The clothing industry is huge. It employs around 400 million people in over 100 countries. The world now consumes about 80 billion items of new clothing per year – that’s 400% more than what we consumed just two decades ago. But what’s wrong with making more – more sales equals more economic growth, right?

Well, when we look at the ‘true cost’, it’s a very different picture. Economic costs are easy for us to see and measure – that’s reported easily on our profit and loss and balance sheets. However, we also need to look at the invisible costs.


Environmental costs

  • One-third of all unwanted clothes end up in landfill. That’s 430,000 tonnes per year in the UK
  • Untreated wastewater from the dyeing process puts toxic chemicals into rivers and pollutes land. 20% of global water pollution is from the textile industry
  • The use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides leads to loss of biodiversity
  • The use of factories that rely on coal and gas contributes to climate change
  • Over-exploitation of natural resources: for example, the irrigation of cotton in Uzbekistan caused the Aral Sea to dry up.

Social costs

  • Unfair and unsafe working practices, such as those infamously highlighted by the collapse of Rana Plaza in April 2013, killing 1,134 people outside Dhaka in Bangladesh.
  • Chemical pesticides and fertilisers are harmful to human health and, along with genetically-modified (GM) seed, lead to high levels of debt in farmers.

A comparison of the Aral Sea between 1989 and 2008. The Aral Sea used to be the fourth largest lake in the world: the irrigation of cotton in Uzbekistan has contributed to it drying up – it is now 10% of its former size and heavily polluted with pesticides and insecticides

How do we do better?

A Lifecycle Analysis by the Textile Exchange found that choosing organic instead of conventional cotton can reduce global warming by 46%, acidification of water and land by 70%, and water consumption by 91%. Plus, there are no GM seeds or toxic pesticides and fertilisers used.

For a standard T-shirt, choosing organic cotton would save approximately the equivalent of 659 litres of water, enough energy for 15 hours of a 60W light bulb or driving 2km in an average car, 610mg of hazardous pesticides and 70g of chemical fertilisers.

Multiply those numbers by the number of T-shirts the garment decoration industry goes through in a year, and the impact is staggering.

What’s more, organic agriculture has been shown to actually reverse climate change as it takes carbon from the atmosphere and locks it into the soil. You might want to re-read that last sentence. It’s a gamechanger for us.

The business case

It doesn’t just make sense from an environmental and social justice point of view; going further along the journey to sustainability makes good business sense too.

A study by Deloitte showed that 9 in 10 millennials think that the performance of a company should be measured by more than just its financial performance, and 81% of CEOs believe that in five years time the most successful companies will be doing this. So to be sustainable as a business – as in to survive and thrive in years to come – companies must start thinking and measuring invisible social and environmental costs too.

Big retail players such as ASOS, H&M and Nike have already signed up to the Sustainable Cotton Communiqué. Mantis World may be the fi rst signatory from the garment decoration industry, but I’m hopeful we’ll soon be joined by many of our industry colleagues.

The influence of garment decorators in persuading garment manufacturers to pledge to use only sustainable cotton should not be underestimated. You are, after all, our customers. Talk to your suppliers today about their policy and performance on sustainability, and show them that the demand for sustainably-made clothing is real – and rising.

Prama Bhardwaj