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Zürich – A ground-breaking project has been launched to highlight the potential of Burkina Faso as a testing ground for fully traceable organic cotton. The initiative will see 2,000 T-Shirts traced right through the textile supply chain using harmless DNA markers – from production in Greece and Northern Macedonia back to the cotton fields of Burkina Faso in Western Africa. Burkina Faso is second only to Tanzania as a producer of organic cotton in Africa and is seeking to transition into a hub for regional economic development, providing raw materials for the further expansion of cotton ginning, mills and other textile sector facilities.

The DNA markers for the cotton in the 2,000 T-Shirts will be applied by Swiss tech business, Haelixa, which has developed natural markers that can be applied to cotton anywhere along the supply chain. Each marker is labelled with a unique identification which tells the cotton’s story – including the farm it came from. At any point along the supply chain, a portable handset can be applied to the cotton to carry out a ‘paternity test’ to verify its authenticity.

For the Burkina Faso project, the goal is to attract 2,000 orders of the T-Shirts which are available in four different colours, split evenly between men’s and women’s. Once all orders are received, production will begin, with delivery expected for July 2020. In addition, for every T-Shirt sold, a tree will be planted in partnership with OneTreePlanted and Swiss fashion label Nikin, which is retailing the T-Shirts in partnership with the project.

Ecos, the project lead, has a mandate to improve economic development in the Burkina Faso textile industry.

Punit Mehra, product manager, Haelixa told Apparel Insider: “Transparency is a huge trend in the global apparel industry right now but to provide true transparency, you need reliable, accurate traceability. This project in Burkina Faso highlights what can be achieved in this area, as well as spotlighting the organic cotton industry in Burkina Faso which is huge area of economic development for the country right now.

“Using our technology, we can tell people who order one of these T-Shirts which farm the cotton came from, the ginning and spinning facilities they went through and where they were manufactured – the complete garment story.

“Sustainability in fashion is obviously a growth area but to encourage people to purchase sustainably, there has to be a ‘sell’ or some added value. In this case, the Traceable TreeShirt can provide full assurances about the social and environmental conditions of the product people are buying.”

Of course, a key question around sustainability is also price. Should sustainably produced products cost more – and will consumers pay more for them? To this end, Mehra told Apparel Insider the Burkina Faso organic T-Shirt will retail for around 49 Swiss Francs (USD$50). This places it towards the upper-mid end of the market, although the scaling of this work would unquestionably bring this price down.

In the meantime, this project does raise a very important question: if we want true transparency and traceability, and if we want to be 100 per cent sure the sustainable garment we are getting is exactly that – sustainable – we may have to pay a little more.

A price worth paying? In this case, we believe so, but we encourage readers to find out more here: https://www.gebana.com/projects/ch/project/information/53?lang=en

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