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Edinburgh students follow Indian cotton from farm to fashion

Earlier this summer, University of Edinburgh undergraduates, including two students from our School, immersed themselves in India’s $200bn textile industry.

The week-long programme saw social science, business, economics, politics and philosophy students coming together with geographers, biologists, artists and fashion students to tackle real-world challenges.

This was one of the first interdisciplinary initiatives to come out of the Edinburgh Futures Institute.

Following the supply chain from the pickers and growers of Gujurat, to the fashion houses of Mumbai, the trek asked the group of 24 students to consider the environmental, social and economic implications of the country’s primary export, cotton.

Now the second-largest producer of cotton in the world after China, India is responsible for 18% of the fabric’s global production. It is also the second-largest employer in the country after agriculture, providing employment to over 51 million people directly and 68 million people indirectly, including unskilled women.

During the trip students visited the Better Cotton Initiative and Nabha Foundation, both working toward rural development, better working conditions and more environmentally sustainable farming practices.

Part of the Trek was a visit in the factory of high-end fashion label, The House of Anita Dongre, to follow the production and retail process, and chart how the brand is expanding into international markets.

They also met with Vogue India to discuss the industry’s impact on local and global fashion trends. Vogue India has now published an extensive feature on the trek.

This programme culminated in a day-long interactive challenge, where the group joined students from Mumbai’s Indian School of Design and Innovation to come up with innovative solutions to the Indian cotton industry’s most pressing challenges. Promoting water stewardship to creating economic opportunities for under-represented groups were among issues the groups considered.

Trek-leader, Dr Winston Kwon from the Business School, said:

“We all wear cotton, but rarely think of how and where it’s made, its environmental impact or the people behind growing, refining and designing it. With this experience, we are giving Edinburgh students a chance to get under the skin of one of the developing world’s largest industries and fastest growing economies. We want them to put themselves in the shoes of the farmers, manufacturers and exporters to ask whether fashion can ever be truly sustainable.” 

More information:

The University of Edinburgh takes on sustainable fashion in India, Vogue India, 1 July 2018