A decision from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, and the African Cotton & Textile Industries Federation makes official what non-profits and sustainable labels have been practicing for a few years — a focus on ecologically-friendly sub-Saharan African textile production.
Celebrity-helmed brands with a positive mission, like Liya Kebede’s Lemlem and Bono’s Edun have worked with African weavers and artisans for some time, and their mission seems to be filtering to the mainstream. The aforementioned three trade groups who have signed a memorandum to grow trade between the U.S. and sub-Saharan cotton and apparel producers represents a grand extension of previous efforts from niche brands. While the new initiative is in part spurred by Obama’s Trade Africa initiative, which promotes the continent as a sourcing destination for Western companies, the extension of textile trade is particularly beneficial to everyone involved.
Last year, the German consultancy Systain found that African-grown cotton production, thanks to an ideal climate and fairly standard rain-fed cultivation systems among small farmers, emits 70% less carbon and uses 18,000 fewer liters of water, per kilogram of the fabric, than when it’s grown in Pakistan, for example. While the new trade understanding between the U.S. and the ACTIF should be good for business in sub-Saharan Africa, it also has the potential to improve the effects of how we dress.