At Greenhouse we’re always interested to learn more about sustainable startups and ethical projects, so when Xoomba popped up on our radar we just had to find out more.
Xoomba is a young design company producing organic fabrics, clothing and textile based products in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Xoomba are particularly interesting because they abide by the highest environmental and ethical standards, and at the same time help to create sustainable livelihoods in Sub Saharan Africa.
The clothing lines founder, Heather Chaplet says she embarked on the creation of Xoomba as a way to use her experience and artistry to address the intersectional problems we face: environmental degradation and social injustice
We took 5 minutes to find out more about Xoomba and how their Kickstarter campaign will help make a dent in the 65% unemployment rate in Burkina Faso, a country that rarely makes the international press headlines.
We’d love to hear a bit more about the beginnings of Xoomba. What was the main reason for you starting the clothing company?
My path to the present meanders quite a bit. My education was in the theater and I intended to be a theater creator, making visual and multidisciplinary shows. After studying theater at Brown University and then at a physical theater school in Paris called Lecoq, I started working in this line of work.
I began to get very concerned about the workings of the world, was it 9/11 or having children, I don’t know, but I started delving into books by great thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva and Naomi Klein. I felt impelled to do something that would have a real economic impact – so that’s what impelled me to start Xoomba as a way to use my artistry and experience to address environmental justice issues.
Why did you choose organic cotton as your main material? Is it more sustainable for the environment?
There is a huge amount of research out there showing how conventional cotton is extremely detrimental to the eco-system and the health of the people involved producing it.
25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides are used on cotton, so roughly a third of a pound of chemicals to grow enough for a T-shirt. The problems are very evident when I talk to people working in the process.
I spoke recently to an aids researcher who was researching aids and the effect on women across Burkina. She ended up completely changing her topic of research as she kept coming across stories in her interviews of sicknesses that resulted from using the chemicals that are used in cotton production. She feels that these chemicals are the primary source of health problems in the country and for people who do not have access to affordable healthcare, this is devastating. So, I am very committed to working with organic cotton grown locally as it is the only chemical free alternative in the region.
A study made by a Swiss University in 2009 on the organic program came to the following conclusions:
- 39% lower yields, but a 65% higher price for the farmer
- 90% less spent on inputs
- 30% higher gross margin
- Less indebtedness from buying inputs
- Farmers consider that both human and livestock health have improved
- Producers have observed a noticeable improvement in soil fertility
Eventually I’d love to explore other fibres that could be cultivated and processed there in the future.
What benefits does Xoomba bring to the local community in Burkina Faso?
Burkina Faso has an unemployment rate that hovers around 65%. There are many charitable organisations across the African continent that work to address problems resulting from such economic hardship. But I believe one very promising way to address poverty is to invest in infrastructure to transform the raw materials there to get the full value of what they already have. This could be a more self-sustaining and satisfying solution. It is challenging as there is so little infrastructure to work with but at the same time, that is excitng as we can leap to the most ecologically safe techniques and really create a thriving green economy ahead of the times in terms of sustainability. I also believe that people who have more financial security can participate more in the local politics which is so essential.
We are planning the creation of a space in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina, where we are based. Our vision is that it will not only be a production facility and showroom, but a cafe dedicated to bringing people together in the community to share ideas on how to make life more comfortable with the available resources. It would showcase as many daily life ideas as possible, using solar cooking, composting toilets, rain water recuperation and all sorts of other applicable ideas.
How important do you think it is to tackle waste in the fashion industry? What part does Xoomba play?
There really is no reason to have any waste. Nature has no waste, as it’s a completely circular system. At Xoomba we use all the scraps from tailoring, to make patchwork cushions and we stuff the cushions with the local fibre from the kapok tree. We are working on making a filtration system to reuse our dye bath water as well though it is still in the experimental stages.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
There are always unexpected difficulties that pop up, especially working in West Africa. The biggest challenge is to have access to the organic cotton. In order to make the local cotton into yarn, an industrial process, we have coordinated the local demand in order to have an order that is large enough for the mill to produce, especially as they have to clean their machines to prevent contamination. That is a continual logistical hurdle and eventually it would be wonderful to setup a mill dedicated to organic cotton that could produce on demand.
You’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign, what will it mean if you reach your campaign goal?
We have made organic, hand loomed fabric since 2010, but this is the first time we are launching a full and finished clothing line. We set the goal at the bare minimum to actually be able to pay for the materials and work to be done as we have to invest in a minimum of 25 yards for each fabric choice.
So when the goal is achieved it will really be just a break even operation but the process has other non-monetary benefits. It has helped us to have a presentation of the project to share and create some interest.
For instance, we have been invited to participate in the Fashion Africa Conference in London. It’s not sure we can attend but it’s wonderful to connect with platforms that are really talking about ethical fashion and educating the public. It’s amazing how many are out there working on that and yet the general public are still quite unaware of the concept so there’s still more exciting work to be done.
Thank you to Heather for sharing some insight into in Xoomba’s fascinating backstory. You can play a part too, help Xoomba reach their target to produce organic clothing in Burkina Faso by contributing to their Kickstarter campaign.
Love the Xoomba designs? Shop the current collection here, or watch this video below to see what they’re up to.