Love is like that
It’s 3am and Tess and I are seated across from a Turkish customs officer. I’m piggybacking off his phones Wi-Fi connection. I imagine if I was in real trouble, this office would be intimidating. He has a large wooden desk and his chair is big and comfortable. Tess and I on the other side of his desk are uncomfortable on tiny wooden stools – they look like they were taken from a child’s play table set. It’s comical to us, but only because our infringement is minor: we don’t have the right visa to get into Turkey.
Why are we here? Months before we had planned a three-week holiday to Greece. I’ve always wanted to visit – everyone has told me that I look Greek since I was five. I need to see the truth for myself. I must know. But a few weeks before we’re due to depart, Tess approaches me with a… let’s call it a proposition. But that’s not entirely correct since it’s not as if I can say no to anything she asks of me. Love is like that.
“We need to go to Turkey,” she says.
Mungo has been looking for GOTS-certified organic cotton for some time. There’s a bit of organic cotton in Africa, and we already weave a few products from the yarn we can get. But it lacks certification, and we need to know that the rules are being followed. It’s not just about how it’s grown. The ginning process also has to be organic. There are only a few ginning plants left in South Africa and they aren’t about to shut down their plant, clean everything and then produce the yarn we need. That would be several days work for our small needs. The demand must grow first.
So we have a plan. If we can produce organic cotton products that people want, maybe we can build demand for organic cotton. Maybe we can be the catalyst for that change here in South Africa. So to do that, we’ll import the yarn.
And that’s why we’re cutting a week out of our holiday to go to Turkey.
There were conditions to this deal. I will have no hand in planning any of it. So now we’re stuck at the airport. Finally, we manage to get our visas sorted and we’re in. In the taxi on the dark streets of Izmir, I’m drifting off to sleep when Tessa tells me she could have walked in with her British passport. She stuck with me though. Love is like that.
The next morning we find our way to the head office of Egedeniz Textiles – they are leaders in organic and sustainable fibres and they supply many top brands. We’re excited to meet them. We chat with company heads about yarn and weaving. I show them pictures of Hattie (our 100yr old loom). Tess is here for business, I’m just enjoying the small talk. They show us their yarn testing facility, their CMT operation and finally bundle us into a car. We drive for a few hours, leaving the industrial hub of Izmir behind.
The countryside is a curious mix of industrial and rural. There are so many factories; this region of Turkey is production central. But there are also farms and small villages. Everywhere I look I see renewable energy in use, farmland dotted with turbines. We pass two factories producing nothing but wind turbines. Solar panels cover entire hillsides. I think about load shedding.
We make our way through a small farming town. At nearby cafes, men sit and play cards and drink tea. It’s the middle of the day. “Where are all the women?” asks Tess. Our guides laugh nervously and decline to answer.
Finally, we’re in the fields. The farmer proudly shows us the plants and answers our questions through the interpreter. He’s super passionate about everything cotton related. He beams proudly when we ask to take pictures with him. To be certified organic, cotton must be picked by hand. That’s why we’re in this particular field, where it’s currently being harvested. We meet the harvesters. I have a go at the job. It’s difficult and exhausting. Around us, the wind turbines turn endlessly. It’s quite lovely.
Organic cotton is grown without the use of harmful chemicals – even the manure used has to be organic. So I ask about fertilizer. The farmer tells us he gets only the finest cow manure for use on his fields. I’ve never met anyone this proud of manure, but it’s part of his passion for growing cotton this way. Love is like that.
That evening Tess and I dine out on the waterfront. We’re surrounded by businessmen speaking every language. They’re talking oil, textiles, big things. We talk about manure. On the walk back to our hotel we pass a political rally. There’s a tonne of that around; massive pictures of Atatürk and giant Turkish flags. We have to step aside as a group of youths come rollerblading down the path. They’re dressed in funky colours, shiny sparkling jackets, crazy hair. One of them carries a boombox blasting tunes. Two of them are spinning neon flashlights. The last guy in the line has a pug on his shoulder. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it.
The following day we leave Izmir going in the opposite direction. We’re driving to Denizli. Denizli is all about textiles. Every major building is either a ginning plant or a weaving mill. They’re huge, our little weaving mill in Plett would be dwarfed, but it’s a lot better looking. Of course, I’m biased. We visit a ginning plant dealing in organic cotton. The manager of this plant is a woman and she’s been in charge here for twenty years. In a male-dominated society, this is pretty unusual. She’s tough and no-nonsense, and people around her jump to do what she says. I really like her a lot.
We learn all about the processes of ginning and spinning. How bales of cotton get turned into the yarn we want to buy. It’s a streamlined process – quite a juxtaposition from the handpicking of the day before. Massive bales of cotton boules go in one end, the cotton is stretched and pulled over and over and at each step, the strands get longer and finer. As we leave we are gifted a set of terry cloth towels to take with us. I keep quiet about the nine Mungo flat weave towels we’re already travelling with. We always travel with our own towels. Love is like that.
We spend one more day in Izmir before flying to Greece to start our holiday. We’ve found what we’ve been looking for. On our return to South Africa, it quickly becomes apparent that we enjoyed our holiday a whole lot: Tessa is pregnant. I think about the world we’re bringing a child into. How each of us has to do everything we can to make a change. How companies must do the right thing – exploiting our resources for profit can no longer be the norm. I’m glad Mungo is doing what it can; we all want to build a better world for us and our children to live in. Love is like that.
In search of organic cotton
Watch our video about our search for organic cotton in Turkey and more about why we’re going organic.
The Aegean towel
We’ve taken this yarn and created a beautiful organic cotton towel, The Aegean, available in three colourways; Iliad, Odyssey & Ithaca.
Love your story Craig. Get to know about your trip at last!
I absolutely love this search for quality and there is the most relevant ideas in it to do something about climate change.
Of course, the cotton has to be shipped to South Africa but at the end, it´s about how it grows on the field, without damaging nature, it is about to value the people who pick it by hand and to value the Mungo products to produce beautiful products out of it. Coming back to the basics of craftsmenship and real quality, products which are lasting the whole life – this is the core of sustainability.
Soon as a dealer for Mungo – with my brand mori I will try to spread all of this stories and values here in Germany.
Wonderfully written and elegantly put together. A lot like love.
I’m looking for organic cotton myself and delighted in the journey you took to find yours.
Seems there is a gap in the market here in SA and a rising demand for sustainable products and practices.
Thank you for your passion, what you stand for and your beautiful product.