Pants to Poverty, an organization that makes organic knickers, was born from the words of Nelson Mandela when he challenged the world to ‘Make Poverty History’ at Trafalgar Square in 2005. Inspired by those words and charity concert Live8, as well as recognizing the need for change in impoverished countries, Ben Ramsden began making knickers. Today, he is selling his product in more than 20 countries around the world while supporting over 5,000 farmers in India.
Why did he choose underwear? “They’re small, they require a high level of skill to make, they don’t take up too much space, and they’re the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off,” said Ramsden. “Ultimately we make it because it’s fun and intimate and we all need it.”
Helping the Suicide Belt
The organization relies on fair trade marketing company Zameen Organic in West India to grow the cotton in pesticide-free and rain-fed land. This means that river water is protected from chemical pollutants.
The improved working conditions are resulting in mental health benefits for farmers. The Indian cotton belt became known by a more ominous nickname: The Suicide Belt. Around 20,000 thousands farmers have taken their own lives in the fields in the last decade where exploitative working conditions are considered a major contributing factor.
Pants to Poverty say their fair-trade way of harvesting has tripled profits for farmers who invest the money back into schools, wells and other community projects.
Ramsden feels his business has helped farmers create a more independent, sustainable working life by putting the ownership back into the hands of indigenous farmers who use organic farming practices.
The power in your underpants
In the UK, the underpants run around £15 for women and men and £18 for a three-pack of children’s “undercrackers” If this expense seems extravagant for something hidden in your jeans, Ramsden asks customers to consider the benefits.
“We position ourselves against Calvin Klein. We’re not interested in making underwear that’s so cheap we exploit workers,” he said.
In fact, Ramsden states that Pants for Poverty has yet to make profit and is just breaking even. “It’s a viable alternative to Calvin Klein. It’s half the price of our competitors and we urge people to buy better, so they’re bloody cheap.”
The water used in the Pratibha Syntex factory is 90 per cent recycled, all dyes are low impact, leaving no trace on the environment and the energy used is all natural gas, reducing consumption by 30 per cent.
“This isn’t about charity,” said Ramsden. “It’s about trade, it’s about justice, it’s about selling underwear… and liberating the power in your underpants.”
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