Students explore India's cotton industry
The week-long programme saw 32 students from a range of subject areas – including business, fashion and geography – follow the cotton supply chain, from the villages of rural Maharashtra to the fashion houses of Mumbai.
About the treks
One of the greatest challenges we face in Higher Education is how to help students engage with problems that are truly relevant—especially the complex issues around social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
Recognising the limits of what can be done in a classroom or virtual environment, the India treks grew out of a desire to design an interdisciplinary experience that could get students to engage deeply with issues of ethics and sustainability.
Cotton has such a pervasive role in our lives that we often take it completely for granted. The deeper you look into the supply chain of cotton and its history, there are ever more layers to be understood. The story of cotton is deeply implicated into creation of the British Empire, the rise of America as an economic power and in the movement for Indian independence. Cotton was one of the first commodities that was a driver for the technological and industrial development of the industrial revolution and of global trade. Through cotton and the fashion industry we can see a spectrum of issues that connect to the empowerment, objectification and repression of individuals. There are few commodities that have such an unnoticed yet profound impact on our modern world.
The itinerary of the Trek included lectures on traditional artisanal techniques, the technology of a cotton mill, approaches to empowering workers in modern garment workshops as well as an inspirational talk by Anita Dongre, one of India’s top designers, and a session with the editors of Vogue India, who featured the Trek in their July 2018 edition.
For the students, this was a deeply intellectually and emotionally engaging experience. At debriefing sessions, many of the students told us that this was the highlight of their time in Edinburgh. For many of the students, this was the first time they had met anyone outside their discipline.
Winston Kwon, University of Edinburgh Business School
"...such an inspiring trip, I never thought I'd learn so much in one single week! All these experiences are so much more valuable to my career development than anything that can be taught in normal university courses."
"This trip has taught me so much about the issues with sustainability as well as about cultural sustainability."
Creating change agents
This six-part podcast series from Jelena Sofronijevic and Molly Lambourne focused on educating consumers on garment-production processes, and explored themes including environmental sustainability, cultural sustainability in artisan craft, gender, and corporate social roles and responsibility.
Niamh Mundy's project, inspired by her experiences on the 2018 Mumbai research trek, investigated end-of-life solutions for cotton, one of the world's most environmentally damaging natural fibres. 'Blended' cotton is a series of experimental composite materials derived from a blend of bioplastic resins and cotton textile waste.
Babble & Hemp
Charlie Thomas attended the 2018 India trek, learning about both cotton's environmental damage and the social harms of fast fashion. He also learned about the incredible properties of hemp, and returned with a resolve to source high-quality, well-designed hemp clothing. When it turned out to be next-to-impossible to buy, he set out to create exactly that, setting up Babble & Hemp to provide an alternative to unsustainable cotton clothing.