When you hear the name 'Jute Couture', for the first time you may ask yourself when did the humble jute fibre become a high-fashion statement? But that is before you notice the funky bags which from a distance look just that funky and cool. It is only when you understand the concept Jute Couture is trying to bring to the masses that appreciation makes its entry. Suddenly it dawns on you that buying one piece would do a world of good to the planet.
All it took for British expat Georgina Hearson, managing director of Jute Couture, was one bad experience with plastic bags.
"In July 2007 I was walking my son's pushchair while grocery shopping in the UK. The plastic bag for life broke and I then switched to a jute bag from Sainsbury's. I thought to myself that the bag could benefit from being a bit more funky, apart from being practical. In March 2008, I saw Gulf News campaign on using less plastic bags and it was then that Jute Couture crystallised," says Georgina.
As for Tracey Warrington, Jute Couture's sales director, her involvement was a natural consequence of her friendship with Georgina.
"I've known Georgina from the time our husbands were working in the same company three years ago. We became instant friends. Georgina and I talked about her idea and it was something I felt I could get involved with. We started to brainstorm ideas with our husbands and things went on from there. As mothers we felt we should set a good example to our children and others about being more responsible about our environment. We also wanted to show that you can 'be cool' and care".
Before Georgina and Tracey elevated the status of jute to a must-have, we knew it as a handy way to package bulky goods. It was the stuff that helped your precious things to stay intact through the possibly bruising process of shipping, shifting and carting about. But once your beloved possession was in place, the jute was thrown into the garbage bin, its usefulness a thing of the past.
But with the 'green' revolution sweeping through our every living moment, things have started to change. Today jute is becoming quite famous, especially when it comes to reducing our dependence on plastic bags.
To think that as you read this, we as a people are using, worldwide, 500 billion plastic bags annually. Tote up, if you can, the scale of pollution and choking up the earth's belly that plastic landfills lead to.
And now compare the frustratingly endlessly slow death of plastic to the wonderfully organic life cycle of the jute plant. Every part of jute, from stem to seed, can be used for one purpose or another. Nothing goes to waste. Jute exists in two varieties, White Jute (Corchorus capsularis) and Tossa Jute (Corchorus olitorius). Tossa jute tends to be softer, stronger and silkier while white jute is often lighter. The beauty of jute is that not only is it 100 per cent biodegradable, it is also quite cheaply priced. The long, soft fibre can be transformed into strong, coarse threads before being made available for trading. The fibres are extracted from the plant via strips of retting, stripping, washing, sun drying and finally, bailing. The outcome of this process is jute that can be used in carpets, bags, Hessian cloth and jute yarn. Jute is quite easy to work with due to its anti-static qualities and it is water resistant as well. Some call it the Golden Fibre due to its natural lustre even after processing.
While Bangladesh and China produce raw jute, India is the world's largest producer. The Ganges River Delta in India is heavily grown with jute as it is a tropical plant that thrives in hot and humid conditions. Keeping the absolute nature-friendly characteristics of jute in mind it is not hard to see why supermarkets around the world and more so in the UAE are going the jute way. India is not really that far from the UAE anyway so the carbon footprint of exporting jute to Dubai is kept to a minimum. If that's the case, why are we still using plastic bags? It just takes a change of mindset to get into the jute mentality and abandon the age-old tradition of using plastic bags.
Committed to eco-conservation
Georgina is originally from London although she has lived outside the UK for almost ten years. The Hearsons lived in Malaysia for a while, where Georgina did voluntary work with the rehabilitation of abused and abandoned children. It turned out to be a life-changing experience for her.
Tracey is married to Mark and they have two children: Cydney, who is six, and Aaron, who is four. Both are full-time mums, "which is a job in itself," Tracey adds. Both Georgina and Tracey had been committed to eco-conservation long before their idea of Jute Couture was born.
"I have always tried to be responsible as far as recycling is concerned," Georgina says. "Way back in 1991, one of the assignments for my design course was to create something environmentally relevant. I have always been of the view that we must encourage our kids to recycle cans. So I created a 'can bank' which was made of fibre glass and shaped like a smart hippo. These banks were placed in strategic locations in many schools encouraging children to deposit their empty drink cans in them."
Apart from creating eco-friendly ideas as part of her course, she has always been acutely aware of living a lifestyle that is eco-responsible. Her family is a great believer in the conservation and recycling processes. "We recycle various things in our home, we are mindful of water usage, we make sure we don't leave lights on when they are not needed and don't put the air-conditioning on the coldest setting." Tracey adds, "I am very much aware of how energy intensive we are in the Middle East, especially during summer when air-conditioning becomes an essential part of life. My husband changed all the light bulbs in the house to energy efficient ones and we operate on a strict 'when not in the room, no need for the lights to be on" policy.
"We emphasise this to our children on a regular basis. During summer we usually maintain the air-conditioning at 24-25°C which is on the warmer side but it is also healthier not to keep going from a very hot to a very cold environment. If we go out, we turn the A/C either off or set the thermostat to 27-28°C so we are not cooling the house unnecessarily. As far as water is concerned, we never use a sprinkler in the garden which can get left on and forgotten. Showers, not baths, also help to conserve water." Frugal fashion
The beauty of Jute Couture bags is that they are affordable, and there is a wide range to choose from. Even little girls can have their own 'Little Miss Jute' bags to tote around town. As for the boys, 'Monster Jute' bags are up for grabs. Jute Couture bags are produced with a carbon-neutral status. "Our manufacturer has offset their carbon emissions with Climate Care. Climate Care offsets the carbon dioxide by funding projects all around the world. These projects include:
- Renewable energy this replaces non-renewable fuels like coal.
- Energy efficiency this reduces the amount of fuel needed.
- Forest restoration this absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as the trees grow.
"When we came up with the idea, we agreed that we would not pursue this project unless we could find a manufacturer who could prove via a third party that they were ethical in their practices as well as being environmentally sound in their produce," says Georgina. "By that we mean that no children are involved in the manufacturing process of our bags. All inks used are water-based. The bags are not only biodegradable, they are also made of the highest quality jute grown to organic ideals. Even the weave is important. The closer the weave, the stronger the bag. Through these, we wish to continue setting new standards of trustworthiness so that our clients can enjoy our bags with a peace of mind."
Tracey adds, "Our current supplier fulfils the aims that Georgina has just mentioned because they are audited by an independent company several times a year. The manufacturer has around 8,000 workers and the youngest worker is 19 years old. There is even a dentist who checks the teeth of teenagers to ensure that the company doesn't employ children who are underage.
"Our manufacturer is recognised within the industry as a company that takes these matters seriously. You can actually double check this by viewing SEDEX, the ethical auditing system, used by all major retailers."
As a result of doing all the necessary groundwork and setting up a business that is wholesome, the market reaction towards their product has been positive. "We are delighted that our direct sales have been fantastic. Our biggest challenge was releasing an environmentally sound, ethically produced product at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world's economy," says Tracey.
"We have had immense interest with the bags and hope to take them to the various emirates," says Georgina. "We've already received inquiries from possible distributors in the UK, Australia, Canada and the US. There are purchases that have gone to the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas, Africa and various parts of Europe. Not bad for a company which only started selling in October 2008."
You would think that these Jute Couture ladies would have enough on their plate. But it looks like there is no stopping them. They have been faithfully seen at the Bastakiya Souq every Saturday since the beginning of the year and their patience and perseverance are paying off. "As a UAE-born company, we can help the UAE in its efforts to lead the green revolution in the Middle East," Georgina says.
Any thoughts about hosting an eco fashion show? "Eco fashion is already on the scene and we can see our bags complementing a fashion show soon."
For more information visit: http://jute-couture.com