The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the foremost processing standard for textiles produced from organic fibres, set against rigorous environmental and social criteria along the entire textile supply chain.
It’s 10:30 and he hasn’t arrived yet.
I peep my head into Julie’s office.
“There was a slight mishap with the arrival. So we’ve sent Don’s son to fetch him.”
A few minutes later the phone rings. “He’s here. We’re all in the production office.”
A scramble for my laptop and notebook, and a race over to the mill.
In the design and production office that overlooks the weaving floor, the heads of department – weaving, design, looms, wholesale, CMT – are gathered. In between them, a new face: Sameer,
“The audit process is to discuss Mungo’s compliance. To check – from yarn stock, to weaving, washing, CMT and packaging – whether you comply with the standards as set out by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).”
I take notes. Snap a photo. The opening meeting continues.
The result was a crisp white flat weave that was, well, more than just a towel. It was a mark of our commitment to shift our yarn to organic sources. But despite being woven with GOTS-certified yarn, we couldn’t yet declare The Aegean itself to be GOTS certified.
So here we are, in an office where you can hear a pin drop, listening eagerly to the words of a representative of Control Union – a company outsourced to audit Mungo in compliance with GOTS.
Although I’m unsure as to what will unfold over the next 3 days, I do know that this is a big step for Mungo and so, camera and cellphone in hand, I am prepared to document every step of the way.
“The basic purpose of this first audit is to get an idea of current circumstances and then set targets for improvement.” There’s a few nods and maybe a sigh of relief.
I will observe the manufacturing, clearing, storing and packaging processes. For minor NCs (non-compliance) you’ll have 60 days. And 30 days for major ones.”
We move down to the floor, where Sameer inspects all measures of health and safety. Do we have fire extinguishers and are they correctly labelled? Is there an assembly point in the case of an emergency? Smoke alarms and exit signs? Do the doors open outwards?
In the stock room we look for places to designate the organic from the regular cotton.
“You’ll need to demarcate this area with green tape to avoid contamination.”
Within 24 hours this is up. As well as yellow floor tape to earmark each loom/weaving machine and the passage for exit. Check.
In the CMT (cut, make, trim) section we pass by the seamstresses. Miranda is busy cutting the new Kids of Kurland Kikoi. Stripes of pink and blue flutter out and catch the sunlight.
Sameer scrolls through his cellphone and presents a photo of metal gloves.
“She should wear these while cutting.”
In the administrative office we go through reams of paperwork.
“How many workers?”
“We have a staff of 74 here. And 15 up at our top mill in the Crags.”
We break for lunch under the trees of Old Nick Village. There is some hesitancy and shy smiles. I tell Sameer about a trip I took to India in 2012, and the broken Hindi I remember from bargaining at the markets in Colaba. A laugh is shared and the ice is broken.
Back in the office we go through documentation to check salaries, working hours, benefits, compensation and more… We look over company registration, tax clearance, occupancy certificates, workmen’s compensation, bargaining agreements… And then Sameer meets with a random selection of our team to check whether they’re happily employed at Mungo.
We trace the cycle of a yarn lot – from the purchase order, batch numbers, warping stage, production quantities, loss calculations, stitching stages, washing, packing lists, sale invoices and transportation… My pen flies over the page.
On Day 2 I collect Sameer from his accommodation and we head to the Mungo top mill at Melton farm with Lenore, Nadene and Moses. We complete the health and safety checks as per the day before. I can’t help being distracted by the warping machine. Thousands of threads are drawn from the cones, pass onto the creel and wind onto the beam.
We return to Old Nick to gather further paperwork, and between cups of tea, Sameer begins to compile his report.
On day 3, we meet up with Lenore at the mill, and then head over to the laundry service. Piles of bright Folly Beach Towels and geometric Itawulis pass through the machines and onto the iron rolling devices.
As before, we proceed with inspections, discuss the working conditions, trawl through paperwork and then get to the nitty gritty of traceability – tracing each lot of laundry, from arrival, to washing and ironing and return, and whether each step of the way is GOTS approved.
With high school Maths in my back pocket, I scramble over the calculator to help work out the energy consumption of the laundromat.
“The idea is to get an idea now, so that we can set targets for improvement. There are always ways to look at reducing the use of water and electricity…”
With the finish line now in sight, we return for a last team meeting. Sameer presents his final report, and any outstanding NCs that need to be fixed.
With a wry smile, we are told not to worry – all the NCs are solvable!
Fast forward a few months and the story gets put on hold.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa leaves us, like many other independent businesses, unsure what the future will hold; if there is one to envision at all.
And then, like a small beam in the darkness, a certificate lands in our mailboxes.
“All conditions to award your company a certificate have been fulfilled.”
Now the first certified weaving mill in the country, we can officially say, ‘We GOTs it.’
The Aegean Towel, and the products we hope to follow in its suit, live on to spin another yarn.