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We all crave the perfect night sleep to kick start our day and nothing depicts a peaceful slumber like the feeling of fresh, crisp bed sheets. Enter White & Green, Ireland’s first 100% certified organic cotton bedding company. Perhaps the most important part of this family-run, Wicklow-based company is their dedication to ethical Fairtrade organic cotton from Kolkata, India, which guarantees safe labour practices, fair wages and community funding for all labourers. We spoke to international model turned businesswoman, Danielle Winckworth, to discuss how these seeds of inspiration flourished into a full-fledged success story.
“As an interior designer, my mum found it really hard to find high quality, affordable sheets for her clients, so she set out to source them herself. My sisters and I have always been passionate about eco-friendly and ethical products and realised that there was a huge gap in the market for sheets that were also sustainable, so it just made sense to create White & Green together,” Danielle explained.
White & Green truly is a family affair and Danielle credits her Mum, Sari Winckworth, as the driving force behind the business due to her dedication to finding the most ethical supplier for their products after years of research.
“My sister, Rebecca, is a graduate of London School of Economics and has a passion for organic, Fairtrade production and human rights. She works closely with India to ensure the smooth running of our production, from cotton seed through to final product and she is currently working on a short film about our cotton farmers in India,” she said.
Model of inspiration
Danielle is in charge of product design and the overall image of the brand. The product range includes bedsheets, scarves, throws and baby blankets. The design reflects the ethos of White & Green, embodying classic, simple designs on crisp white cotton. The said ethos is in harmony with the company’s personal and ethical spirit, paired with neutral colours to suit any style of room or outfit.
As an international model with agencies such as Ford, Storm and Morgan, Danielle has strutted runways in New York, LA, Paris and London. She has acted as cover girl for well-known brands such as L’Oreal, Asos, Swarovski, Nordstrom and DKNY. Looking back to these teenage days of long-haul flights, fashion shoots and school books, Danielle revealed that her fashionista days also educated her on the dark side of textile production and the unethical treatment of many workers and their trade.
“My work as a model took me on travels all around the world and gave me a really in-depth insight into the textiles and cotton industries. To be honest, the more I researched myself, the more horrified I became and my family felt the same. White & Green was the perfect opportunity to make a change. We wanted to offer normal people the most luxurious, gorgeous products that were also ethically produced,” Danielle explained.
Making a difference
And make a change they have, many of their farmers and workers have attested to the huge benefits of converting to organic cotton. Their health has drastically improved thanks to the lack of chemical usage which causes skin rashes, shortness of breath and depression through prolonged exposure. Danielle describes the factory as a ‘happy family unit’ thanks to an almost zero rate of employee turnover and the opportunity to grow and develop their career over time.
“One of our managers there started off as a young man packing boxes with no high school exams and very little English. Now he has perfect English, runs an entire team of people and has a really good salary that has allowed his whole family to be lifted out of poverty,” said Danielle.
The employees are paid wages several times higher than other local textiles factories and also receive pensions, supplemented canteens, free healthcare for their families and allowances for rent and transport.
As a Fairtrade company, White & Green also pay an extra amount of money called the Fairtrade premium which their factory and farming co-operative distributes to the workers, who then invest that money into their local community.
“Our partners on the cotton farms and in our factories are such wonderful and kind people, and they love hosting us! Our factory is spotlessly clean, with state of the art equipment. It is a safe and healthy environment for our workers with absolutely no toxic chemicals or dyes and they undergo rigorous inspections on a regular basis to ensure they meet international labour laws and environmental standards,” she said.
Harking back to her modelling days, Danielle remains aware that many brands within the industry fail to maintain such standards, with many high-street brands exposed for violating human rights in their supply chains for use of child labour, unsafe working conditions and unfair wages.
“Non-organic cotton is incredibly chemically-dependent, accounting for 25% of global pesticide use,” Danielle explained. “These pesticides are extremely toxic with up to 20,000 workers die in cotton-growing countries every year from pesticide poisoning. They are also really expensive for poor farmers to buy and they degrade soil quality, so farmers get caught in a vicious cycle of debt and poverty,” Danielle explained.
India has experienced 300,000 farmer suicides in the past thirty years alone and an estimated 25 to 77 million agricultural workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning across the world. These unethical conditions and harmful chemical residue found on cotton can cause issues such as skin irritation, rashes, and dizziness for the consumer.
Although White & Green pride themselves on certified organic products and ethically sourced and manufactured products, Danielle believes that public awareness in relation to product origin and manufacturing is quite low.
“People often think that buying ethically is too expensive, or that it won’t really make a difference in the long run. But I hope White & Green will encourage people to see that ethical can be affordable and that every individual has the power to change the world with their pocket. Every time we shop, we make a powerful statement about who we are. Buying ethically is a really powerful way to stand up for what we believe in.