— We wrote this article in 2017. Left here as a reminder of our past views, ideas and as a note to what we were able to do all those years ago. —
How sustainable are Cora + Spink backpacks?
Shouting about sustainability is great. Big bold statements are wonderful. So when it comes to the nitty gritty, what are we doing that’s genuinely sustainable? What is a sustainable backpack?
The outer canvas of a Cora + Spink backpack is made from a tough 18 to 22 ounce waxed cotton.
The canvas is woven just three miles away from where the backpacks are made in Kolkata. Our mill only uses Indian cotton, known for its long fibre lengths, is extremely long lasting, hard wearing, durable and from reputable and traceable farms.
In the future we will be able to specify single origin cotton. When this happens, our outer canvas will be traceable back to the exact farm from where it is grown.
After weaving the raw canvas moves from the mill into our own processing facilities. A workshop owned by the same family for over 70 years. It is here that we worked with the family to develop our own unique “Cora + Spink” finishing process.
For the last 2 years we have helped the workshop obtain SEDEX accreditation, enabling them to grow the business and win new custom.
At the workshop the canvas is finished predominantly by hand, the canvas is divided into 15 to 20kg bundles. It is then washed, laminated, waxed, waterproofed and then finally washed and dried, all done by skilled and well-paid workers, who we know by name!
Why is this important?
Knowing where something is coming from is as important, by using only traceable sources of canvas we can be sure that at each stage we are monitoring the use of water, chemicals and labour conditions.
Using a family owned finishing facility for the canvas enables us to not only be hands on in the development of the canvas we produce, but we can work with the suppliers to help support them outside of being just a customer.
Being nice I think is a simple answer in this situation, we give time to understand the needs of a supplier and feed back with our knowledge. In this particular example we provided some guidance on achieving accreditation which has directly brought in new work for the workshop.
The lining is made from Khadi cotton. Khadi cotton is made within Kolkata by village workers protected by a government backed co-operative. The workers are not just protected by the government from exploitation but are guided and helped to grow their own businesses, provide education and resources so they can grow as individuals.
Khadi by name is a sustainable resource. Everything from the fibres to spin the yarn to the weaving of the cloth is done within small circles of families and groups. No electricity is used in the making of our khadi, it is an off the grid, simple and completely beautiful handmade product from every aspect.
Why is this important?
For a backpack to be sustainable it has to be functional and look great. Bringing together practicality and aesthetics makes Cora + Spink backpacks an item that’s cherished, loved and respected – with a goal of being repaired and kept for as long as possible.
Khadi cotton is a beautiful product. When we discovered its existence we were overwhelmed with excitement. Here we had a cotton canvas, that was rugged and strong, made by hand and by purchasing it was automatically giving back to the community.
Vegan Backpack Production
In 2018 we started to look at what it meant to be vegan, and from there, with help from several UK resources including the Vegan Society we developed our range of Vegan backpacks.
Each vegan backpack is produced on its own clean production line ensuring no potential contamination, but more than that we analysed every component from glue to threads to canvas to ensure that each backpack produced is 100% Vegan.
In 2019 we were proud to launch two 100% Vegan Backpacks (recognised by our Vegan Mark). In 2020 the range is growing with vegan accessories and more vegan backpacks. We will continue to grow this important sector and work with recognised partners to help develop even more innovative solutions.
Why is this important?
To keep our suppliers busy we have to be innovative and make products that keep our customers happy. In the world of business “people” say we need to seek a problem and solve it – in our case we were approached so often by people who wanted to purchase our products, but couldn’t because of our use of leather that we decided we had to look at our options.
Ensuring our product range is relevant and wanted is key to ensuring a sustainable and growing business. The very fact that veganism as a lifestyle choice can be kinder on the environment is all just that much nicer!
Sustainable Leather Backpacks
At the leather tannery, dangerous processes and chemicals are used.
There are several concerns we have when it comes to leather, first is related to the handling of the chemicals and liquids used to turn the hide into leather and their disposal after use. Secondly, the processes the tannery has for its workers, ensuring they are protected from exposure to chemicals.
Part of our working policy is that every supplier obtain accreditation from independent testers throughout the year.
For the last 3 years we have been working with the following private and government bodies in India, directly and through auditing partners to ensure our policies, ethics and ideology is realistic, achievable and sustainable.
Social Accountability Accreditation Services (SAAS) Council of Leather Exports (CLE) Indian Leather Products Association (ILPA) Indian Trade Promotions Organizations (ITPO) Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) SEDEX Our ethical policy is being continually updated with new certificates, and ways we are working to improve. A full resource list is available online.
Why is this important?
The sourcing and supply of the raw animal hides and the processes thereafter without strict controls can impact the local environments very quickly. In india, specifically Kolkata (where leather production accounts for a large percentage of employment) we only work with well established tanneries. The local government in West Bengal has always supported the leather industry and in general the acceptance of rules has been well adopted.
We still face a dilemma when working with leather, this is why we ensure not only is the sourcing properly audited. But the use of the leather in design and production is right. Leather is a long lasting and very strong material. It has been used for many years and has no plant based or chemical based equivalents. It really is unique.
Of course supporting local suppliers is good for the local population, but we must keep an eye out for new ways or replacements.