Carl Ludwig’s company is am Australian based start-up called Fibre for Good. Carl’s products are made in organic cotton and biodegradable of a very unique source.
Carl grew up in South Africa. His dad was out on the road, working in the clothing industry. When he was old enough, Carl took a position in a factory in Cape Town. But he had a mentor, who took Carl with him on buying trips to Italy.
From a humble start, Carl became very creative, loving to garden, cook, and do sculpting. In his 30’s he moved to Australia and remained in the clothing industry, both buying, selling, and managing. He found he was good with fabric and could talk to people. But he knew nothing of organic cotton.
As a buyer, he would visit China and Bangladesh where people were being paid just a couple of cents a day. Carl is a huge admirer of the work of James Bartle of Outland Denim who is pioneering to abolish the sort of slave labor in the clothing trade which he saw there.
On one trip to Bangladesh, Carl was sitting around a table chatting when someone explained to him that it takes 2700 litres of water to make one cotton t-shirt. Carl realized that to make his table line of t-shirts each week it took 32 million litres of water.
Carl knew how short the world is of drinking water. In Australia, they have been in drought for five years now. He was convinced that the clothing industry had to change over to organic cotton. He spoke to his senior manager, explain why, and that people were becoming more interested in sustainability but he got pushed to one side.
Increasingly frustrated, Carl decided he had had more than enough of the corporate world and that he needed to make his own contribution. He left a well-paid job and its opportunities to travel.
His first step was to phone his friend Fiona. Fiona had trained as a textile chemist near Beijing. There, everyone stays lifetime friends with those they study with. Her contacts were to prove crucial. Carl told Fiona that he wanted to do something with sustainability. She invited him over, saying she had a suitcase that she had never opened.
Intrigued, Carl went over. As soon as he looked inside, he saw gold. He found this wonderful cotton with a feel, unlike anything he had encountered. Carl says it smells like the grass in the South African planes newly fresh after a downpour of rain.
Within a month, they were in Beijing, striking a trade deal. A friend of Fiona was very senior in one of the organizations they now deal with there which has the complete supply chain they work with now. Carl had become an organic cotton warrior.
Fibre for Good and organic cotton
Carl though his biggest challenge would be convincing his wife of the venture, but she has been amazing. They have had to borrow from their mortgage and they both know there is no turning back. But Karl says it is a great feeling to be doing something good every day for his family and for the planet.
Fiona and he started with research that led them to discover ONCC natural color, organic cotton. The mainstream cotton trade story is a sad one. During the industrial revolution, cotton was modified to improve its yield. This made the seeds unusable for re-planting.
In poor areas where GMO cotton is grown today, farmers only have access to new seeds and chemicals via one corporation. They cannot get the chemicals without paying three times over value for the seed. 7,000 of these farmers commit suicide every year. Within the families, there are respiratory issues, skin problems, and children born with deformities. But they have no choice but to continue.
Carl’s organic cotton grows in the north of China, near the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Carl describes it as a desert ringed with mountains. Trading from here goes back to the old Silk Roads, used since 200 BCE. Farmers are using the same regenerative processes as thirteen generations of their ancestors have, on the same land, rotating crops and diversifying the soil. These processes don’t need chemicals and new crops are grown from the natural seeds.
This organic cotton has never been released before outside China. It is hand-picked and longer-lasting. It feels amazing, something akin to cashmere, and is hypoallergenic and anti-static. All their products are 100% organic and 100% biodegradable.
The saving on water from using these processes is staggering, around 80-90%. . Fibre for Good’s hospital bag for new mothers saves sufficient water to hydrate an adult for twelve years.
In just one organic cotton T-shirt, there is a saving of over a year of adult drinking water
Fibre for Good is the first company in Australia to produce babywear in ONCC. They chose to start with baby clothes because the fabric was so suitable but the plan is to expand that and they know that towels and socks are going to be huge sellers and sleepwear is coming soon.
Australia is very price conscious and Carl says the UK is a long way ahead in interest levels in sustainable fabrics and clothing, including organic cotton. Carl is seeking a large retailer to try and expand on a large scale but of course, have been held back by COVID. They have already expanded into New Zealand.
With more and more people becoming conscious of the need to stop the damage to our planet, I wanted to ask Carl his advice as to where a new entrepreneur could start, or indeed, how existing entrepreneurs can adapt to more sustainable practices, not just in the organic cotton field but in any way that makes a difference.
Based on his personal experience, he says he had to completely reinvent himself. He entrenched himself in everything sustainable, from blogs to signing up for newsletters, to networking. He says you need to surround yourself with like-minded people who share your passion.
He says that it is inevitable that you start to question your own values, becoming more conscious of what you do and how you do it. It starts to be second nature to get onto Google and find out if there is an alternative, better way of doing each thing. You will then start to open your mind to both learning and seeing what changes you can make.
Carl says it changes from being all about sell, sell, sell to collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. Transparency is vital and you need to help others, be open to change and drop your guard.
He advises you to find people you can trust to mentor you. He has had two people of great value from the start and has found people so generous and willing to give free advice. One of them, he used to supply when he was in the clothing industry. This guy had an underwear brand at the time and Carl helped him expand into outerwear. He asked Carl to stay in touch and has been helping Carl on his journey in organic cotton.
Carl also discovered Sally Fox, an innovator in California who was behind FoxFibre cotton and a pioneer in natural and organic cotton development. She invented the first species of environmentally friendly colored cotton that could be spun into thread onto a machine. She was a huge help to Carl before she died and he says he would never have got this far without her.
Carl explains that he is also campaigning to change people’s perceptions of organic cotton and see that cheap is expensive. If you add the cost of the water in, GM cotton after all the processes have been finished is actually more expensive.
He believes we should be moving back to times when we invest in quality that lasts. He describes how he remembers his grandfather polishing his boots beautifully to ensure they lasted a lifetime. We are programmed to buy and become bored now. We need to be more grateful for what we have and move away from being a disposable society.
Carl is determined to do what he can personally. While he was lucky to know Fiona for contacts and to know the shipping side of things already, Carl says he would always help mentor someone who came knocking on his door, be they in organic cotton or any other industry aiming to contribute to a more sustainable planet.
If you would like to read more of the organic cotton industry, here is another article giving more depth.
You might also like to read of another Australian entrepreneur, Adrian Falk of Believe Advertising
If your business has an unusual story and you would like to be featured, or if you would like to be the first to read new stories as they get released, don’t hesitate to get in touch.