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The environmental impact of the global textile industry is hard to overstate. One-third of the water used worldwide is spent fashioning fabrics. For every ton of cloth , 200 tons of water is polluted with chemicals and heavy metals. An estimated 1 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity powers the factories that card and comb, spin and weave, and cut and stitch materials into everything from T-shirts to towels, behind mountains of solid waste and a massive carbon footprint.
"Where the industry today is not really sustainable for the long term," says Shreyaskar Chaudhary, chief executive of Pratibha Syntex, a textile manufacturer based outside Indore, India. With something of an "if you build it, they will come" attitude, Mr. Chaudhary has steered Pratibha the leading edge of eco-friendly textile production. Under his direction, Pratibha began making clothes with organic cotton in 1999. Initially, the company couldn't find enough organic farms growing cotton in central India to its factories.
To meet production demands, Chaudhary's team had to convince conventional cotton farmers to change their growing methods. Pratibha provided seeds, cultivation instruction, and a guarantee of fair-trade prices for crops. Today, Pratibha has a network of 28,000 organic cotton growers across the central states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Orissa.