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Cotton On: How Bhumi is Reshaping The Textiles Industry

As founder of Bhumi Organic Cotton, Vinita Baravkar is unwaveringly committed to eliminating the devastating impacts of conventional cotton farming.

‘Bhumi’ means Mother Earth in Sanskrit. It represents what Vinita’s business does and leans into the wisdom of what was. Namely, the antithesis to fast-fashion, unethical labour practices and use of harmful chemicals in textiles. 

Since 2018, Bhumi has taken meaningful strides towards making a sustainable lifestyle the new standard, having reached 100,000+ customers and over $15m in revenue. Now, it is seeking to expand globally and recently opened itself to a successful community investment opportunity

Read on to learn about Vinita and her relentless dedication to education and awareness of fair practices to change the lives of textile producers, consumers and our planet.

Written by Romayne Perera with Vinita Baravkar

My journey started in paediatric nursing, thanks to my beautiful parents. My dad, a doctor and my mum, a nurse. In my time in nursing, I most loved the teaching aspect and working with mums and children to educate on health issues. Leaning into this passion towards education, I went on to complete my Masters in International Public Health, with the aim of working overseas. My heart and mind said Africa but the universe in her infinite wisdom, sent me to India. 

I was born in Australia but India was never unfamiliar to me. I am Indian-Australian (or Australian-Indian) after all. Trips to India as a child were an important aspect of mine and my sibling’s upbringing, to keep us connected and grounded in our roots. Some of my fondest memories of those childhood trips were running amongst the cotton bales of the cotton farms my grandfather oversaw. To this day, when I close my eyes to sleep, I remember the feeling of preparing the rajai with my siblings and cousins for us to sleep on. These treasured memories have materialised as the Bhumi brand and inspiration for product development. Spoiler alert: a rajai (a form of bedding or quilt) will be included in our range.

In direct contrast, I also spent a lot of time in New York working with various companies and NGOs. I was assigned to work on agricultural zones in India, presumably on preventative health education for diseases like malaria or TB. What I actually experienced fundamentally changed the direction of my life and work.

You see, these agricultural zones are also depressingly referred to as “suicide belts.” A direct reference to the high number of farmer suicides resulting from the debilitating impacts of an unchecked textile and conventional cotton industry: genetically modified seed sold at high cost, pesticide poisoning and toxic chemical exposure.

These ugly truths fractured everything I thought I knew about the industry. The seed-to-shelf practice was a veritable domino effect of chaos for the person planting the seed, right down to the consumer interacting with the item.

The stories from my time in the field could not be unseen or unheard but my beautiful mum always taught me to find at least one positive amongst any negative. This started a process of picking up all the fractured shards on a journey to understanding what was safe for the environment, for producers and for us as consumers. 

I continued working in health but kept noticing the same patterns. The high instances of farmer suicides and the disastrous impacts on surviving families, owing to the industry practices, shook me to my core. The control exercised by genetically modified seed companies and the conventional cotton industry, including the volume of toxic pesticides needed to grow crops and “terminator technology” that renders seeds futile for year-on-year harvesting, engineers a debt trap results in the most devastating course of action for farmers. Importantly, farmers are now speaking out, wanting out and wanting change.

Through Bhumi, I wanted to be part of the solution with the farming community. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “there is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” 

To continue our learning and understanding of organic farming practices, we travel to India annually to work with a co-op of farmers committed to organic practices. I am also fortunate enough to have had my education bolstered by my mum, who has always led a life based on Ayurvedic principles and healing from the Earth. 

Our processes focus on ancient wisdom and harvesting, harnessing what nature provides, including gratefully receiving monsoon rain to feed a traditionally “thirsty-crop” and running our factories using solar panels. Crucially, pre-colonisation, everything was organic. There were no pesticides. You worked with the land, with nature, with what you had. So, we use marigolds and neem leaves as pesticides. 

To this end, Bhumi is Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified for organic cotton and linen. This is the strictest certification for preserving integrity of the material as it starts and as it ends, ensuring it is unaffected by intense processing in between. Bamboo as a textile material, for example, cannot receive GOTS certification. We won’t work with any materials that are altered with intense processing. This is our compass.

I love what I am able to do through Bhumi. I love being able to continue educating because eventually the seeds sprout. I love that I am on this journey with my husband, daughter and team. I love that I am part of the ASAC community that holds people together. Women helping women to band together and pull each other up: like-minded souls working together. 

Mum has always said that above all else, love is the secret ingredient. Inner, divine love. 

Visit Bhumi Organic Cotton stores in Collingwood (VIC) and Byron Bay (NSW).

For more info: bhumi.com.au and follow on Instagram @bhumi_organic_cotton

Connect with Vinita on LinkedIn

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