WHAT MAKES A BRAND ORGANIC?
In the broad sense of the term, ‘organic’ refers to the process of manufacture or production without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, genetic modification, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc. When we talk about organic fashion, we are generally referring to the raw materials used in the manufacture of the clothing, shoes or bags. The most common raw material used is cotton, with almost half of all clothing manufactured around the world containing cotton.
Organic fashion is better for a variety of reasons, and here are just a few of them:
- The use of organic cotton is better for the environment as there is minimum use of pesticides and chemicals in the farming process. Organic cotton can be certified as per the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and only textiles that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibers can become GOTS certified.
- Organic textiles don’t use GMO crops. 90% of all cotton that is cultivated around the world is GMO (or a genetically modified organism), modified for higher yields and to be pest resistant. That may sound good, but GMO crops have also been linked to the breakdown of biodiversity and the depletion of nutrients in the soil. GMO cotton also uses large amounts of water, and therefore has a significant impact on availability of finite natural resources as well as adverse human health effects.
- Organic fashion benefits farming communities too as local producers can grow food crops for subsistence or sale alongside the cotton for manufacturing as part of the same crop rotation.
- There is also a social aspect to producing organic fashion. Nearly all organic producers and manufacturers adhere to a certain standard of fair wages, safe working conditions, as well as workers’ rights. This makes going organic not only more safe and more healthy, but also more fair and just.
The term ‘natural’ in this context means existing in or derived from nature and that which is not man-made or caused by human-kind. Cotton is a natural fibre and when it is cultivated without the use of man-made chemicals or substances may be referred to as a ‘natural’ product. Natural does not technically mean organic.
A ‘synthetic’ product is that which is derived from a chemical synthesis or from an artificial substance, often made to mimic a natural product. In this context synthetic refers to fibres that are man-made by the use of chemicals or artificial fibres and then converted into textiles. There are ‘natural’ fibres like cotton and wool and artificially derived fibres like nylon and polyester that are referred to as synthetics.
A blend refers to the mixing of two or more different fibres to create a fabric with the desired qualities or characteristics. The use of blended fibres can combine the characteristics of the individual fibers to achieve the desired thickness, elasticity, colour, strength etc.
GMO (or a genetically modified organism) is modified for higher yields and to be pest resistant (but not resistant to all pests). 90% of all cotton that is cultivated around the world is GMO. GMO crops have also been linked to the breakdown of biodiversity due to the extensive use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and the depletion of nutrients in the soil. GMO cotton also uses large amounts of water and therefore has a significant impact on availability of finite natural resources as well as adverse human health.
ORGANIZATIONS, CERTIFICATIONS AND SYMBOLS
For a full list of certifications and standards, check out Ecolabel Index’s alphabetical index of 107 ecolabels @ http://www.ecolabelindex.com/ecolabels/?st=category,textiles
Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS)
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an internationally recognised organic textile standard. Since its introduction in 2006, GOTS has demonstrated its practical feasibility and is supported by the growth in consumption of organic fibres and the demand for a unified processing criteria from the industry and retail sectors. GOTS ensures the organic status of textiles from the harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing all the way to labelling, in order to provide credible assurances to the consumer. The standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70 percent certified organic natural fibres. The final fibre products may include, but are not limited to, yarns, fabrics, clothes and home textiles. However, this standard does not set criteria for leather products.
The Soil Association is one of UK’s leading organic certification bodies offering a huge range of organic and sustainable certification schemes across food, farming, catering, health and beauty, textiles and forestry. Their certification business is the UK’s oldest and most experienced and licenses over 70% of the organic food on sale here.
Max Havelaar Fairtrade certified cotton
The Max Havelaar Foundation (Switzerland) was founded in 1992 by the six large Swiss charities Brot für alle, Caritas, Fastenopfer, HEKS, Helvetas and Swissaid. It promotes the consumption of products from disadvantaged regions which are fairly traded and produced according to strict social and ecological criteria. These goods then receive the Max Havelaar label. More and more frequently, Fairtrade cotton is being combined with organic cotton. Organically produced cotton also receives a label certifying that it is from organically grown crops.
Textile Exchange Organic Content Standard
Textile Exchange is a global non-profit that works closely with our members to drive industry transformation in preferred fibers, integrity and standards and responsible supply networks. We identify and share best practices regarding farming, materials, processing, traceability and product end-of-life in order to reduce the textile industry’s impact on the world’s water, soil and air, and the human population. Their mission is to inspire and equip people to accelerate sustainable practices in the textile value chain, focussing on minimizing the harmful impacts of the global textile industry and maximizing its positive effects.
Green Tick Certification
Independent sustainability certification of products, services, and corporations based on a life-cycle audit of performance against the Green Tick Sustainability Standards. GreenTick also certifies for Climate-Friendly, Natural, GE-Free, Organic, and Fair Trader brands.
The Institute for Marketecology (IMO) is an international agency for inspection, certification and quality assurance of eco-friendly products. For more than 20 years, IMO has been active in the field of organic certification but it is also active in the sectors of natural textiles, sustainable forestry, and social accountability monitoring.