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The critical role of organic textiles in the fashion market of the future

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Organic textiles are seen as one of the most ? if not the most sustainable sort of textiles per se. This ultimate claim requires a holistic approach from field to fashion: It requires solutions from the raw materials in fibre production throughout the entire processing chain all the way to the consumer. (GOTS) is the
appropriate implementing instrument. GOTS is recognised as the leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres worldwide. It defines high level environmental criteria along the entire supply chain of organic textiles and requires
compliance with social criteria as well.

What organic textiles are: The road from fibre to finished product
There are two main categories of fibres: natural fibres, which can be from plant or animal sources and man made fibres, also referred as synthetic or artificial fibres. Man made fibres can be roughly divided into cellulosic ? eg. from wood, bamboo or proteins and synthetic fibres, eg. from oil, coal or gas.

Man made fibres are made from non renewable resources, the production is
energy-intensive, many harmful substances are used and they are problematic with
respect to degradability and potential for bio-accumulation.

Conventional, means non organic, natural fibres score with renewability but they
face their own fundamental sustainability challenges. The economically most
important plant fibre is cotton. According to the latest Organic Cotton Market Report from Textile Exchange the global organic cotton market has been estimated to be  US$15.7 billion in 2015. It is grown in more than 100 countries, mainly in India, China and USA. Cotton is a toxic crop. While occupying just 2.5 percent of agricultural land area, it uses 7 percent of the total amount of pesticides used in farming globally each year and 16 percent of all insecticides, not to mention the cotton defoliants used. Farmers are exposed to all those toxic substances, often neurotoxins. Looking at the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds many farmers become dependent from multinational seed companies because they are no longer able to win their own seeds from the harvest. Furthermore the argument to save pesticides using GM seeds is at least controversial – increasing number of studies prove the contrary. Conventional—non organic—animal fibres are for example silk or wool from sheeps, cashmere, mohair, alpaca or silk. With those fibres we face sustainability problems regarding medication and animal torture in large-scale animal husbandry and again high pesticide exposure when cleaning the sheeps in pesticide pools to name only two. Organic fibres address and offer solutions to those problems. As per International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), definition of organic agriculture is “Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.” This contains the ban of hazardous fertilizers and pesticides, synthetic defoliants and GM seeds. Farmers can win their own seeds and in addition
the organic cotton is grown alongside food which feed the farmers. A recent life cycle assessment from Textile Exchange showed that organic cotton is proven to cause less
environmental damage than conventional cotton with
• 46% reduced global warming potential
• 70% less acidification potential
• 26% reduced eutrophication potential (soil erosion)
• 91% reduced blue water consumption
• 62% reduced primary energy demand

GOTS does not set own criteria for organic fibre production but requires organic certification of fibres on basis of recognised international or national standards (IFOAM family of standards, EEC 834/2007, USDA NOP). Certification of fibres from conversion period is possible if the applicable farming standard permits such certification. A textile product carrying the GOTS label grade ‘organic’ must contain a minimum of 95 percent certified organic fibres whereas a product with the label grade ‘made with organic’ must contain a minimum of 70 percent certified organic fibres.

But to come back to the holistic view the production of fibres is far from being enough. What about the processing stages following like ginning (cotton), spinning, knitting, weaving, wet processing (pretreatment, dyeing, printing finishing) or manufacturing? Opening the black box of processing we find hazardous dyes or persistent hormone-disrupting chemicals harmful to human health or the environment on an international scale. One-fifth of the water used in textile processing is to dilute
pollution.

GOTS sets general criteria like gernal bans on harmful substances like formaldehyde, toxic heavy metals, GMOs, separation, record keeping, environmental policy and social criteria for all processing stages. It sets general criteria for the assessment of chemical inputs like meeting limits on human and environmental (aquatic, fauna, flora and soil) toxicity as well as on biodegradability or eliminability. Furthermore GOTS sets specific criteria for the different processing stages like functional waste water treatment plant materials for accessories and finishing methods. Based on organic fibers, organic textiles are so being processed with the least possible impact and residual natural and synthetic chemical inputs, under good social conditions. The entire supply chain is controlled by a Third Party Certification, conducted by independent accredited certifiers.

Regulations for organic textiles
There are no uniform international legal standards for processing of organic fibres.
Though China, Brazil and Argentina introduced national organic textile standards at earlier stages, yet they did not gain any considerable impact or recognition. India introduced export procedures for organic textiles in November 2014 but they were later withdrawn. USA has a legal standard for cotton fibres (NOP) but not for organic textiles.

GOTS as a private standard is a result of a harmonisation process of different regional standards into one worldwide coherent standard. In May 2011, United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), which for wet processing plants, limitations on legally regulates the term ‘organic’ in USA, endorsed Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) as the standard of choice for sale of organic textiles in USA. In order to sell textile products as organic in USA, it is also necessary that the fibres used should be certified as per NOP. In April 2014, IFOAM–Organic International supported GOTS in a formal public endorsement.

The future business case for sustainability for (certified) organic textiles
Whenever a business offers a solution for a sustainability related problem it gains competitive advantages. Also basically a company’s license to operate will depend on how it deals with sustainability issues in the future. This includes reputational or image effects towards business partners and consumers, direct effects like how sustainability based purchasing requirements of the buyers sustainability policy can be met as well as how investors evaluate creditworthiness. Serious sustainability engagement differs from self claims by third party certification of independent standards like GOTS. The business case starts with reducing and controlling risks. GOTS standard serves as a risk management instrument and furthermore as a communication instrument to create trust. Companies apply GOTS to avoid ecologic and social risks in the supply chain or to reduce risks when launching new products. GOTS can also serve as an early warning system for potential risks. For example, if new substances are attacked
by campaigns like Greenpeace’s Detox campaign. You can quickly find the source of such harmful substances (as you already have an environmental system in place) and phase them out of your system. But it is not only protection against reputation risks but also builds reputation values. Good business is efficient. You can achieve improvements in ecological-efficiency of your production process, e.g., by replacing toxic inputs with
eco-friendly inputs to save disposal costs. You can achieve improvements in your socio-efficiency by training employees, paying better wages or by improving working conditions, which would also decrease the rate of illness. GOTS is an efficient supply chain manager as well. You only have to look at your supplier, if he is GOTS certified; you know that all suppliers before him are certified too. You don’t need to develop an own track and tracing system. This makes GOTS more cost saving and therefore efficient. Here is an interesting example. According to an ISEAL survey, 78 percent of the companies who were asked “What benefits do you get from standards system?” answered that ‘operational efficiencies’ are the benefits; marketing followed with 60 percent and sustainability performance with 56 percent. Good business is innovative: With certified organic textile you can open new markets and may even open the door to public procurers. You can also get access to niche markets. More and more governments are integrating sustainability into their procurement guidelines. And it is a fact that customers are willing to pay more. According to the findings of many research programs, consumers are willing to pay 20 percent more for a sustainable product. For the fashion industry, this also means the challenge to continue fulfilling the other needs of consumers for example products have to stay fashionable, only sustainable is not enough. India is the country with
highest number of GOTS certified facilities. Though the general trend is reported as the certifications are taken on the basis of buyer generated demand, yet there are some companies who have already understood the business case for sustainability and implemented the same in their respective units. We appreciate the same and hope that more Indian companies make sustainability an integral part of their common
management systems.

Availability of GOTS certified organic textile products
At the end of 2014, 3663 facilities in 64 countries were GOTS certified – an increase of about 18 percent compared to 2013.

GOTS certified organic textiles are available in all segments of textile trade- garments, kids-wear, casuals, formals, towels, bed linens, aprons, carpets, even socks and sportswear. This includes high end fashion garments as well. Yes, the availability would be limited. The reason being- the area under organic farming (for cotton) is less than 10 percent. For the standard rule of demand and supply, in order to increase availability,
more and more brands and consumers have to pledge their support to certified organic textiles. This will propagate the demand down the supply chain till the organic farmers.

Times are changing already and a 10 percent increase in organic cotton fibre production has been reported in Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report 2014.

From manufacturing perspective (GOTS certified facilities) India, Turkey and China are at the top. While consumption remains in the western economies and other developed economies like Japan etc. There is also a noteworthy increasing interest in GOTS certification in Europe where more than 850 facilities are now certified. Big brands and retailers all over Europe and the US are initiating a “pull effect” on the whole supply chain by increasing their demand for organic respectively GOTS certified textiles.

Starting with the risk management strategy more and more products are labelled and therefore visible to the consumer. C&A as one of the top users of organic cotton with
global presence recently launched it’s first GOTS certified and labelled Baby Collection.

Labelling of organic textiles and trademark protection
There is no secure method to verify if organic (cotton) fibre self-claims in a final product are accurate. But consumers can rely upon a product labelled to a reliable third party standard like GOTS where the labelling is controlled and endorsed by the accredited certification body. The license number must be mentioned on the label.
With the increasing recognition of value of the logo and certification program, it becomes imperative for the labelling and trademark protection of GOTS. It is very important for the buyers and the consumers to cross check the claims with the GOTS Public Database, available on GOTS website. In the meanwhile, several measures are being undertaken by GOTS to curb these violations through effective communication with concerned party and taking appropriate action such as corrective and/or legal action and/or publication of the transgression so as to safeguard the credibility of the program
and its labelling system.

For future market growth of organic textiles two things are crucial: First to paint the
whole picture by considering the entire textile supply chain from production via
processing and trading to the consumer and second to enable the consumer to
distinguish between self-claims and independent third party certification as
provided by GOTS.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Herbert Ladwig is a corporate lawyer with several corporations in Germany and other
countries in different fields including apparel industry. For the last 30 years, Ladwig has been the legal and policy adviser to the International Association Natural Textile Industry, the oldest organic textile producers’ organisation. He has served as the coordinator of the “GOTS International Working Group”, facilitating the creation of the Global Organic Textile Standard through this harmonisation process. He together with GOTS Technical Director Marcus Bruegel, was instrumental in bringing about the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) in 2006 after a 4 year international harmonisation process led by him, including the four GOTS founding organisations from the US, Germany, Great Britain and Japan and involving further standard owning organisations. He was the key leader in shaping the efficient organisational structure of GOTS in a lean management approach. In year 2008, GOTS operating unit “Global Standard gemeinnützige GmbH” was incorporated in Germany. He holds the position of Managing Director from the establishment of this operating unit.

en is the Marketing Director of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and also Representative for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Kersten has studied Business Economics at the Administration and Economic Academy of Koblenz and holds a Master of Business Administration Degree in Sustainability Management from the Leuphana University, Lueneburg. Her research interest lies in contributions of Standards to the Business Case for Sustainability. She is actively involved in the field of sustainable textiles since 2005 and has worked as a consultant and as an editor of a business to business magazine “natürlich natur” in Germany. Previously, she served as a board member (responsible for marketing) with IVN, the Germany based member organisation of the GOTS International Working Group.