Organic cotton is the material of the hour and the most significant indication of the growing market. The balance of power is still unequal – organic cotton only has a less than 1 % share of the total cotton market – but the growth figures are all the more impressive. 175,000 t of the ecologically genuine raw material were harvested in 2008 and 2009, a remarkable 20 % more than the season before. This corresponds to more than 800,000 bales. Altogether 222,000 organic farmers in 22 countries grow cotton at the moment. The demand is boosted by new markets like Eastern Europe and Asia and by established markets like North America and Europe. Alone the demand from the booming market in Great Britain will have trebled by 2012 according to market estimates. Other natural fibres like wool, silk, flax or hemp, which also originate from organic cultivation or natural livestock production, carry proportionally little weight at the moment. All these fibres are ecologically the best choice, as they are kind to man and the environment in an exemplary way. (picture: Textile Area at BioFach)
However, as the worldwide demand for fibres of more than 70 million t cannot be covered by natural fibres alone, manufacturers are discussing new materials and fibres of the future – and not only at the Textile Forum at BioFach. Examples of such fibres are semi-synthetics (cellulose fibres like viscose) and synthetics (artificial fibres like polyester). Basically, these fibres can also be processed cleanly and save scarce resources like energy and water and reduce environmentally harmful chemicals. According to experts, the whole sector will have to open up to the latest research and life cycle assessment, which not only examine the fibres but the entire finishing process. Swedish experts have recently calculated that 1 kg of conventional textiles can contain more than 6 kg of chemicals. None of this can be seen on textile labels yet, but there are positive lists for eco fashion that stipulate which chemicals are allowed at all. (picture: entrance of BioFach/Vivaness - calling attention to eco-textiles)
“Green fashion doesn’t look less smart just because it’s top of the eco class. Many stars are now also literally properly dressed. Supermodels like Eva Padberg, Thomas D., singer from the Fantastic Four, or actress Cosma Shiva Hagen actively support green fashion,” says Dr. Kirsten Brodde, sector expert and operator of a blog for green fashion. “It has become easier for customers to dress themselves from head to foot, although this is still associated with a certain amount of searching. Some 20 nationwide concept stores specialize exclusively in green fashion and the shop sizes are growing. An online shop is usually also offered. According to recent research among German shop owners, T-shirts are the top-selling item of clothing, but jeans generate the most revenue.”
Consumers have generally become more willing to spend more money for sustainably produced products. Customers tend to be prepared to dig into their pockets a little deeper for textiles and food. This is the result of a consumer survey by the E-Commerce-Center Handel (ECC)/ Institut für Handelsforschung (IfH), Cologne, in cooperation with the online portal Stayfair.de, Duisburg, in July 2010. The trend to natural textiles and eco fashion also increases the demands on the manufacturers. Customers would like to be better informed, for example, through printing on the label on the actual product. In reality, ecologically and socially correct products cannot always be recognized reliably, for instance, because the number of test labels has grown very strongly. For clothing it is a matter of the environment and ethics, of social responsibility towards those who make the clothing, but many labels only cover one or the other of these aspects. (pictures above, left and below: today, green fashion can be casual, elegant or functional)
The future therefore belongs to compiled labels that combine environmental and social criteria and cover all elements of the production chain from field to wardrobe. Many manufacturers and customers would like organic to automatically also mean fair in the future. “Ecological and social belong together,” explained Günther Bachmann, Secretary General of the German Sustainability Council, at a conference on the future of green fashion in Berlin in June 2010. The label of the Global Organic Textile Standard GOTS, for example, has high standards in these two respects and is gaining acceptance: The number of certified textile companies grew from only 26 in 2006 to as many as 2,800 in mid 2010.
The purely social labels are also getting ahead in the textile sector. 2 million clothing articles of fair trade cotton were sold in Germany in 2009, more than twice as many as in 2008. As much as half the fair trade cotton also comes from organic farming. Many companies want to accept their social responsibility, as also shown by the support for the Fair Wear Foundation FWF. The Dutch union of industry associations, trade unions and non-government organizations ranks as one of the strictest and most careful inspectors of working conditions. Only 29 manufacturers asked to be monitored in 2006, but as many as 51 companies in 2009.
Experts call for legislation against greenwashing in the textile sector, as does Dr. Brodde: “Those who strive for ecological and social labels also take their commitment seriously. On the other hand, those who only want a green and social wash to push promotion must expect to be put in their place by consumer centres and product testers – as shown by a number of court rulings and product tests. The Federal Association of Consumer Centres recently called for legal controls to determine whether the products live up to their promise. However, there are no legal regulations yet as far as fashion is concerned.”
(Pictures: BioFach and Organic-Market.Info)
Info: Organic cotton, the material of the hour
Share of organic cotton of total cotton market: 1 %
Eco textile trade in Germany: increasingly easier to dress in eco fashion!
20 concept stores sell eco fashion in Germany, often with an online shop too
The future belongs to compiled labels that combine environmental and social criteria and cover all elements of the production chain from field to wardrobe.