Organic food labelling and availability has come a long way in the last 10 years and it is highly probably that you know where to find organic produce in your area.
Textiles are lagging behind, but as consumers demand more transparency, fashion brands and retailers are looking to source certified products. This trend is slowly trickling through to dress making fabrics. The king of certification schemes is named the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and certified products will be labelled as either “organic” or “made with x% organic.”
Fabric certified as organic contains at least 95% certified organic fibres and those labelled as “made with x% organic” contain at least 70% certified organic fibres. To achieve certification all stages of production and manufacturing must comply with strict criteria. Certification under GOTS covers the whole supply chain right to the final product.
At the start of the supply chain, the farming must be certified organic. GOTS recognises international or national organic farming standards that are accepted in the country where the final product will be sold. Organic farming focus on soil health without the use of synthetic chemicals. Farms must undergo soil testing and have a farm plan that covers all aspects of maintaining good soil health.
Next, all processors and manufacturers must undergo an annual audit to maintain accreditation. Accreditation requires environmental, quality, toxicity and social benchmarks be met. The major things covered include:
- All chemical inputs meet toxicity and biodegradability basic standards
- A range of toxic and known carcinogens are prohibited from being used
- All facilities must have an environmental policy in place
- All wastewater must be treated before discharged to local waterways
- Quality and human toxicity residue standards must be met at each stage
- All facilities must meet the key conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO)
As you can imagine, brands work really hard to get that label and then to maintain it. The standards were updated in 2017, which gives hope that the organic label will continue to evolve over time as our expectations increase.
Two common complaints about the standard are often made. Firstly, given the cost of achieving the certification at each stage, smaller farms and processors are less likely to be certified. Cotton is the most widely certified, followed by linen, with many wool and hemp farmers not yet seeing the value of certification. Secondly, the environmental policy does not guarantee a set standard but rather engaging in a process of continual improvement. So if you are concerned about water use as an example, organic certification will not tell you specifically whether less water is used than conventional cotton, just that suppliers are committed to continually improving their practices.
There is a growing trend of brands using GOTS certified mills where possible, and whilst they may not achieve overall organic certification the benefits of transparency are a good incentive to use certified mills. As a result, the number of GOTS certified farms and processors is increasing every year and the likelihood of your local fabric supplier having something organic in stock is increasing.
Who Stocks Organic Fabric?
These retailers specialise in organic and natural fibres, but we would love to hear from you if you have a favourite not listed here:
// Australia //
Maai Design (some organics)
// Canada //
Matchpoint Fabric (organic + deadstock fabric)
// Finland //
Nosh Organics (ships internationally)
// France //
// Germany //
Lebenskleidung (ships internationally)
// New Zealand //
// Sweden //
Elvelyckan Design (ships internationally)
// United Kingdom //
Offset Warehouse (ships internationally)
Merchant and Mills (ships internationally)
Garthenor (UK) GOTS wool yarn (ships internationally)
// United States //
Organic Cotton Plus (ships internationally)
Simplifi Fabric (ships internationally)
Fox Fibre (ships internationally)
Riverview Fabrics (recycled plastic + organic)
// Brands & Wholesale //
Birch (ships internationally)
Cloud 9 (ships internationally)
When you next see that little word organic being used to describe a fabric you’ll know what it covers, and that the supplier is essentially committed to a process of annual audits and continual improvement across the entire supply chain. We’d love to hear if you’ve come across any new organic fabrics lines or suppliers!
Next month, we’ll take a look at synthetics and the hot topic of micro-plastics.