Friday, 29 February 2008

Reports from the BioFach: in search for organic cotton

Everything organic on the BioFach? Maybe for food it mostly was. But visiting all the textile related stands on the BioFach, I had some remarkable encounters. At a stand where they had a good looking offer of organic cotton materials, I asked if they only did organic cotton. Immediately the lady took a large box from under the desk, and presented me proudly all their non-organic cottons. At another stand I was overwhelmed by the large offer of sportswear and caps, but wondering if they were organic, it turned out that about ninety percent was not at all.

Okay, the BioFach is not supposed to be a leading fair on organic textiles, but there shouldn't be sold just conventional textiles either. Especially because there is still a lot of confusion on what organic textiles are. Luckily these were exceptions and I had a lot of good experiences as well, meeting nice people of small ethical brands, producers, and shop owners, representatives from MadeBy, Solidaridad, Pesticide Action Network, etc.

How to label sustainable clothing?
I visited also the discussion forum "Organic cotton - how to label sustainable clothing?". A rather complex question, with no answers yet. Alexandra Perschau from the PAN Germany described the problem of the labeling towards the consumer: there is hardly any recognition with the existing labels, there are too many different ones and the consumer does not have any clue on them. They have more knowledge of brands than on labels.

The central problem around how to label sustainable clothes was described by Jenns Soth from Helvetas. You can have a certified organic fibre, but what about the end problem? There is a legal gap in labeling organic textiles because you can not yet label non food items as organic in

One quote from Helvetas sticked to my ears. They claim that in the organic cotton sector the partnerships are stronger than in the conventional, resulting in a higher loyalty and responsibility from the farmers. Logical, because there is more time and energy spent on training the farmers, and often worked with social programs, support of forming collectives, etc. But my conclusion is, that this could mean that actually the organic cotton production model in the end could be a more reliable business model.

Helvetas announced on the forum, they are working on Emission Certificates for textiles. What sounds like a good initiative of reducing carbon acid, also came with a lot of questions: does it reduce the miles a textile is transported? Is it right to give an emission certificate not for the whole chain but only for the production process?

Track & Trace your clothes origin with Made-By
The most interesting in the quest for a good labeling of sustainable textiles was the presentation of the Made-By initiative, who are expanding this year towards the UK, France, Germany and Sweden. According to research, for most companies reputation is most important when it comes to CSR. But for companies investing in CSR it is crucial to understand that CSR should be their business principle, and not only a strategy to produce a better image.

MadeBy offers clothing companies a way to clean up their production process, they give practicle support and monitor the results. Also the brands get a blue botton stating that the piece of clothing is produced under the MadeBy criteria. A very up to date part of the project is a Track & Trace tool, where consumers can check where exactly their clothing are being made, under which circumstances, and even see the people who made their piece of clothing. Just by entering a unique code from your jeans you get all this information, including the locations your jeans have been on google maps.

Hopefully there will come a more clear labeling for organic textiles soon, what will help the consumer a lot in choosing the right product. But meanwhile there are a lot of interesting initiatives, and it stayes, labeling or not, very important is that brands work on their whole chain transparency.

Actually the best experience was to meet our organic cotton deliverers from BoWeevil. They made it possible for us to visit several places along their production chain in Turkey and Uganda, and I find the way they work very sympathetic.


Anonymous said...

many thanks for all this interesting informations on your blog!

//concerning "how to label sustaniable clothing?"

to speak from the experience of a small company of trousers.

(last year finally we found a very good organic cotton canvas-qualitiy for our product. now we started to offer all trousers (handmade and small series) with this great material and the pocket lining will be undyed natural coloured organic cotton. the yarn is öko-tex100 certificated. still we use our buttons (no organically interesting but very good quality - but we go on watching alternatives...).

it is very difficult for small company to let their products certify with an eco-label. especially because of the financial part. but meanwhile i really forgot this, the market is full of eco-labels, and my conclusion is that the transparency of the company work (like you said in your article) is the most important thing. the confidence of the customer base (at first you have to create this and this is hard work) is the most rich and i think if you give true informatins they will appreciate this with keep on going your customer.

thanks and all the best !

respect the waters_*

Frans Prins & Cecilia Palmer said...

Thanks for your comment. It is hard for conventional designers and producers finding their way to sustainable production and understand the labels. The ÖkoTex100 standard doesn't say the production is organic or ecological at all!!! It is a certification that there are no chemicals in the clothing that are harmful according to the law.

If you want a sustainable production of your textiles, I would advice to look for organic certified textiles. The ÖkoTex does not mean much for the environment, so if you find this important for your production, try to get real organic textile!!

And find some more infos on the topic, in example from the Pesticide Action Network databases:

There is also published some books
lately on green fashion: "Eco Chique" and "Green is the new black".

good luck!

Anonymous said...


thanks for your informations,

we know the meaning of öko-tex100.
with yarn i wanted to say the sewing-yarn.

our fabric and lining is real organic cotton,
the producer is memeber of

(here our little organic cotton story)