The organic dialogue has shifted from what we eat to what we wear.
Earlier this month, eco-friendly apparel brands and industry members, came together to discuss organic materials and sustainable style at an Organic Trade Association (OTA) event in New York City.
The pop-up celebration, presented by OTA and OTA’s Fiber Council, featured clothing companies like Dhana, Ramblers Way and Timberland, and their respective eco-friendly products. These sustainable brands, in conjunction with passionate consumers and stakeholders, are driving the organic lifestyle movement in America.
Today, organic cotton is on the rise in the U.S. According to OTA data, nearly 170,000 acres of U.S. farmland are in the process of switching to organic cotton. What’s more, total organic product sales reached $43.3 billion in 2015, up 11 percent from 2014.
Organic cotton also reduces the carbon footprint of the apparel industry, since it omits the use of chemicals, insecticides and pesticides. Although conventional cotton is still widely used in the U.S., many apparel companies, including Timberland, are taking initiative to promote more eco-friendly consumption.
“For consumers, farmers and the apparel sector, organic cotton promises to become a cornerstone sustainable crop of the future—if we let it,” Timberland sustainability director Colleen Jauquet Vien said. “There remain challenges in fully eliminating the industry’s use of conventional cotton, however, the key to breaking down those barriers is increased consumer demand.”
Timberland currently uses organic cotton in its apparel products, including jeans, polos and T-shirts. The brand is also working on an organic cotton initiative for its Smallholder Farmer Alliance partnership. The Haiti-based program currently incorporates sustainable agroforestry and supports local smallholder farmers. Timberland wants to replicate this model for organic cotton in order to enable smallholder farmers to continue growing organic cotton in the long run.
Ramblers Way, an online wool apparel retailer, is another important player in the organic materials space. The e-tailer got Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification in December for its responsible wool supply chain. With GOTS, Ramblers Way can provide consumers with organic wool clothing, while ensuring ethical and environmental practices are put in place from sourcing to finished product.
“There is a great opportunity for organic and responsible wool in this country. We built our manufacturing supply chain based on face-to-face relationships between ranchers and manufacturers,” Ramblers Way supply chain leader Nick Armentrout said. “GOTS helped us with that, while ensuring people are working in healthy environments.”
Eco-conscious kid’s apparel company Dhana also stressed the importance of independent certifications and consumer involvement. The company currently uses 100 percent organic cotton in its youth clothing products and has many certifications under its belt, including from GOTS and Fairtrade. Fairtrade ensures farmers and factory workers work in a safe environment and are treated fairly throughout all levels of the supply chain. By using Fairtrade cotton, Dhana supports cotton farmers and enables them to be paid fairly for their crops.
Shamini Dhana, Dhana’s CEO and founder, spoke about how consumers gravitate toward organic apparel products because they know companies are making a positive impact beyond products.
“Organic certification by independent inspectors lets consumers know they can trust brands to work on behalf of their customers so that no person is harmed in the making of the product nor were there negative impacts on the environment,” Dhana said. “Today’s conscious consumers care about how their purchasing power makes a difference in how we make products and are calling for us to take care of people and the environment.”