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Texworld USA: Consumer Education is Key to Selling Sustainable Apparel

If there’s strength in numbers then sustainable fabric is a force to be reckoned with. Among the 331 exhibitors that took part in the winter edition of Texworld USA at the Javits Convention Center in New York this week were 29 companies offering products made from eco-friendly materials or using eco-friendly processes.

And while some skeptics might say that consumers don’t care, Muhammad Ahsan Zia, senior manager of marketing at Siddiqsons Ltd., a vertically integrated denim manufacturer in Pakistan, has argued that’s not the case, noting that if retailers promote sustainable products as such, shoppers will respond.

“We are supplying the organic cotton or recycled products to H&M. As far as my knowledge is concerned they are marketing their product line and they are doing good because they keep on increasing their buys on a seasonal basis,” he said, explaining that if he exports 100,000 garments to the Swedish chain one season, he will receive double the projection the following. “They look forward to buying double the quantity. That’s a positive sign.”

Siddiqsons also works with the likes of Wrangler, Lee and Pull & Bear, to name a few, and its products are certified to Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and Oeko-Tex standards. Some of the denim fabrics the company offers feature a blend of natural fibers, such as 45 percent hemp and 55 percent cotton, and Zia revealed that he’s excited to start working with a new fiber made from sugar cane.

Kenji Sasakura, who works in sales for Japan’s Bon Co. Ltd., agreed that demand is increasing. When the company showcased its Japanese paper yarn (a mix of cotton and paper that’s suitable for shirt fabrics) at the July edition of Texworld, it received little to no response from attendees. This time around, however, it did.

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But while awareness among retailers is growing, he said it’s important to spread the word to consumers.

“There’s still not enough information out there and consumers still don’t really understand what organic and eco-friendly products are. And if you really understand that it’s not only for environment but for the people who make the products as well as the people who wear the products, then maybe people will naturally start choosing organic materials, even if it’s more expensive,” he said.

But Jung Kim, assistant director at Daechun, a Korean company specializing in printed organic cotton and certified to Oeko-Tex 100 and GOTS, maintained that pricing is still a problem.

“Consumers are not willing to pay a premium. They think organic equals healthier but they don’t necessarily think about the production process. We need to pay proper wages and treat our employees to a certain standard,” she said. But she’s confident that if retailers marketed sustainable apparel similarly to how Whole Foods promotes its organic produce, consumers will get it.

“Once that’s filtered through the textile industry or apparel, people will appreciate it more,” she said.