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Organic Apparel Sales on the Rise in UK as Awareness Grows

Consumer awareness of what goes into their clothes and how they are made is growing—and it’s showing up in their purchases.

The Soil Association’s newly released “Textile Organic Market” report reveals sales of its certified organic textiles grew 18 percent in the U.K. in 2018 to reach a market value of 41.3 million pounds ($53.86 million).

Following a similar pattern, the report showed a 19.9 percent increase in ethical clothing sales, while second-hand clothing–seen as a boon to a circular economy–grew 22.5 percent.

The report highlights rapid growth of organic cotton sales from Soil Association Certification licensees in organic fashion, with a 22 percent gain, but also in housewares, which rose 64 percent; children and infant wear, up 17 percent, and personal care, which increased 7 percent.

The number of Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) facilities also grew 14.6 percent in 2018. GOTS is the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. It requires strict environmental criteria along the organic textiles supply chain and calls for compliance with social criteria.

Where sales are concerned, the jump comes as more consumers seek sustainable alternatives to reduce the environmental impact of their choices. As many as 61 percent of shoppers want to know how retailers are minimizing their impact on the environment, according to a 2018 study by Fashion Revolution that surveyed consumers in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

The report from Soil Association Certification, the U.K.’s largest organic certification body, brought together market research and data to make the economic, environmental and social case for organic textiles. It highlighted growing awareness among millennials as a major driver of the growth in sales and the increasing number of retailers committing to sourcing sustainable fibers throughout the supply chain.

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One persistent challenge to the uptick of sustainable fibers in the sector, however, is the abundance of conventional cotton used in apparel production.

Conventional cotton production accounts for 69 percent of the water footprint of textile fiber production overall, the report noted, while organic cotton production reduces water consumption by 91 percent, according to a peer-reviewed lifecycle analysis of global cotton production from Textile Exchange. Organic cotton also leads to a 46 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 62 percent decrease in energy demand compared to non-organic, according to the same report.

“Over half the clothes sold in the U.K. are cotton, so there’s a significant opportunity for companies switching to organic cotton to improve sustainability, especially at a time when more and more people are making purchasing decisions based on reducing their impact on the planet,” Clare McDermott, business development manager at Soil Association Certification, said. “Organic textiles are more environmentally sustainable by using less water and no hazardous synthetic pesticides, using low impact dyes and inks, improving working conditions in factories and on farms, and by offering a viable, long-term alternative to GM (genetically modified) cotton that provides food security to farmers.”

Many retailers are opting for more sustainable textiles along with existing organic businesses. Stella McCartney, for one, has committed to using 100 percent organic cotton by 2020 and recently promoted low-carbon methods of producing products in the fashion industry by backing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Fast-fashion retailers like ASOS, Mango, Inditex and H&M are also continuing to expand their use of organic and recycled fabrics to raise awareness and offer products appealing to the more conscious shopper. Soil Association Certification licensee People Tree, which is GOTS certified, is building on its founding commitment to sustainable fashion.

“At People Tree, we aim to ensure that our clothing has the least possible impact on the environment,” Melanie Traub, managing director at People Tree, said. “The best way to do this is to use natural resources and processes throughout our production, and to promote environmentally responsible initiatives for a sustainable future. In 2018, 93 percent of People Tree cotton used was GOTS certified organic cotton.”