For sellers of organic cotton, the year 2010 did not get off to a great start. That January, when “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha dominated the airwaves and Conan O’Brien was still the host of the Tonight Show, C&A, H&M and Tchibo were put through the wringer for hawking certified-organic clothing laced with genetically modified (GM) cotton from India—a massive transgression by strict organic standards. Financial Times Deutschland even went so far as to label the offense a “gigantic fraud.”
The brands denied any complicity in the matter, of course, yet a shadow had been cast.
But now, Germany-based materials science firm Tailorlux says it can dispel any doubts about product authenticity by using fluorescent markers to give fibers their own “optical fingerprint.”
Through its patented IntegriTex concealed traceability system, Tailorlux says it is able to prevent fraud, blending and unreliable “greenwashing” claims in the organic-cotton supply chain.
Its inorganic luminescent pigments—which are invisible to the naked eye but machine-readable with smart sensors—are said to be tamper-proof, resistant to chemicals and ultraviolet light and tolerant of temperatures of up to 1,700 degrees Celsius (3,092 degrees Fahrenheit).
The company is currently working with German fiber producer Dibella Group to track organic cotton from Chetna Organics, a farmer cooperative in Hyderabad, India.
“With our tagging, we can seamlessly trace the path of the product, thus creating true product integrity that will do justice to organic agriculture,” Alex Deitermann, managing director of Tailorlux, said in a statement. “Now that the technical possibilities have been met, the next step must be taken.”
Ralf Hellman, managing director at the Dibella Group, said the collaboration with Tailorlux could even midwife a new textile standard that will “cause a stir beyond our industry.”
“Now we can finally provide the technical proof for the organic cotton used by Dibella of the cooperative Chetna Organics and, fortunately, trace our supply chain back to the farm level,” he said. “For Dibella, sustainability means honesty.”
The risk of GMO mingling in organic cotton is far more common than we might think. Nor is it always calculated: Contamination can inadvertently occur at locations where GMO and organic crops are grown too close together and cross-pollination takes place, according to Textile Exchange, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of sustainable fibers. In India, which produces more than half of the world’s organic cotton, an estimated 70 percent of conventional cotton is now grown using genetically modified seed, the most common variety of which is Bt cotton.
Organic farming standards deal with this by mandating “buffer zones” between organic and cotton fields, Textile Exchanges said, but opportunities for accidental contamination still abound because most organic cotton is processed using the same machinery as conventional and genetically modified cotton.
Tailorlux and the Dibella Group aren’t the only companies seeking to prevent future scandals over fiber authenticity from happening. Kering, the luxury juggernaut that owns Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent, recently partnered with Italy’s Albini Group and traceability firm Oritain to create a 100 percent traceable Supima organic-cotton textile supported by forensic science and statistical analysis.
Similarly, Louis Dreyfus Company has installed Applied DNA’s core SigNature DNA technology at its gin plant in Moree, Australia, to tag, test and track pure HomeGrown Australian cotton.