One by one, brands are starting to commit to using organic cotton in the products they sell.
The trend toward greater sustainability at the fiber level is one Textile Exchange uncovered in its 2016 Organic Cotton Market Report, which highlights the brands driving sustainability and how they are improving their value chains.
“In the past year, we’ve seen increased understanding that, with the proper foundations of transparency and integrity, organic cotton programs deliver real benefits to the least prosperous parts of the supply chain, especially smallholder farmers,” Textile Exchange managing director La Rhea Pepper said.
Since 1999, according to the report, there has been a four-fold increase in agricultural land for organic cotton, which went from 11 million hectares in 1999 to 43.7 million in 2014 (the most recent year for which stats are available).
For the 2014/15 season, organic cotton certified land totaled 353,303 hectares, the equivalent of 660,229 NFL-size football fields, and there were 193.767 organic farmers farming that land.
That organic farming, according to Textile Exchange, (compared to conventional cotton) equates to a potential savings of 218 billion liters of water, 288.7 million kilowatts of energy and 92.5 million kilograms of carbon dioxide, or enough CO2 to drive an average car around the world 13,572 times. The organic cotton market is valued at $15.76 billion and growth has been stable.
“The gap between companies that are leading on sustainability and those that aren’t is closing,” the report noted. “Big, familiar brands through to smaller, more nimble ones, who are also the early adopters of organic cotton, are repositioning and working harder to lead the way to the top for everyone.”
To uncover those brands that are setting the pace for the sector, Textile Exchange collected information on each company’s fiber portfolio by way of a survey, naming the top 10 users of organic cotton.
By volume, C&A, is using the most organic cotton, followed by H&M, Tchibo, Inditex, Nike, Decathlon, Carrefour, Lindex, Williams-Sonoma and Stella Stanley.
“Maintaining our top position in organic cotton and achieving the great performance in down and lyocell have been the result of hard work from our global designers, buyers and sourcing colleagues,” Jeffrey Hogue, C&A’s global chief sustainability officer, said. “We remain focused on our 2020 goals, where we will sourcing 100 percent of our cotton and 67 percent of all our raw materials from verified more sustainable sources.”
H&M’s sustainability business expert, Madelene Ericsson, said, “As part of the transformation toward a more sustainable fashion future we are constantly on the lookout for innovative materials and processes which can make our products more sustainable.”
Inditex made a sizeable jump from ninth to fourth since last year’s report, and Nike, Decathlon and Carrefour remain firm as long-standing top volume users.
In terms of growth, Continental Clothing’s Earth Positive brand and Inditex led the charge.
“These companies recognize the need to step up and truly embed these successes more deeply within their company structures,” Pepper said. “To create true transformation, ‘change’ is not enough! We change our socks—but they are still socks. In the same way, we substitute one fiber for another without addressing the business model. This is how we will see the industry transform.”
Increasing sustainability will be all about achieving the right mix, according to Liesl Truscott, Textile Exchange director of fiber and materials strategy.
“Whether it’s examining the eco-credentials of fibers and materials, or researching the economic and social impact of sourcing decisions, or deciding which crops to plant that year, we all need to consider the best route forward in a whole variety of situations and, from that, decide how to apportion our efforts to achieve the best results.”