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Organic Fabric: Does it Make a Difference?

organic fabric graphic

Organic is a word that is thrown around all the time these days, but what does it actually mean? In food manufacturing anything can be labeled "natural", but "organic" must comply with certain standards. In fabric manufacturing, is there clout behind the "organic" label, or is this just another marketing ploy? Even if the label "organic" means something, does it really make a difference?

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), cotton manufacturing which covers 2.4% of the world's cropland, accounts for 24% of the global sales of insecticides and 11% of the global sales for pesticides. In India, the 2nd largest cotton producing country after China, there is concern about the increased rise of cancer among farming families, particularly among children, possibly due to increased pesticide exposure. Based on data collected from 1993 to 2003, researchers at Punjab's School of Public Health found a statistically significant increase in cancer rates in high-pesticide areas, although the study also suggests that industrial pollution, tobacco use and other factors could cause the elevated cancer rates in addition to, or instead of, pesticides. As a consumer who is concerned about the growing and manufacturing processes of the products one purchases, along with the health impact of those products on your own family, and the world, what can you do? You can purchase fabric that has received one of the following certifications!

Beginning in 2002 an international working group was formed to produce a uniform organic textile standard. The result was the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire organic textiles supply chain and requires compliance with social criteria as well. GOTS certification is only given after on-sight inspection by one of 18 certification bodies.

GOTS is also working toward sustainable farming practices, and data on water consumption and energy use is required, along with goals for reduction of the use of these resources. Cotton is listed by the WWF as a "thirsty" crop since it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans. The WWF has identified unsustainable cotton farming as responsible for the destruction of large-scale ecosystems such as the Aral Sea in central Asia, and as having an impact on several river basins including the Indus River in Pakistan, the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, and the Rio Grande in United States and Mexico. (See "The Impact of Cotton on Freshwater Resources and River Basins.") At Pink Hollybush, our Double Gauze fabrics from Monuluna and Cloud 9, along with our cotton/hemp fleece, all meet the GOTS standard.

Fabrics can also receive the Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX, which seems to be more popular in Europe. Begun in 1992, the standard 100 aims to "level out global differences regarding the assessment of possible harmful substances in textiles. The OEKO-TEX® system can identify and eliminate potential sources of problematic substances at each processing stage. Testing becomes necessary whenever a textile product is recomposed or a chemical change is made to its material." Essentially the Standard 100 provides that a fabric is free of harmful substances including: legally banned and regulated substances, such as azo dyes, phthalates, heavy metals; harmful chemicals for which no explicit legal regulation exists (yet), such as pesticides or allergenic dyestuffs; and parameters for safeguarding health such as a skin-friendly pH value and good color fastness. OEKO-TEX also has a Made In Green label that certifies that environmentally friendly processes were used under safe and responsible working conditions. Our knits from Stoff of Denmark have received the Standard 100 certification.

So to answer my initial question, in the United States in order to label a fabric "organic" strict requirements must be met. The USDA has endorsed the GOTS certification. There may well be other fabric manufacturer certifications, but as a retail fabric shop owner, purchasing fabric, GOTS and OEKO-TEX certification are the two that I have come across. It is my hope that more fabrics will begin to meet one of these standards, and I will continue to search out and purchase these fabrics for Pink Hollybush. For a listing of all our Certified Fabrics, please see our new Organic Page on the website.

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