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Brands race to green high street fashion with eco-friendly fabric

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Short of going organic, meanwhile, dozens of brands and retailers — who together consume 15 percent of the world’s cotton—have signed up to a global scheme called the Better Cotton Initiative. Photo/FILE

Short of going organic, meanwhile, dozens of brands and retailers — who together consume 15 percent of the world’s cotton—have signed up to a global scheme called the Better Cotton Initiative. Photo/FILE 

By AFP

Posted  Thursday, September 30  2010 at  00:00

Poisonous pesticides, soil pollution and water waste: high-street fashion has a lot to answer for in the environmental game.

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But can big brands use their global clout to drive the green revolution?

If green is the new black on the high-street, then global retailers are lining up to parade their eco-credentials, from Marks and Spencers in Britain, to sportswear behemoth Nike or the fashion giant H&M.

“There’s a paradigm shift in the textile sector,” John Mowbray, editor of the green trends magazine Ecotextile, told AFP at the Texworld trade fair in Paris this month.

“Three years ago sustainability was not on the agenda” he says. “Now a lot of retailers and brands want to move regardless of what their suppliers think. They think consumers want transparency. Brands are driving change.”

Cleaner material

Sourcing cleaner fabrics — from organic yarns to recycled polyester —and rooting out sweatshop practices in Asia and elsewhere are the twin planks of the sustainability mantra adopted by many of the West’s top brands.

And the most visible example of this is organic cotton.

Until recently an expensive rarity, organic cotton t-shirts are cropping up on supermarket and bargain retail shelves, from Tesco or Topshop in Britain to Auchan in France or Primark in the United States.

Global retail sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile goods have been soaring 40 per cent per year since 2001, according to the Organic Exchange (OE) non-profit group.

The world’s top 10 organic-cotton using brands last year, according to the OE, reads like a Who’s Who of the high-street fashion and sports industry, including C&A, Nike, Walmart, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co and Adidas.

The global organic cotton market is still a baby, making up one percent of the total harvest. But the market is booming — and the growth appears recession-proof.

Organic cotton production grew 20 percent in 2008/09 over 2007/08, across India, Turkey, Pakistan and 19 other countries, with growth forecast to continue at 20 to 40 percent through 2011.

Last year, even as the economic slowdown sliced seven per cent off the global apparel and textiles market, the organic segment grew by 35 per cent, with sales of 4.3 billion dollars.

“We weren’t affected by the crisis,” said HL Ding, a Chinese entrepreneur whose natural fibre firm Hemp Fortex turned over 10 million dollars in 2009 selling to the likes of Walmart.
“We’re a small part of a market that’s still growing.”

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