Organic cotton: special quality, specially developed

The proportion of organic cotton used in the textile market is increasing and it makes sense to buy sustainably, However, greater commitment is still required.

Manufacturing textiles sustainably normally brings with it an improvement in the working and production conditions in the countries of origin. Sustainable garments require less chemicals in production and, as slow fashion, result in less waste. Consumers and an ever increasing number of companies (e.g. through corporate fashion), gladly pay more for this kind of feature. Anyone with any self-respect wears green these days. However, procuring resources for manufacturing sustainable textiles can be quite complicated, as the example of organic cotton illustrates.

The German alliance for sustainable textiles is a multi-stakeholder partnership involving around 120 companies, associations, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and other partners, including the German Federal Government. Stakeholders got together in 2014 to ensure improvements along the complete global value chain in the textile industry. Each member undertakes to put into practice an individual plan of action in the form of a roadmap which is monitored externally and, since 2018, has to be declared upfront on the textile alliance’s homepage. The following year, alliance members publish a progress report and present proof of the goals they have achieved and what they are still working on.

The alliance’s recently published progress reports reveal that its members buy up more than half of the organic cotton available worldwide. This was a total of about 83,000 tonnes in 2018, with the trend still rising. By 2020 alliance members want to increase the proportion of sustainable cotton to 35 percent, of which at least 10 percent should be grown organically or be in the process of switching to organic cultivation. The intention is to double this proportion by 2025, i.e. by then, 70 percent should be made up of sustainable cotton of which 20 percent should be organic cotton or be in the process of switching to organic production. Of the 800,000 tonnes of cotton which the alliance members purchased in 2018, around 10.5 percent was already organically produced and a further 21.7 percent from other sources approved as sustainable.

Although these figures are impressive, the proportion of organic cotton produced worldwide only makes up 0.5 percent of the 22,000,000 tonnes of cotton which are grown worldwide. These figures were recently presented by the Textile Exchange, a global charitable association which plays a senior role in the sustainable fibre and material industry. The figures are published in the Organic Cotton Market Report within the scope of a more detailed market analysis.

The report also includes a call to action to the textile industry, clearly stating that it is not merely enough to buy organic. In order to bring more movement into this topic it is important to formulate goals within companies. This includes taking steps such as, “undertaking to switch your cotton production to organic and set quantitative time-limited targets in order to demonstrate certifiable progress; installing monitoring methods so that you can trace a product all the way to market; and working together with your suppliers to create transparency at the site of production too.” These recommendations are intended not just to ensure a commitment to producing organic cotton products but, above all, to provide support for the country of cultivation, the supply chain and textile production – from basics, such as supporting farmers and investment in seed and accompanying the cultivation process, right through to manufacturing and the final product.

The topic of “organic cotton” will be explored in some depth in the PromoTex Expo fringe programme in Forum 13 at our “Workwear” focus day on 8th January 2020. From 1pm – 1.30pm on that day, you will also be able to hear the panel “Not just practical and functional but also sustainably stylish. The importance of ecological and social workwear in company communication.” Rainer Schlatmann of the Bremen Cotton Exchange will also be reporting on the topic, “Special quality, specially fair. The special roll of fair-trade organic cotton in corporate fashion, and why it is worth thinking about feasibility, procurement and realisation.”

Visitors to PromoTex Expo will also find a wealth of information on sustainable textile production at the Textile Campus in Hall 12.

Image: Trisha Downing on