Finding the light

Sustainable Fashion Defined: Organic

Describing a brand or garment as sustainable is one of this season’s hottest trends, and fashion is all about trends. But what does sustainable really mean? I’m on a quest to learn more about the attributes of sustainable fashion and find the light in my new “Sustainable Fashion Defined” series. In my first post I’m taking a closer look at organic, and how it contributes to sustainable fashion.

At first, I thought about sustainable fashion in the same way I thought about sustainable food. It’s very easy to understand organic food: an apple is classified as organic if it’s grown from a non-genetically modified (GMO) seed, without the use of toxic fertilizers and pesticides. However, clothing is not so simple. I couldn’t apply my understanding of organic food to fashion because I wasn’t comparing apples and apples; I was comparing apples and outfits.

Determining whether a piece of clothing is organic is very complex. For example, many fabrics are blends of different fibers, if only one of the fibers is organic – is this garment organic? If a fabric is made from all organic fibers but is treated with toxic dyes and chemicals – is this garment organic? Many garments require fasteners like buttons or zippers, not to mention stitching to keep them together, if these are not made from organic materials – is this garment organic?

This complexity within the fashion system creates an often-exploited loophole: brands can define organic in any way that suits them. Then we inadvertently project our personal understanding of organic onto the brand. We assume our definition of organic is the same as theirs. Unfortunately, these definitions are usually not the same. In fact, most often we are too generous with our assumptions, to the benefit of the brand. This is not a coincidence. This is greenwashing. Brands create ambiguity about their organic qualifications to build a false and inflated impression about their sustainability practices. Their goal is to capitalize on our desire for sustainable fashion.

Determining whether a piece of clothing is organic is very complex.

In an effort to avoid getting duped by greenwashing, I was happy to discover the sustainable fashion scene has two independent organic certification organizations, regulating the industry: the Organic Content Standard and the Global Organics Textile Standard. Both organizations have clearly defined criteria that a garment must meet before being labeled organic.

Organic Content Standard:
The Organic Content Standard (OCS) tracks and verifies the content of organically grown fibers in a final product. There are two organic classifications used by OCS. First, “OCS100” applies to fabric containing 95-100 percent organic fiber. Second, “OCS Blended” applies to blended fabrics containing a minimum of 5 percent organic fiber.

I appreciate the OCS certification helps build trust in a product’s organic claims, but the certification is limited. It refers only to the organic fiber and doesn’t consider any harmful chemicals used during manufacturing or regulate the environmental and social practices of businesses in the supply chain.

Global Organics Textile Standard:
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) aims to create a global standard for organic materials. Similar to OCS, there are two organic classifications used by GOTS. First, “Organic” applies to products made with 95-100 percent organic fibers. Second, “Made with Organic” applies to products made with a minimum of 70 percent organic fibers.

I was happy to learn GOTS also sets environmental requirements for all manufacturers along the supply chain. For example: all chemicals used must meet toxicology standards, and some, including carcinogenic dyes are prohibited; there are limits on what materials can be used to accessorize a garment and some, including nickel (commonly used for zippers and buttons) are prohibited; and all wet-processing manufacturers must have their own waste-water treatment plant. GOTS even defines sustainable packaging requirements for shipping.

Expanding the parameters of organic further, GOTS mandates all manufacturers be in compliance with the ethical and social standards set by the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO). Clearly, the GOTS certification is a credible and reliable source of information for consumers and has earned its recognition as “the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers.”

Regenerative Organic Certification:
In addition to OCS and GOTS, Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) will soon stake a claim in the organic fashion scene. While the ROC is still in its infancy, it will take a page from the GOTS playbook by using a holistic approach to organic certification. ROC seeks to extend the concept of organic beyond the fiber itself to consider soil health, animal welfare, and worker rights.

Understanding how OCS and GOTS define organic and regulate the industry is empowering. These organizations help close the loophole and give us the opportunity to make more informed decisions. All products certified by OCS and GOTS are able to feature a certification emblem on their labels.

In an effort to avoid getting duped by greenwashing, I was happy to discover the sustainable fashion scene has two independent organic certification organizations, regulating the industry: the Organic Content Standard and the Global Organics Textile Standard.

Armed with my new robust understanding of organic, I revisited clothing labels within my closet. What a disappointment! Even the garments I specifically purchased because of their organic claims did not contain a certification emblem. I was shocked and immediately headed online for answers. Interestingly, I discovered many of my garments’ online descriptions state they are GOTS certified. I was confused. Why not include the logo on your label? There’s a big disconnect here. If a brand has invested time and money into certifying their product, why not sing it from the roof top? Otherwise, how are we supposed to have confidence in a product’s organic claims?

Ultimately, organic products are key contributors to sustainable fashion, but simply claiming your product is organic is not enough. This means we, as consumers, will need to do a little extra work. We will need to seek out OCS and GOTS certification emblems on the products we desire and look online for more information when there aren’t any. We may need to contact brands directly for clarity regarding their organic claims. Ideally, these inquiries will motivate brands to start including certification emblems on their garments to help make our decisions easier in the future. Until that happens, we’ll have to make the best decisions we can with the information we have. At least this new understanding of organic fashion better equips us to navigate our shopping experience and helps us make choices that truly reflect our intentions.

No Comments

Post A Comment