As Organic September comes to an end, we chat to Sarah Jupp, Soil Association’s Business Development Manager for Organic Fashion & Textiles. She talks us through why fashion should be swapping its addiction to conventional cotton for its organically produced cousin… and why it matters.
Soil Association are GIVE WEAR LOVE’s charity partner for September and October and our customers can donate at checkout to support their cause.
What does the Soil Association do?
The Soil Association is the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use.
Working alongside them, Soil Association Certification is the UK’s largest organic certification body. We certify 70% of products as organic across textiles, food and drink, health and beauty, farming and forestry.
Together, we help to inspire people, companies and policy makers to build a more sustainable planet – by supporting organic.
We’ve been working in organic textiles for 18 years during which time we helped to set up the only internationally recognised organic textile processing standard – the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
What does your job involve?
I’ve got the very great pleasure of being Business Development Manager for Organic Fashion and Textiles.
The impact of ‘fast’ fashion is taking its toll on the climate. Did you know, people in the UK buy the most clothes of anyone in Europe; 27.7kg - around 10kg more clothes per person the next European country down on the list? That’s around five times what we bought in the 1980s.
We as a nation are suddenly waking up to the fact that we need to change our relationship with clothes and clothes shopping, because buying too much poorly produced clothing is damaging our planet as well as the factory workers and farmers further down the supply chain.
But it can be really confusing knowing what to do to help…
I’m here to inspire brands, retailer and their customers about why organic fabrics and garments are better than those that are conventionally grown. I’m also here to work with help the companies we certify with information and resources that help them to stand out for their organic credentials. It can’t be underestimated what a huge asset they are to the fashion industry; it’s not easy sourcing organic, neither is it cheaper but they’re producing clothes made to the highest standards to benefit people and planet.
What does Soil Association accreditation mean to a company that uses organic cotton?
GOTS certification is a stamp of approval showing that a brand’s entire supply chain has met the highest social and environmental standards.
Organic cotton is grown in a way that helps to combat climate change; uses less water than conventionally grown cotton, uses no hazardous synthetic pesticides or GM. Overall organic cotton requires less energy to produce, results in fewer greenhouse emissions, and less water pollution. GOTS certified garments are also produced with factory workers’ welfare in mind and only low impact dyes and inks are allowed. You can read more about our 5 key reasons to buy organic here.
Now that the government has announced that we are in a climate emergency, saving the earth starts quite literally from the ground up; nourishing and protecting our soil which will bring the ecosystem back into balance. Organic has so many of the answers. So brands sourcing organically are making an applaudable impact on our planet.
Has the organic cotton industry grown over the past 15 years?
Yes – more companies are taking the initiative to source organic cotton, and more customers are buying organic! Production of organic cotton grew from approximately 25,000 metric tonnes in 2004 to 118,000 metric tonnes in 2017. The number of GOTS certified facilities grew by 14.6% in 2018, nearly double the increase from the previous year. Organic cotton still only makes up about 1% of cotton production so there is massive potential for further growth. Farmers can only go organic if there is demand from brands, retailers and ultimately their customers, and this often means paying a little more.
Why should fashion brands switch to using organic cotton in their production?
We’re in a climate emergency and fashion brands have an extraordinary power to help turn this ship around. The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions - more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Organic textiles aren’t only good for the environment and the workers along the supply chain, they’re also good for business as sales of organic textiles, and land in-conversion to organic, are increasing.
In 2018, ethical clothing purchases rose by 19.9%; and our Organic Textile Market report highlighted that sales of certified Soil Association Certification organic textiles grew by 18% in the UK in 2018, made up of organic fashion (+22%), homeware (+64%), children and babywear (+17%) and personal care (+7%).
A 2018 Fashion Revolution study showed that 61% of consumers want to know what retailers are doing to minimise their impact on the environment; and 37% of consumers said they consider environmental impacts when buying clothes.
There is a real incentive for brands to tell their sustainability story through their products, showcasing commitments to current and future sustainable development. Organic certified textiles can play a vital role in communicating these stories, particularly GOTS, which covers the whole supply chain and also addresses social conditions in factories.
Sourcing cotton more sustainably is key. It’s the fibre that makes up 40% of global textile production, but is one of the most polluting crops in the world. Conventional cotton production accounts for 69% of the water footprint of textile fibre production overall. In contrast, organic cotton production uses 91% less water, emits 46 % fewer greenhouse gas emissions and uses 62% less energy compared to non-organic.
The conventional system of growing cotton uses 14% of all insecticides sold globally. Genetically Modified (GM) seed, which is banned in organic, is used in around 80% of production and which has led to problems with pest resistance, a subsequent loss of cotton yield and additional pesticide use. This increasing use of pesticides causes huge social, health and environmental impacts, and the burden of debt has led to thousands of suicides across India.
What can consumers do to help?
- Buy less, buy better: Wear and love your clothes for as long as you can. Restyle, repair and recycle them. If you do need to buy a new garment, look at what it’s made of and for any claims about its sustainability. To be organic a garment needs to have the Soil Association, GOTS and/or OCS logo. If the garment says ‘sustainable cotton’, it’s not organic but likely BCI cotton. You can find out more about the difference between organic and other ‘preferred’ cottons like BCI here.
- Ask your favourite (non-organic) brands and retailers to source organically: Without knowing their customers care, they’re unlikely to change their spots. Write to their customer services or look up their Head of Sustainability on LinkedIn.
- Join the movement: please share your passion and help others to join the organic movement! Share this blog with your friends on social media and help them to understand what organic means. We’ll keep sharing interesting content from our Soil Association accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram if you’d like to join in!
- After care: Wearing your clothes several times between washes will reduce the use of precious water and washing at a lower temperature will reduce energy use. If your clothing contains synthetic fibres you’re more likely to sweat, the garment will hang onto the odour more, and microplastics will be released the higher the temperature of your wash cycle.
YOU CAN DONATE TO SOIL ASSOCIATION HERE...