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Organic & eco fashion

ORGANIC FASHION refers to clothing and accessories that have been made with a minimum use of chemicals and limited impact on the environment.

The Soil Association is the UK’s largest organic certification body that covers the processing and manufacture of organic textiles. For more information visit www.soilassociation.org.

ECO FASHION is a broader term used for all clothing, fabrics and accessories that have been manufactured in an environmentally conscious way.

Organic and recycled clothing, as well as garments made using the wide range of eco fabrics now available, all come under the umbrella of eco fashion. Technological developments in the textile sector now mean that environmentally friendly textiles have become a viable alternative to conventional fabrics.

Why Support Organic and Eco Fashion?

The fashion industry has an enormous impact on the environment.

Many of the clothes we wear today are made from synthetic materials such as NYLON & POLYESTER. Nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals, which are very polluting to the environment, causing global warming. They are also non-biodegradable, which means they don’t break down easily and so are difficult to dispose of. In order to manufacture nylon, nitrous oxide is released as part of the process. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide and causes global warming.

VISCOSE is another artificial fibre, made from wood pulp. To make viscose, wood pulp is treated with toxic chemicals such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid.

Natural fibres have their problems, too. NON ORGANIC COTTON uses more pesticide per cotton plant than almost any other crop in the world. This has serious impacts, causing illness and even death amongst cotton farmers who are exposed to dangerous pesticides every day. These pesticides also affect local eco-systems, killing certain plants and animals and causing an imbalance.

“While organic farming is more difficult, it saves lives from not using pesticides. We no longer have debt problems. Income is all profit at the end of season. Land and soil are preserved.” – Farmer Gera Paul, Benin

Hazardous chemicals are also used on wool – for example in sheep dips, where they have been linked with illness amongst sheep farmers.

CERTAIN DYES are thought to cause cancer. In many parts of the world, garments are dyed or bleached using toxic chemicals without proper precautions; the chemicals used can then affect workers and flow into sewers and rivers, damaging local ecosystems.

Virtually all POLLYCOTTON (especially bedlinen), plus all ‘easy care’, ‘crease resistant’, ‘permanent press’ cotton, are treated with the toxic chemical, formaldehyde.

Organic fashion

There are distinctions drawn between garments made from organic cotton and ‘organic garments’. Garments which state ‘made from organic cotton, are not necessarily ‘organic garments’- this just means that the cotton used has been produced without harmful chemicals, pesticides, or toxic dyes and has been certified, and does not take into account any other accessories that may be on the garments i.e. zips, buttons, trim fabric etc.

If a full garment is referred to as organic then it must carry a certification stamp and this means that the fabric and all its accessories and trims have been assessed. Even with certified organic garments however, a small percentage of non organic products are allowed and confusingly, the ratio of non organic materials permitted within an ‘organic garment’ varies between certifying bodies.

The Soil Association has some of the most stringent rules with only 5% of non organic materials including accessories being permitted. This 5% leeway is important as it allows both greater versatility (e.g. zips and buttons can be added) and longevity. For example, if a fabric is combined with a small amount of lycra, it allows stretch and makes it more resistant to tears- and the use of nylon thread means that the stitching is less likely to snap and the garment will last longer.

Some other eco-fabrics

Hemp can be grown easily without any chemical pesticide use. When blended with organic cotton a soft, elastic fabric results, and when blended with silk a smooth luxurious cloth is created, which drapes easily.

Linen, organic wool and wild silk are alternatives to other natural fibres which are produced with chemicals, (for more information on the variety of eco fabrics around, have a look at Snapshot no 4, Inspiring Eco Fabrics


Below are some useful eco labels to be aware of:

This standard assesses the chemical usage and handling, water usage and disposal, exhaust air production, dust and noise generation, energy usage, general workplace conditions and requires an environmental management system to be in place. Oeko-tex 100 standard is now mandatory in several European countries.

This assesses a limited use of substances harmful to the environment, limited substances harmful to health, reduced water and air pollution, shrink resistance and colour.

There is now a Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) which resulted when a number of certification and standard bodies formed a working group. For more information visit www.global-standard.org. This group is working towards bringing their respective labels under one umbrella, thus making it less confusing for the consumer.

More information

Useful links

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