Building the Case for Eco Fashion as a Movement


A few years ago, “eco fashion” became the hottest buzzword. The media in particular loved it and used every opportunity available to position it as the hottest trend. Recall those “Green is the New Black” headlines everywhere? Fast forward to today, and we know that eco fashion is definitely not a trend. It is a movement, and one that is taking the world by storm.

How so? Well for starters, a growing number of designers are now sourcing more sustainable fabrics than a few years ago, and the variety and quantity of those fabrics has grown out of this demand. An increasing number of brands and retailers are now engaged in ethical sourcing, and are working with their suppliers to create benchmarks and standards. Many companies now understand the benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR), even if their product or service is not “green”.

Organic Exchange (OE) offers more evidence of this eco fashion movement. According to their Organic Cotton Market Report, global sales of organic cotton apparel and textiles has grown by $1 billion in 2009, which amounts to a 35 percent increase over 2008. And at the same time that organic cotton sales have grown, overall cotton clothing and home textiles sales have shrunk by seven percent.

However, the rise of organic cotton has been steady for nearly a decade – on average by 40 percent each year since 2001. You just didn’t hear much about it because it wasn’t deemed important enough by mainstream media and industry. But that seems to be changing.

Organic Exchange estimates that the organic cotton market will continue to grow at this steady pace of 20-40 percent – both this year and next, to about $6 billion; and that the organic cotton market has been driven largely by consumer interest in “green” products, and by retailers and companies looking to offer more organic options.

So just who are the top organic cotton buyers from 2009 according to the OE report? You might be shocked to learn that it’s some of the biggest names in retail, including Nike, Walmart and Adidas.

But really, this isn’t all that surprising when you consider the report Exporting Textiles: March to Sustainability, that recently profiled the top brands and retailers who are implementing environmental sustainability throughout their global supply chains. Among the 19 companies profiled are once again, Nike, Walmart and Adidas! So what exactly are these companies doing to be given such accolades? Let’s take a look.

Adidas adheres to the ISO14001 standard and has an internal environmental benchmarking assessment that they use to collect data from their suppliers. Their top three sustainability priorities are embedding environmental sustainability across the business, effectively managing business risks and social compliance in the supply chain, and extending engagement internally and externally.

Walmart, as we all know, has issued their Sustainability Index, which asks their suppliers a series of questions as they relate to social and environmental practices. They also carry GOTS certification on organic textiles (although questionable to what degree) and their focus on energy efficiency is now shifting toward their suppliers.

Nike uses a few internal tools such as Material Analysis Tool (MAT) and Considered Index to evaluate its life cycle impacts. They have a water program, and have integrated energy efficiency practices at supplier factories.

According to this report, which focuses primarily on energy efficiency, carbon emissions, water and chemical footprint as well as logistics, these three companies rank in the top 5 (Levi Strauss & Co. and Marks & Spencer round out the list).

And so the evidence is mounting. It becomes clearer every day that eco fashion is a movement, and one that is gaining solid ground. I look forward to actively watching as more and more of the big brands and retailers move toward increased sustainability, motivated by people like us who demand quality and ethics from the products we choose to buy.

Image: adifansnet