Our Preferred Fibres Part I: Cotton & Linen
'Greenwashing,' the term referring to using environmentally friendly marketing and jargon without actually minimising a brand's impact, threatens to complicate genuine efforts within the fashion industry. Knowledge is power, though.
Understanding the labels and deciphering codes are key to ensuring that what you purchase - and who you purchase from - is actually committed to a cleaner future. Anyone can plug a little 'sustainable' mention, so here is the Slowe guide to savvy up. Join us for Part I of the focus on our preferred fibres and the certifications that govern their sustainability; together, we have what it takes to make a positive impact.
Cotton is a prominent presence in most wardrobes, a crop that has been cultivated since at least 3000 BCE. Derived from the cotton plant, the fabric itself is made from the fluffy bolls, undergoing a process of ginning, spinning and weaving before dyeing and manufacturing.
While it is a natural fibre, cotton has developed a dirty name: it's one of the world's thirstiest crops (rice and sugar cane are also up there). Grown across the world, it also has a dark history of labour abuse and pesticide use (16% of the world's pesticide sales). To make sure your cotton clothing is as clean as possible, keep an eye out for these certifications:
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) - More than one-fifth of the world's cotton is now grown under the initiative, which aims to protect the environment and help farming communities thrive. Its main principles include improving soil health, women's empowerment and worker safety, and reducing water wastage and greenhouse gas emissions. BCI cotton is currently grown all around the world, including in Australia, Brazil, China, India and the USA.
My Best Management Practices (myBMP) - myBMP is Australia's answer to the BCI, matching their standards. To achieve certification, Australian cotton farmers must meet over 300 best practice criteria, covering aspects including biodiversity, pest management, soil health and worker health and safety. Cotton certified under the program is considered sustainable and ethical.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) - GOTS pops up everywhere in sustainability chatter. The standard certifies organic fibres while also accounting for other social and environmental criteria, like chemical and worker treatment. There are two labels that fall under GOTS: 'organic,' which means there is a minimum of 95% organic fibres, or 'made with organic materials,' which requires at least 70% organic fibres. Use this as your measure across all 'organic' purchases.
Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA) - This standard certifies sustainable cotton grown in Africa with a particular commitment to supporting smallholder farmers (improving working and living conditions) while protecting the environment. Hand in hand with soil protection and conscious water usage, it's about empowerment and economic sustainability for the future.
International Sustainability & Carbon Cert (ISCC) - The ISCC aims to support a more circular economy and bioeconomy (where inputs for materials, chemicals and energy are derived from renewable biological resources). Covering many industries, including feed and the textile market, it aims to protect biodiversity, soil, water and air, as well as human rights. Cotton by-products are also used as biofuels or in the feed market.
Organic Cotton Standards (OCS) - Simply put, the OCS aims to increase organic agriculture production; it's another indicator of the presence of organic material in a final product. Level 1 OCS100 requires a minimum of 95% certified organic fibre, while Level 2 (OCS Blended) labels products mixed with a minimum of 5% certified organic fibre.
Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) - Patagonia helped establish the Regenerative Organic Certified Program ™, which approaches agriculture holistically. Its measures are based on soil health and land management, animal welfare and fairness for farmers and workers. Understanding that healthy soil traps carbon, it prioritises practices the core belief that "Soil is the Solution."
As with cotton, linen is derived from plant resources; this time, flax. Traditionally, the process is more time- and resource-heavy than cotton production, but it comes with similar problems. Herbicides are used to eradicate weeds, chemicals are required during production to help separate fibres, and it contributes to poor soil health and erosion. The upside? It's biodegradable, of course. Use these indicators for future reference:
EU EcoLabel - The EU EcoLabel doesn't govern flax alone (you will see this come up again in Part II), but it is a great standard developed for consumers, helping them to make conscious purchases. To include this label, the process must meet a range of criteria, including low environmental impact, adhering to chemical restrictions and ethical production. It is an internationally recognised standard, applying to anything that is sold in the European Economic Area.
European Flax - Most of the world's flax comes from Europe, but this label certifies traceability throughout the process, with production exclusively in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The charter guarantees farming practices that respect the environment, no GMOs, zero waste and fair labour. All fibre extraction is mechanical, eliminating the need for chemicals.
A note on sustainable certifications
At the same time, note that certification can be an expensive process - one that many smaller labels dream of but sit out of reach (for the moment). This is just an initial glimpse at the fabrics and certifications we prioritise, but this is also weighed up with a brand's genuine authenticity and transparency.
It's a lot of information. But all these letters and codes give us hope for an informed, innovative and increasingly sustainable future (with no greenwashing in sight). Stay tuned for Part II.