SPONSORED CONTENT – In the past few years we have seen a sustained upturn in the demand for organic cotton. For some brands and retailers, including the likes of Stella McCartney and Patagonia, organic remains the gold standard within the cotton market. Even fast fashion and more mainstream retailers are in many cases increasing the amount of organic cotton in their collections.
The data supports such sentiments. Textile Exchange’s 2020 Organic Cotton Market Report revealed data collected for the 2018/19 harvest year. The report showed an increase of 31 per cent in organic cotton production over the previous year – making this the second-largest harvest on record after 2009/10.
Anecdotal evidence suggests demand for organic cotton continues to grow amid an increase in interest and enthusiasm around sustainability issues, particularly among the younger generation. In pure marketing terms, organic remains the most recognisable of the cotton ‘brands’ among consumers.
Alongside this optimistic picture, challenges remain on the horizon for brands. As well the difficulty of matching the supply of organic with demand, another question for brands and retailers is the issue of authenticity. Put another way: how can they have confidence the organic cotton in their products is the real thing – and, for instance, free from GMO contamination?
This question has reared its head in recent years, especially as reports about organic cotton fraud have shaken the industry and raised challenges around marketing claims by brands.
For example, last year a serious case of organic cotton fraud was found in India following an investigation by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which uncovered 20,000 metric tons of fake organic cotton.
More generally, there is a heightened awareness of and interest in claims being made by brands around the materials in their organic cotton textile products. Are they what they claim to be or are consumers being misled?
As well as potential brand damage, misleading claims about products – whether inadvertent or not – could one day lead to legal action if discussions at the EU level around ‘greenwashing’ lead to regulatory reform.
The only fail-safe way to address such issues in terms of organic cotton is through testing.
What makes cotton ‘organic’?
For cotton to be regarded as organic, it is essential not only to verify the use of conventional non-GMO lines, but also the absence of synthetic pesticides and hazardous chemicals in the farming practice.
The environmental benefits of organic cotton are well-documented. Not using polluting pesticides in its growth leads to healthier soils, which in turn can help support regenerative farming techniques – these being a major aspiration of progressive brands right now.
A common protocol for testing
Cotton is complex, and in such a huge market – upon which the trillion-dollar fashion industry is heavily dependent – it is no surprise to see stakeholders along the value chain increasingly looking to technology to improve standards and quality assurance.
In a bid to provide assurances for the market, GOTS, Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) and Textile Exchange in 2019 developed ISO/ IWA 32:2019 – a world recognised standard for GMO-testing in the cotton supply chain.
One of the reasons this testing standard was developed was to create a common protocol for GMO testing among the two major certification bodies, GOTS and the Organic Content Standard.
Among organisations participating in the development workshop for this new testing standard was Eurofins GeneScan – and the company has passed the proficiency test of the ISO/ IWA 32:2019 standard by the three organising bodies.
The ISO/ IWA 32:2019 test is now part of Eurofins’ Organic Cotton Identification Services. The Services incorporate testing solutions for both GM and pesticide issues pertaining to organic cotton, in one testing window.
GMO testing according to ISO/ IWA 32:2019 is carried out by Eurofins GeneScan, a renowned testing expertise in the GMO field, with several years of experience in handling non-GMO cotton testing.
The analysis of more than 200 pesticides and 250 hazardous chemicals is delivered by Eurofins Softlines & Leather, a testing expert in textiles and the garment industry.
Since the launch of the service, Eurofins’ Organic Cotton Identification Services has supported customers in validating their marketing claims and protecting their brand image with a one-stop-shop service.
On 15 April, Eurofins Softlines & Leather is running a free webinar to help buyers and suppliers to navigate the pertinent issue of testing for organic cotton – offering practical insight and guidance on the issue.
The webinar will run twice across two time zones to suit the needs of participants. Book your seat here.