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Cover Story | December 2017

Organic textiles: Blessings for the Future!

The demand of organic textiles in India is much less and has not yet reached the peak for Indian entrepreneurs to jump into organic manufacturing, says Avinash Mayekar.

We are moving in loops. It’s a strange phenomenon. If we introspect ourselves, we would find our current lifestyle and the world around, is at a much advanced stage than where our ancestors were; but a deeper look to our current scenario will show us that the future is heading us back to our roots. Before industrialisation crops were then grown with the help of seeds and natural resources, there were no artificial add-ons needed for crop survival, whereas today there is a bucket list of different fertilizers, additives, preservatives and chemical products used right from seed germination to the ripening and transportation of the produce. These add-ons were mainly for increasing the profitability margin, survival chances, shell life and productivity. Looking at the side effects that it creates on the environment and health, I would say we are totally on the wrong foot.

In the mid era, we were so driven to produce the maximum at lowest margins that we simply neglected the impacts that our advance add-ons created. It came to light only in the 20th century and so people shifted to farming without harmful pesticides and chemicals for their own good and for that of the environment. So in other words, we are just retracing our footprints back to the origin of cultivating naturally but with the help of modern science. This improvement in agricultural practice is not limited to producing only food products but a more practiced phenomenon on raw materials of textile like cotton, jute, silk, ramie or wool.

Earlier we used natural fibres, natural dyes for dyeing and natural extracts for fasteners so there was no impact on the health or on the environment directly or indirectly but then we started using advanced chemicals and toxins that were directly harmful to us or the nature. Further this chemicals generated effluents and its improper disposal has adverse impacts on the environment. So the awareness of environmental degradation has today compelled the world to shift to organic clothing.

Organic textiles or organic clothing is just not restricted to the use of 100 per cent organic produce but it is much beyond it, there is compliance on other stages of production that ensures environmentally and socially-responsible manufacturing. Thus the organic labeled textile gives a credible assurance to the end consumer. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the standard accepted by major markets worldwide.

Globally in 2014- 2015, approximately 1,12,488 mt of organic cotton were grown by 1,93,840 farmers on 3,50,033 hectares acres in 19 countries. An additional 85,671 hectares are in conversion to organic by 2017-18. India, China, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, and the United States are the top five producer countries that grow more than 92 per cent of total global organic cotton fibre. India continues to be the biggest producer, growing 67 per cent of the world’s organic cotton. Global sales of organic cotton products reached an estimated $15.76 billion in 2015. Top 10 users of organic cotton in 2015 were C&A, H&M, Tchibo, Inditex, Nike, Decathlon, Carrefour, Lindex, Williams-Sonoma, and Stanley & Stella. There are around 3,800 GOTS-certified facilities in the world as reported in first national seminar on GOTS held at Dhaka on November 23, 2016.

India produced around 1.35 million MT (2015-16) of certified organic products. Some of the organic textile brands of India are Idigreen, No Nasties, Forty Red Bangles, Samtana, Tvach, Anokhi, UV & W, Bhu:sattva, Do you speak green and Ethicus.

Despite India being major producer of organic cotton globally there are very few Indian brands developing the finished organic product. The major reason behind this is that as far as organic farming is concerned, the initial cost of cultivation is not that high; but when it comes to producing the finished organic product, a lot of changes are needed in machinery, process and also in treating the waste, which ultimately increases the cost of product. More than the cost, another important factor is that the demand of these products in India is much less and has not yet reached the peak for Indian entrepreneurs to jump to organic manufacturing. The major market dominance is seen in developed countries and so few export targeted units have converted and dedicated part of their business towards sustainable development.

Although awareness of organic textiles has seen a major jump and top brands are launched in different parts of the world its penetration is still at a much nascent stage than compared to that of other fashion brands. The acceptance is as of now restricted to a niche section of society. The major hurdle in the growth of organic textiles is not the lack of awareness, but the lack of desire. With the Internet era, today people have knowhow on what organic clothing is they are much aware on the damaged that is caused to the environment but somehow the need to step up and shift to organic is lacking in the masses. The manufacturers are backing out as the demand is not visible and the consumers are backing out saying there are less brands for it.

The truth be-told for the consumers there is no strong desire to shift as the need is somewhere missing. A consumer will accept a change only in two scenario one when the product is extremely dangerous to their own self and second when there is an absolute alternate product within the same price range and by absolute it means a wide range of clothing with high fashion and appeal. A general study of the market from a consumer’s point of view will state that people care for the look and feel of the garment. An extreme concern for 100 per cent safe garments and no compromise on quality is demanded only for toddlers and kids textile segment as the babies and kids are extremely sensitive and cared for with the highest importance in the society.

From a manufacturers point of view, the shift or change is seen only if it gives them high returns or else if there is compulsion for it. Moreover an act of betterment to the society is somehow not a very strong driving force. Also shifting to organic is not an overnight job. There are a lot many changes that will have to be adopted starting from sourcing authentic organic produce to making changes in the age old practices, to educating the workforce by providing training and awareness about sustainable practices. Additionally apart from changing the machinery and practices, there are also many limitations on use of dyes and chemicals. More processing is done on dyes to make them eco-friendly, thereby increasing the overall manufacturing cost of the product. So making these changes to meet the global standards is a tedious job and needs capital investments that at the end will obviously be reflected on the price tag of the end product. The increased margin is not acceptable to the masses as it goes beyond the budgets for the commoners.

High cost of organic clothing is bound to be present as firstly there are limited facilities having organic standards. Moreover there are very few integrated chains providing complete finished product under one roof and to top it very few organic integrated facility. So if we see the journey of organic textile, first and foremost there is need to procure authentic organic raw material, which is then converted to organic fibres. Further they are supplied to another organic weaving facility where the organic fibre gets converted to organic fabric then to another organic facility for processing then a fashion designer who as per attributes and limitations of organic fabric makes designs to meet the fashion trends. And finally an organic factory stitches and converts it to the finished product. This to and fro transportation and the limited facilities in hand obviously increases the cost of the finished product and the small scale of production due to less consumer demands makes the end product price range out of the league of regular consumers.

Conclusion

The solution however cannot be ignored. Organic textiles is just not an acceptable option on the long run, because whether we accept it or not there are long term hazardous impacts on the environment and the scenario of world turning black is no more just a myth that can be simply ignored. Over the years, nature has been quite generous and patient and it has taught us different lessons and quite fatal ones in the recent past. All these consequences are only because of our new lifestyle in which we have adapted to inorganic things. So for a greener future or I would say for a future if at all, it is now time to correct our mistakes and switch to practices that were adopted by our ancestors where they respected the nature and took only what was available naturally rather than over exploiting it. This change however cannot happen by a change in mindset alone following changes needs to be adopted by the government:

  • Strict vigilance on manufactures for producing organic textiles
  • Signature campaign for organic textile
  • Also time has come to make it mandatory to all citizens to use green textile

The article is authored by: Avinash Mayekar, MD & CEO, Suvin Advisors Pvt Ltd.

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