Green­ing the

Big brands and the eco-revo­lu­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By EMMA CHARL­TON

POI­SONOUS pes­ti­cides, soil pol­lu­tion and wa­ter waste: high-street fashion has a lot to an­swer for in the en­vi­ron­men­tal game. But can big brands use their global clout to drive the green revo­lu­tion?

If green is the new black on the high-street, then global re­tail­ers are lin­ing up to pa­rade their eco­cre­den­tials, from Marks and Spencers in Bri­tain, to sportswear be­he­moth Nike or the fashion gi­ant H&M.

“There’s a par­a­digm shift in the tex­tile sec­tor,” said John Mow­bray, edi­tor of the green trends mag­a­zine

Eco­tex­tile, at the Tex­world trade fair in Paris last month.

“Three years ago sus­tain­abil­ity was not on the agenda,” he says. “Now a lot of re­tail­ers and brands want to move re­gard­less of what their sup­pli­ers think. They think con­sumers want trans­parency. Brands are driv­ing change.”

Sourc­ing cleaner fabrics – from or­ganic yarns to re­cy­cled polyester – and root­ing out sweat­shop prac­tices in Asia and else­where are the twin planks of the sus­tain­abil­ity mantra adopted by many of the West’s top brands.

And the most vis­i­ble ex­am­ple of this is or­ganic cot­ton. Un­til re­cently an ex­pen­sive rar­ity, or­ganic cot­ton T-shirts are crop­ping up on su­per­mar­ket and bar­gain re­tail shelves, from Tesco or Top­shop in Bri­tain to Auchan in France or Pri­mark in the United States. Global re­tail sales of or­ganic cot­ton ap­parel and home tex­tile goods have been soar­ing 40% per year since 2001, ac­cord­ing to the Or­ganic Ex­change (OE) non­profit group.

The world’s top 10 or­gan­ic­cot­ton us­ing brands last year, ac­cord­ing to the OE, reads like a Who’s Who of the high-street fash- ion and sports in­dus­try, in­clud­ing C&A, Nike, Wal­mart, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co and Adi­das.

The global or­ganic cot­ton mar­ket is still a baby, mak­ing up 1% of the to­tal har­vest. But the mar­ket is boom­ing – and the growth ap­pears re­ces­sion-proof.

Or­ganic cot­ton pro­duc­tion grew 20% in 2008/09 over 2007/08, across In­dia, Turkey, Pak­istan and 19 other coun­tries, with growth fore­cast to con­tinue at 20 to 40% through 2011. Last year, even as the eco­nomic slow­down sliced 7% off the global ap­parel and tex­tiles mar­ket, the or­ganic seg­ment grew by 35%, with sales of US$4.3bil (RM13.3bil).

“We weren’t af­fected by the cri­sis,” said H.L. Ding, a Chi­nese en­tre­pre­neur whose nat­u­ral fi­bre firm Hemp For­tex turned over US$10mil (RM32mil) in 2009 sell­ing to the likes of Wal­mart. “We’re a small part of a mar­ket that’s still grow­ing.”

Short of go­ing or­ganic, mean­while, dozens of brands and re­tail­ers – who to­gether con­sume 15% of the world’s cot­ton – have signed up to a global scheme called the Bet­ter Cot­ton Ini­tia­tive. Aim­ing to cut wa­ter and soil pol­lu­tion while bat­tling child and bonded labour, it in­volves 100,000 cot­ton farm­ers in China, Cen­tral Asia, Brazil and West and Cen­tral Africa. Re­tail giants Ikea and Levi Strauss sit on the coun­cil of the scheme, whose first crop is set for har­vest in the com­ing months.

At what price?

So the fig­ures are im­pres­sive. But how much is this re­ally do­ing to re­duce the in­dus­try’s eth­i­cal

foot­print? Is this real change or mere “green­wash­ing“?

“Sure, they are buy­ing or­ganic cot­ton, but at what price, and how is it made?” warned Is­abel Quehe, founder of the Eth­i­cal Fashion Show which held its sev­enth edi­tion in Paris last month. Look­ing be­yond fabrics, “con­sumers need to think about where their clothes come from, whether the per­son who made them was paid a liv­ing wage.”

Re­cently, re­port in France’s Lib­er­a­tion news­pa­per ex­posed the “prison-like” con­di­tions in a tex­tile com­plex in south­ern In­dia that sup­plies many of the West’s top brands, like Gap or H&M.

“I saw an or­ganic T-shirt sell­ing for €2.90 (RM12.50) – at that kind of price you can only be pro­duc­ing it in ter­ri­ble con­di­tions,” said Chris­tan Tour­nafol, one of the de­sign­ers at the Paris show whose la­bel Les Racines du Ciel sources or­ganic fi­bres around the world.

But there was also ev­i­dence at the Tex­world fair that sup­port from big re­tail part­ners is help­ing green, eth­i­cal sup­pli­ers to thrive. Some 120 cer­ti­fied or­ganic and fair-trade fab­ric sup­pli­ers made the trip to Paris this year – dou­ble the num­ber a year ago. Freshly har­vested cot­ton in a farm on the out­skirts of Hami, Xin­jiang Uighur, China. Al­though growth of or­ganic cot­ton is climb­ing steadily, 99% of the world’s cot­ton is still grown with lots of agro­chem­i­cals.

“It’s not easy for com­pa­nies to trans­form them­selves,” says Bernd Muller, in charge of sus­tain­able tex­tiles at the show.

“There have been prob­lems with whole vil­lages who con­verted to or­ganic, and ended up with un­sold cot­ton on their hands,” added the fair’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor MarieArmelle de Bouteiller.

A case in point: JCT Limited ships a mil­lion yards of or­ganic yarn each year from the In­dian Pun­jab to clients in­clud­ing Nike and De­cathlon. Un­der a lock-in deal with Nike, it says it plans to con­vert huge acreage to or­ganic farm­ing within three years, ed­u­cat­ing farm­ers about the tech­nique and pledg­ing to buy their whole crop.

OE re­search also sug­gests that or­ganic cot­ton is be­ing spurred by “strong com­mit­ment and sup­port from brands”.

“Big com­pa­nies al­ways tread very care­fully but once they feel its right for the mar­ket, it can be re­ally big,” agreed Hemp For­tex’s Ding. “They are tak­ing se­ri­ous steps.”

Quehe be­lieves it is eas­ier for a small firm to be truly eth­i­cal, by keep­ing watch on en­vi­ron­men­tal and labour prac­tices all along its sup­ply chain. But she con­cedes that “large firms have the power to set an ex­am­ple.”

“Change has been set in mo­tion on a global scale. And the more of us there are, the bet­ter.” – AFP

Sweat shop: Em­ploy­ees of a gar­ment fac­tory in Ph­nom Penh, Cam­bo­dia. The cloth­ing in­dus­try is still plagued by its rep­u­ta­tion for ill-treat­ment of work­ers.

En­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact: A worker ex­am­in­ing fab­ric at a tex­tile fac­tory in Faisal­abad, Pak­istan. The tex­tile in­dus­try is a ma­jor source of pol­lut­ing waste­water.

Bales of ma­te­rial stored in the

white room at the Hennes & Mau­ritz com­pany head­quar­ters in Stock­holm, Swe­den. H&M,

Europe’s sec­ond-largest cloth­ing re­tailer, is among the

pi­o­neers of green fashion.

Poor work­ing con­di­tions are still rife in the cloth­ing in­dus­try. Here, 15-year-old Saira (cen­tre) cuts shirt threads in­side a fac­tory in Mum­bai. She earns US$55 (RM170) a month.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.