There has been an increased understanding that organic cotton programmes deliver real benefits

There has been an increased understanding that organic cotton programmes deliver real benefits

The organic cotton market is continuing its upward trajectory, while leading apparel brands and retailers are carefully balancing their use of a range of preferred fibres and materials in order to achieve the best sustainability results, according to two new reports.

This year's Organic Cotton Market Report and the 2016 Preferred Fibre & Materials Market Report, published by international non-profit organisation Textile Exchange, highlight leading companies in the field and detail what they are doing to improve sustainability in the textile value chain.

"In the past year, we've seen increased understanding that, with the proper foundations of transparency and integrity, organic cotton programmes deliver real benefits to the least prosperous parts of the supply chain, especially smallholder farmers," says Textile Exchange managing director, La Rhea Pepper.

Over the past five to ten years, there has been expansion in the preferred cottons landscape, with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and other programmes such as Cleaner Cotton, CottonConnect's REEL, and Bayer's e3 joining organic cotton and Fairtrade cotton in the preferred cotton space. BCI alone aims to account for 30% marke share by 2020.

Data included in the report shows projected fibre growth over the five years from 2015 to 2020 is set to be led by cellulosic fibres (+5-6% per annum), followed by synthetic fibres (+3-4% per annum) and cotton fibres (1-2% per annum). Projected fibre usage from 2013 to 2020 is seen rising 6% in China, but is likely to fall by 4% in Europe and North America.

Preferred fibres cover organic cotton, recycled polyester, biobased fibres and cellulosics, and certified down, with big initiatives this year including circular systems, recycling textile waste, biobased polymer developments, and big data's support on collecting and organising this information through various schemes. 

In terms of user brands and retailers, 20 years after Patagonia's "groundbreaking" decision to convert all of its cotton products to 100% organic cotton, the two reports show brands such as H&M, C&A, Inditex and Nike are getting the mix right for sustainability.

The companies featured in the reports range from those that focus on one fibre to those using a variety of fibres and materials. Both reports present a number of leader-boards, celebrating the "top 10" companies that have made significant steps in their sourcing strategies.

Value retailer C&A takes the number one spot on the 'Top Users By Volume' chart for the second year running, with Swedish fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and German brand Tchibo remaining in the second and third positions, respectively.

"Maintaining our top position in organic cotton and achieving the great performance in down and lyocell have been the result of hard work from our global designers, buyers and sourcing colleagues" says Jeffrey Hogue, C&A's global chief sustainability officer. "These results are encouraging as they show that we are making a significant difference in sourcing more sustainable raw materials and improving our environmental and social impacts."

The company adds it remains focused on its 2020 goals, where it aims to source 100% of its cotton and 67% of its raw materials from verified more sustainable sources.

Zara brand owner Inditex made a "significant" move from the ninth position last year up to fourth spot. Nike, Decathlon and Carrefour remain long-standing top volume users while Lindex remains a firm eighth.

Meanwhile, Continental Clothing's Earth Positive brand saw the biggest increase in its uptake of organic cotton over the past year, with Inditex not far behind. Additionally, considerable expansion of organic by Volcom, Loomstate, PACT, Stella McCartney and Continental brought a host of new names into the growth charts.

Yet Pepper adds the there still is not enough being done to improve yields. "Unfortunately, the industry is still dancing around the true cost of more sustainable fibres. This is not just the case with organic, but across the board, with so many of the preferred fibres. It is time to get to the heart of the matter – is it really about legitimate costs or just greed? While I applaud the steps that some of the initiatives are taking to improve yields (a few cents more may take a farmer from extreme poverty to just poverty) I have to say it just isn't enough."