Fabric For Living: A Guide to Organic Textiles

Eco-textiles are hot right now, but it can be tough to sort out what's truly green. Our guide gives you the rundown.

| July/August 2008


Lulan Textiles' hand-woven, hand-dyed silk and organic cotton textiles are fair trade, use low-impact dyes and honor age-old weaving techniques and processes.

Michelle Galins

Big changes are afoot in textiles. Long considered one of the world’s most polluting industries, with chemical-heavy production practices along with runoff and air pollution, the textile trade is rapidly expanding its earth-friendly options. According to the recent U.S. Market for Organic and Eco-Friendly Home Textiles report by Specialists in Business Information (SBI), organic and eco-friendly textile sales have seen double-digit growth in the last several years, and the industry projects another 40-percent increase from 2007 to 2010. Globally, sales are expected to expand from $1.1 billion in 2006 to $6.8 billion in 2010.

The rapid growth of organic textiles sales may be due in part to the introduction of organic lines by popular retailers such as Target, Ralph Lauren Home and Bed Bath & Beyond. By responding to consumer demand for organics, these powerhouse players have in turn helped increase attention, awareness and distribution of these products to the marketplace.

But where there’s money to be made, clever marketing and greenwashing can often confuse the issue—so it pays to know what to look for.

Organic cotton

One of the fastest growing markets in sustainable textiles is organic cotton. “Organics are grown without herbicides or pesticides and processed without bleach or chemical dyes,” says Rowena Finnegan, owner of sustainable furniture company and design consultancy Eco-Terric. “Conventional cotton farming uses 25 percent of the pesticides used globally. Those working with pesticides are at risk every day. And pesticides get into the groundwater, which isn’t good for the planet or for the end user.”

Demand from retailers and consumers, along with the advent of organic lines among major manufacturers, have driven sales of organic cotton over the past few years. A report by Organic Exchange, a nonprofit organization committed to expanding organic agriculture, found that U.S. organic cotton product sales have increased 55 percent each year from 2001 to 2005.

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