Organic fabric — what does it mean?
Updated: Feb 28
Organic — the mysterious O-word that many companies use, and few customers understand. Clearly, it must mean something good, but no one really knows what is hiding behind the term.
To help you understand what “organic” means and what benefits it carries, I’ve decided to create a series of articles about organic products and certifications.
Today we’re taking a look at organic fabrics. After reading this article, you’ll never have to question whether an organic cotton T-shirt is actually better than a regular one.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
When it comes to environmental claims such as “organic”, “natural,” or “biodegradable”, the biggest rule is to trust labels, not words. The term “organic” doesn’t have a universal definition — depending on the country and industry, every organization assigns a slightly different meaning to it.
The organization that defined the requirements for organic textiles is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). GOTS monitors every step of the supply chain, from raw materials and harvesting methods to manufacturing and labeling. The standards also consider the ecological and social criteria, which creates a comprehensive idea of the company’s impact on the world. That approach sets GOTS apart from other organic certifications.
The key features of GOTS are organic fibers, ecological and social criteria, all processing stages, and third-party certification.
Organic fibers are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and GMOs. That makes organic textile much better for the planet and human health than generic fabrics. Although GOTS doesn’t certify raw materials, all GOTS certified items are produced from raw materials with organic certifications. Depending on the percentage of organic fibers, the textile can be certified as “organic” (95%+ organic fibers) or “made with organic materials” (70%+ organic fibers) by GOTS.
Ecological and social criteria
When we hear that something is organic, we immediately think that it’s more environmentally friendly. And that is true — GOTS controls the usage of chemicals, dyes, or other toxic materials. But it doesn’t stop there. GOTS also requires its manufacturers and suppliers to ensure good working and social conditions for the workers. That means no child labor, discrimination, violence, or workplace safety hazards. Employment must be freely chosen and fairly compensated.
All processing stages
As I’ve mentioned before, GOTS encompasses every step of the supply chain — manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading, and distribution. That’s because when it comes to textile, using organic materials is not enough. If you use chemicals or artificial dyes on organic fibers, the products made from them might harm the environment and people who use them.
GOTS is an independent certification that isn’t regulated by any governmental or commercial organization. When you see a product that’s certified GOTS organic, you can be sure that it fulfills every criterion listed above. GOTS employs independent Third-Party Certification Bodies to conduct on-site inspection and certification. It uses the same standards for certifying companies all over the world, so wherever you are, you can be sure GOTS is doing its job properly.
How is organic textile better for your health?
The goal of mass-market brands is to create as many clothes as possible for the lowest possible cost. That doesn’t just affect the environment and the lives of workers who make the clothes, but also the well-being of people who wear them. Traditional textiles often contain dyes, cleansers, and toxic chemicals that might irritate your skin. People with sensitive skin or children may be affected the most, but even if you don’t see any consequences now, they might show up in the feature.
Besides being better for your skin, organic fabric is also more durable. Dyes and chemicals can damage the fibers, so organic fibers are much stronger. That means that your shirt will last much longer, and investing in a more expensive option will pay off.
Brands that use certified organic fabrics
To make sure the textile you buy is organic, you don’t need to interrogate every manufacturer and supplier — GOTS will do it for you. Now we’ll answer the most important question — what brands carry GOTS certifications? Admittedly, not too many, but here are some of them that you might know already.
Alright, you might have seen this one coming. Organic Basics really offer GOTS certified organic basics such as underwear, shirts, T-shirts, and socks for a fair price. They also use other sustainable options such as Tencel or recycled wool, so you can’t go wrong with them.
Armedangels is a German sustainable fashion brand that has been working hand-in-hand with GOTS since 2011. All their producers and suppliers go through GOTS audits every year, so you’ll see plenty of GOTS certified items on the company’s website, including jeans, sweaters, and jackets.
Although People Tree might not (yet) be as popular as other sustainable brands I’ve listed above, they take sustainability very seriously. Most of their products carry several recognized labels, including GOTS.
A Canadian based brand that uses organic Egyptian cotton bought straight from the farmer. Starting with only mens wear, they now also included womans clothing. They recently included sheets as well so you can have your beauty sleep surrounded by organic cotton.