For so many reasons, I was sad that the in-person Organic Week in Washington, D.C., could not be held this year. One thing I was looking forward to was the interface between the Organic Trade Association’s Fiber Council members with its Retail Council members. The retailers are just one step away from the consumers, so from my vantage point, the more educated the retailers are about organic textiles, the clearer their messaging is to shoppers.
I have the honor of representing the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for North America. GOTS is comprised of four member organizations, namely the Organic Trade Association (USA), IVN (Germany), Soil Association (UK) and JOCA (Japan). GOTS is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers, and includes ecological and social criteria along with allowable inputs. GOTS is a processing standard of which the Organic Trade Association is part owner. It requires that the raw fiber inputs--such as cotton, wool and hemp--be certified to the USDA/NOP crop or livestock standard just as with food. Likewise, the processing inputs and methods are examined as well, thus mirroring the organic food processing standards. Most farmers who grow organic cotton also grow alfalfa, corn, peanuts, or other crops in rotation. Likewise, organic ranchers who raise sheep for wool may also choose to raise meat sheep breeds.
GOTS certification begins at the gin for cotton, the scouring facility for wool or the retting facility for flax and hemp. Then every step in the supply chain is certified to verify that the end product has met the GOTS criteria. So, those “Textile” people that you see at Organic Trade Association events are just as connected to farming as you in the food businesses!
As we know from our trade association’s Organic Industry Survey, savvy consumers look for third-party validation in the form of the USDA Organic seal. Likewise, these same consumers seek out companies of integrity who have gone the extra mile to achieve GOTS certification, promising compliance with stringent ecological and social criteria. Products may only be sold with a GOTS label if the entire supply-chain is certified, and the necessary scope and transaction certificates have been obtained to prove certification. Just as with organic food, independent on-site inspections take place annually by GOTS approved auditors.
GOTS certification grew 35 percent during 2019 totaling 7,765 companies worldwide. In the Unites States, 40 new companies received certification, making a total of 134 individual companies certified to GOTS. In addition to all of the environmental positives of GOTS goods, 3.1 million workers are now benefiting from GOTS’ strong social component, and no additional “Fair trade” standard is needed.
As the days of fast fashion are coming to an end; consumers are increasingly looking for quality. According to the Cotton Incorporated 2020 Lifestyle Monitor™ survey, 92 percent of consumers rate “quality” as a top factor in buying new clothes, right behind fit (96 percent), comfort (96 percent), and price (92 percent). Additionally, 63 percent of consumers say they feel more loyal to a clothing brand that offers apparel made of natural fibers such as cotton or wool, and 78 percent say cotton is their favorite fiber to wear. Compared to manmade fibers, 81 percent say cotton is the most sustainable, softest (81 percent), most comfortable (80 percent), and highest quality (73 percent). Another 66 percent say it lasts the longest.
Most textiles used for clothes on the market are plastic-based. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that the most common materials used in textiles are polyester (55 percent), followed by nylon (5 percent) and acrylic (2 percent). These synthetics account for 35 percent of the primary micro plastic pollution entering the Earth’s oceans. The tiny fibers are washed into the water ways during the laundry cycle, and don’t decompose like natural fibers. Instead, they can last up to 200 years. In that time, the fibers can be digested by aquatic organisms and then enter the food chain. Micro plastic pollution has also been found in drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.
GOTS addresses all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. These SDGs provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet now and into the future, and serve as an urgent call for action by all countries--developed and developing--in a global partnership. The SDGs recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth--all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
Whether you’re a retailer or in the food service world, you may support GOTS by dressing your employees in GOTS-certified aprons, uniforms and hats. As a non-food store buyer, you can look for the GOTS logo or license number on items you choose for your store. And you will also be preventing greenwashing and fraud from those companies that make organic claims, but have no third-party validation behind it.
Retailers do not have to be GOTS certified themselves and may use the GOTS logo on their website or labeling, but only in a way that does not make the impression that all products are GOTS certified (assuming there are non-certified items on the same web or print page).
Important Points for Retail Buyers:
- Ask for a copy of supplier’s GOTS certificate.
- Check company and its validity on GOTS Public Database at www.global-standard.org.
- Ask for original Transaction Certificate (TC) specific to the goods sold to you in Purchase Order. The TC should mention your name and address as the buyer, and your direct supplier should be listed as the supplier on the TC. Collect TCs for the whole quantity purchased. Suppliers’ TCs are a mandatory document for your own certification also.
- Ask your supplier to get a ‘Label Release’ from its Certification Body (CB) using the form Labelling Release for GOTS Goods. The artwork of the GOTS label to be used on GOTS goods has to be approved by the Certification Body (CB) of the facility that is applying the label on products. It is that certification body that can supply you with GOTS artwork.
- If you are also a B2B trader, you must get GOTS certified yourself. Once that is done, you may ask your supplier to put ‘YOUR’ license number on the end product. Or, you may voluntarily choose to become certified. That would hide the name of the manufacturer from your competitors, as only your license number would be public facing. However, a B2B trader also has the option to sell the product with its supplier’s license number.
Alternatively, your own certification would have many benefits:
- The certification includes the support of a GOTS approved certifier who will see you as a direct customer in the independent assessment and approval of your product descriptions in catalogues. Without your own certification, you are relying on your manufacturer’s certifier to follow through for you. If you are certified yourself, the certifier is your client and you will have access to an internal portal for speedy service whenever you need label approval or want to add a product to your certificate throughout the year between inspections.
- Your own license number would then be used in the product description, and your supplier’s identity remains confidential, so both customers and competitors will not know who makes your products.
- You would be listed as a GOTS certified company yourself (in the GOTS public database), and would be able to use the GOTS certification for promotional purposes without restrictions. B2B trading with GOTS certified products would be allowed. This is an advantage if you sell online to consumers, as our database receives over 2,000 hits a week in the United States.
A retail inspection is not that complex (compared to a wet-processing unit, for example) and involves the inspector visiting your office (for bookkeeping), and a warehouse inspection (for environmental checks and segregation of organic product, as well as social compliance interviews). Contact me if you are interested in GOTS certification. //
This article was prepared by Lori Wyman, who represents the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for North America and serves on the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Fiber Council (firstname.lastname@example.org)