Fashion 4.0, No. 8: Organic Cotton and Recycled Cotton Denim on the Rise

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We love fiber innovations in part because they utilize natural materials or find ways to take post-consumer waste out of landfills and repurpose it into something that can be used again. That said, we also support natural fibers being grown more responsibly. With the rise in awareness of the climate emergency that our planet is facing, Textile Exchange, the only organization to collect and report on global organic cotton production data, sees the crop as a key component to the myriad of solutions that are urgently needed.

This week, we're highlighting the organization's 2019 Organic Cotton Market Report, which noted that global organic cotton production grew by 56 percent in 2017/2018. The latest figures show that global production of organic cotton fiber reached 180,971 metric tons (MT) in 2017/2018 – the highest volume seen since 2009/2010 when the financial crisis led to a dramatic decline – and the growth is set to continue.

The number of facilities certified to voluntary organic standards is also on the rise, with facilities certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard and Textile Exchange’s Organic Content Standard growing by 15 and 16 percent, respectively.

Cotton is grown organically in 19 countries around the world and the Organic Cotton Market Report reveals that 98 percent of the production stems from just 7 of these: India (47 percent), China (21 percent), Kyrgyzstan (12 percent), Tukey (6 percent), Tajikistan (5 percent), the United States (3 percent), and Tanzania (3 percent).

Organic cotton now makes up 0.7 percent of total cotton production globally. In 2017/2018, the fiber was planted on a total of 356,131 hectares (ha), with an additional 44,394 ha in transition to organic. Production was carried out by a total of 182,876 farmers, the majority of whom were smallholders growing organic cotton in rotation with other crops. 

Farmer access to cotton seed that has not been genetically modified (GM) remains a huge obstacle for organic farmers, particularly in countries such as China and India where GM cotton dominates the cotton landscape. The report highlights some of the great progress being made in this area and includes an urgent call to action for added investment in non-GM seed programs, as well as for companies to develop their own organic cotton safeguarding programs.

“Organic production of cotton is the tip of the spear that has been driving change within the sector. It establishes a direction of travel for all of us, starting with regenerative soil practices.” – La Rhea Pepper, managing director of Textile Exchange 

recycled cotton denim

In other good cotton news, Cone Denim, one of the U.S.'s oldest denim mills, has introduced a new collection made from recycled cotton. 

The line, Cone Denim Recycled Cotton, promotes a closed-loop manufacturing system that reduces energy consumption and material waste, uses pre-consumer and post-consumer waste in the production of “socially responsible denims.”

Cone Denim is working with like-minded partners in Mexico to collect and incorporate pre-consumer scraps from the production cutting table back into Cone’s supply chain and utilized in the manufacturing of its authentic denim. The company is able to bring scraps from original Cone Denim fabrics together with other sustainable components using what it calls “mindful manufacturing processes to create environmentally conscious…fabrics.”

“The use of pre-consumer recycled cotton from Cone’s own internal operations and our cut-and-sew partners helps to conserve water by offsetting water used to grow cotton. Additionally, Cone’s use of pre- and post-consumer recycled cotton has redirected approximately 500,000 pounds of cotton waste from landfills over the last year.” – Steve Maggard, president of Cone Denim 

Cone Denim is owned by Elevate Textiles, which announced earlier this year 2025 sustainability commitments focused on responsibly sourced fibers, reduced water consumption and reduced greenhouse gases. It aims to use at least 80 percent sustainably sourced cotton and 50 percent recycled polyester content, reduce the company’s water intensity by 25 percent per unit of production and set a specific greenhouse gas target of achieving a 2.5 percent per year reduction trajectory as part of its participation with the Science Based Target Program.

Here's to all the companies and people, big and small, who are working to create change within the apparel manufacturing supply chain. May 2020 be a year of even greater innovation and more good things. 

With Gratitude,

The Variant Team

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