MUMBAI, India — A sense of shared vision of the mission of the Global Organic Textile Standard was strong at the group’s first international conference here last month.
“Many of us felt the sense of a common goal, it was very emotional,” said Herbert Ladwig, GOTS managing director for Germany.
GOTS has become a universally acceptable symbol of authenticity for textiles made from organic fibers. It defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire organic textile supply chain and requires compliance with social criteria, as well.
With 250 people registered and seats filled to capacity at the May 22 event, there was an animated exchange of technical information, certification rules, increasing business and sustainability issues, and a strong focus on networking time for delegates.
“The reason the first conference is being held in India is obvious,” said Sumit Gupta, conference coordinator and GOTS representative in India and Bangladesh. “More than 1,300 out of the total of 3,663 GOTS members are based in India.”
The country is the largest producer of organic cotton, with about 70 percent of world production. It is also home to the largest number of GOTS-certified processing facilities, representing 35 percent of GOTS-certified facilities worldwide.
Speakers on the panels included GOTS executives and brand representatives from across the world, and a recorded message from Charline Ducas, manager of sustainable materials at C&A Europe, who could not attend due to visa issues. Ulrich Hofmann, cofounder, owner and chief executive officer of Brands Fashion GmbH, based in Germany, spoke about his business, which is focused on uniforms, and how it has grown the sustainability factor. Rahul Bhajekar, general manager of Hermes Eco Laboratories, discussed risk management in chemical use and testing, while Binay Kumar Choudhury, general manager of Control Union Inspections and Certifications India, talked about audit checklists and methods.
While it was evident that factories and producers were invested in maintaining the standards for organic production with sustainability and profits, as a goal, a strong point that emerged from the sessions was that consumers are vital to the whole program and value chain.
“Eventually, it is the consumer who influences the brand or the retailer to invest in sustainability,” said Shishir Goenka, founder of Fusion Clothing Co. in India. “They have a clear role to play.”
However, Claudia Kersten, GOTS marketing director, said the role of brands and retailers was an important starting point as they can work in both directions.
“They can influence the consumer, as well as the producer of the textiles,” Kersten said.
Although there was agreement about stepping up awareness in this regard, another concern was how production of organic cotton could be increased, given changing consumer demand.
“It is at least a three-year process to grow organic cotton, and farmers are limited by the price and the fact that neither pesticides nor genetically modified cotton such as Bt can be used for GOTS certification,” said Amit Shah, owner of Spectrum International Ltd., whose India-based company has $60 million in sales, speaking on a panel on Supply Chain Challenges and Opportunities with GOTS.
C&A’s Ducas said her company launched its first GOTS-labeled children’s collection in March. She said that one of the biggest difficulties has been explaining the benefits of organic cotton to the C&A customer.
“How do you make it relevant to the customer and interesting to them? GOTS is so complex and so holistic it is hard to make it digestible to the consumer,” she said.
Goenka of Fusion Clothing cited fabric innovations such as modal as aiding the movement.
“It is a processed, bio-based textile made from the reconstituted cellulose of beech trees,” he said. “This fabric combines the benefits of natural fiber and the fantastically soft feel of modern microforms — soft and smooth, with a texture similar to that of cotton or silk. Having hygroscopy higher than cotton and the luster of silk, modal remains soft and lustrous after several washes.”
He also spoke about a fabric used in T-shirts that’s 55 percent hemp and 45 percent organic cotton.
“The fabric has an awesome feeling when you wear it,” Goenka said. “Hemp being resilient and a fast grower requires little water. Because of its long fibers it has four times the strength of cotton, making it a more durable fabric. It also has antimicrobial properties and it filters out UV for those hot summer days.”
He also spoke about the process of using eco-friendly dyes and prints, and water that is filtered and re-used.
The question of whether these voluntary standards that are being adopted by companies should become mandatory and how far governments should go in insisting upon them was a point taken up by Siddhartha Rajagopal, executive director of The Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council of India.
“At what stage does the state take responsibility for private business?” he asked.
The government of India launched the National Program on Organic Production in 2000 to provide information on standards for areas such as organic production and systems criteria. The total area under organic certification in India was 4.72 million hectares in the 2013-14 growing season. The NPOP works only at the farm level, and all subsequent stages of production are covered under privately owned certification, with GOTS being most popular.
“These certifications decrease cost to the government, decrease the burden of compliance and give ease to harmonization globally,” said Prabha Prabha Nagarajan, regional director of India for Textile Exchange.
GOTS technical requirements are updated every three years — GOTS 4.0 was launched on March 1, 2014 and will be updated in 2017.
“There are always new concerns to add on,” said GOTS’ Ladwig. “It is clear that we will have to add a lot more, eventually. Some points that emerged from this conference include greenhouse gases and disposal issues. Both of these are complex issues and will need more time…GOTS itself is moving, it is dynamic. Sustainability has a lot to do with time itself.”