Textile Innovation – Part 1: Organic Fibre

Not long ago, the organic fibre market was associated with high risk, low yields and expensive product.

However, today there are abundant solutions to the roadblocks that once plagued the organic movement.

A few great resources to keep up-to-date on organic fibre innovation are Textile Exchange, Chetna Organic, Organic Cotton Accelerator, Cotton Connect, and the Organic Trade Association.

Converting to organic as a team:

Farmers are partnering with industry players to convert to organic. Nonprofit organizations like Cotton Connect and the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) have partnered with industry leaders, like C&A, to support farmers and finance the conversion from conventional to organic.

New Money:

Innovations in financing have reduced farmer risk. Some brands are making up-front fibre commitments. Other fintech (financial technology) tools, like blockchain and crypto-currency, are empowering smallholder farmers. Smartphones, too, have brought about an ease in tracking supplier transactions and sending/receiving digital payments.

Snowball Effect:

The market is booming, and digital communications are making it known. Because the ability to share successes has become instant, increasing interest in organic has snowballed. Organic fibre sales increased 9.2% between 2015-16 and continue to grow.

Access to Seed:

Genetically modified (BT) cottonseed has been designed so that it needs to be re-purchased every year. Organic cotton, however, gives the power back to the farmers to keep their seed after the cotton has been ginned. Unfortunately, it is very easy for organic cotton to be contaminated by neighbouring BT cotton farms or during the ginning process on shared machines. As a defence, seed banks have been established to secure access to uncontaminated organic seed. Additionally, guidance has been shared on how to avoid contamination. These practices make organic farming more difficult, but dodge the prospect of lawsuits and threat to seed integrity.

Finishing Innovations:

It’s one thing to grow organic fibre, but processing the plant into yarn and then fabric and garment presents its own obstacles. Thankfully, new solutions continue to emerge. From non-toxic fabric softeners that meet organic standards to plant-based dyes and inks, textiles can be certified organic from farm to finished fashion.

A Fairer Market:

Cotton subsidies have reduced by billions of dollars in the U.S. This means that the market distortion or the unfair price advantage has gone down and cotton prices are fairer worldwide. The playing field is still not levelled, but it’s a step in the right direction worth mentioning.

Evolution of Research Methods:

Participatory research methods include and empower the communities that are being studied. This closer collaboration amongst invested parties (farmer communities, brands, suppliers, mills, and research institutions) allows for an action plan following the collection and analysis of data. Breaking down scientific silos to engage multi-stakeholder collaboration means that research leads more quickly to action.

The common thread amongst all of these innovations is collaboration and technology. Technology connects us and makes it easier to include one another in projects we all care about. It is truly an exciting and inspiring time to be part of industry change.

Do you see an increase in collaboration in your work in the past several years? What innovations have changed the way you work as an individual? How about as an organization/collective?

As always, please share this with anyone you think might enjoy and feel free to continue the conversation in the comments!


Images: Title image Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash & body image Tess Nebula X Rachel Craven


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