Organics On the Menu

When it comes to sustainability, the fashion industry can learn some important lessons from the organic food movement, writes Xenya Cherny-Scanlon, author of the green stilettos blog, which seeks to “put glam into green”.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions “organic”? Carrots Cosmetics? Cotton? Indeed, all of these can be produced according to the strict rules that govern organic farming. 

Yet when it comes to fashion, its eco-friendly incarnation seems to be seriously lagging behind the organic food movement. What lessons can sustainable fashion learn from the food industry? Here is some food for thought...

Organic is healthier
This is without a doubt the strongest argument going for organic food. In this day and age when we can no longer be sure where our food comes from, the organic label gives us a sense of guarantee that the product we’re buying does not contain any unwanted ingredients, hazardous chemicals and such, and is therefore better for our health (as well as that of farmers and factory workers who made it!).

The beauty industry is already reaping the benefits of the growing demand for organic products, with numerous all-organic skincare labels entering the market and well-established cosmetics brands launching their own ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’ lines.

While the organic clothing labels have found it harder to capitalize on the health argument thus far, more and more are starting to draw parallels between “fast food” and “fast fashion”, arguing that both are equally bad for you.

Organic costs more
Granted, organic food, fashion and beauty products come with a price premium. However the difference is not as humongous as some may think. For example, Buy This, Not That by Fashioning Change makes it easy to compare the cost of an ethical wardrobe compared to a fast-fashion one, with some surprising findings showing that organic is not necessarily that much more expensive.

Besides, fashion is not just about price. We buy clothes, shoes and accessories because they define our style, echo our mood, or reflect our aspirations. That is why organic fashion must be more than just a healthy choice – it must make us feel beautiful.

Does it really make a difference?
Whether we’re talking carrots or cotton, the answer is an emphatic yes on both counts: food and fashion. Organic farmers are better off – economically and socially – than those who use conventional agriculture that routinely involves heavy use of pesticides. And not to mention benefits to the environment – organic farming saves water, protects bees and birds, and leaves soils in better condition after the harvest.

At the same time, it is easy to get confused among the multitude of labels with ‘organic’ and ‘eco’ claims. One organic label for clothes you can trust is Global Organic Textile Standard, which guarantees at least 95% certified organic fibre content.

Is it just a passing fancy?
With the sales of organic food and drinks showing some of the highest growth rates over the past decade and major retailers like Swiss COOP celebrating 20 years of its “bio” products range, it is safe to say that the organic food movement has come of age.

As for organic fashion, in my view it needs to look beyond the eco qualities of hemp, linen, cotton and other organic fabrics and to strive towards cutting-edge fashion. This is already starting to happen with trend-setting brands like Komodo, People Tree, Rapanui and Organic by John Patrick all blending style and sustainability.

After all, this is the best recipe for ensuring that organic stays both on our dinner plates and in our wardrobes.

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