According to the Organic Trade Association, consumer sales of organic products in the United States exceeded $39 Billion last year, up 11% from 2014. Organic products have seen steady growth, and more than half of American families now buy organic food regularly. While slower to get off the ground, the organic products movement (which currently accounts for 8.2% of all organic sales) is gaining momentum as well.
Organic textile maven Marci Zaroff says this former niche concept is at a tipping point. Today, even the largest mass retailers are reviewing their long-term strategies and goals regarding eco-friendly products. They are realizing that the only way to stay relevant is to address long overdue changes in manufacturing and marketing apparel and textiles. But what does the future of organic certification look like?
Zaroff, who coined the phrase "ECOfashion," founded Under the Canopy, a complete apparel line that offers only certified organic clothing. It quickly took off -- starting at Whole Foods stores across the country and now on Amazon. She is also the founder of Metawear. Zaroff was the Executive Producer of the films "THREAD Documentary" and "Driving Fashion Forward," and co-founded The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She sits on the boards of all the leading organics trade organizations, so when it comes to the future of sustainable fashion, there is no better source of information. In our interview, she reflects on some of the current issues regarding organic standards and where things in her field are heading.
Kate L. Harrison: What is the biggest challenge facing the organic movement today?
Marci Zaroff: The greatest challenge -- and opportunity -- for the eco-fashion movement is gaining the trust of our audience. With regular news of corruption and false organic claims in food and consumer goods, individuals have become increasingly skeptical of brands and their integrity. Fortunately, the release of third-party certifications -- like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), Cradle to Cradle (C2C), 'Fashion Positive' and Fair Trade Certified helps to empower consumers to shop with awareness and trust.
Countless hours and voices have contributed to the efforts of these third-party certifications, all in the spirit of providing the assurances that today's organic claims are genuine. That said, there have been many recent developments as these certifying bodies continue to evolve.
Harrison: How do these groups relate to each other?
Zaroff: Most recently, like-minded organizations have been demonstrating the power of co-creation to solidify the platform of standards, enforcement and progress. For example, as a Board Member of the Organic Trade Association, I recently spearheaded the launch of the OTA's new Organic Fiber Council to establish a unified voice in this sector, focusing on the North American organic fiber industry as the next frontier of an organic lifestyle.
Harrison: How will the industry handle greenwashing?
Zaroff: Recent legislative action on the part of GOTS has shown that misuse of the GOTS label and mislabeling textile products 'organic' when they are not, will not be tolerated. By calling out these violations, GOTS has sent a clear message that their organization provides more than just a seal, but rather a guarantee of organic authenticity. With the fashion and textile industry as the largest polluters in the world second only to coal, TE is now forging a cohesive alliance between its own organic content standard and GOTS's, to strengthen the overall efforts and success of this collective movement for positive change.
Harrison: What is the single most important thing you think must happen for the future of the organic textile movement?
Zaroff: According to Consumer Reports, 84% of American consumers are now eating organic food, at least occasionally. With organic fiber as the fastest growing organic non-food category, a recognizable standard for fiber, that mirrors the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) seal, has become critical. The OFC's primary goal is to connect organic food and fiber by driving both policy and promotion. As a further step, OTA signed a formal agreement with the Textile Exchange, the leading trade organization currently building sustainable textile supply chains globally, to collaborate on legislative advocacy, public outreach, and consumer education initiatives.
Other developments include expanding certification offerings. Within the next few years, GOTS will provide a standard for organic leather, which has been a long time coming. Additionally, work is in motion between the NOP and GOTS to differentiate the standards for organic livestock from that of organic wool fiber, revising the guidelines to be relevant for end-use.
Harrison: How is this different from the past wave of organic regulation?
Zaroff: The past few decades have seen some blurry lines around certification, resulting in confusion for both manufacturers and customers. Recent successes in implementing authentic organic standards have resulted from cooperative efforts. With this unified mindset, plus technological advances and growing consumer demand for transparency, the future for organic standards will continue to evolve. This means that brands and retailers will have the key tools necessary to connect source with storytelling, helping to drive a green, chic and healthy future for us all.