Designers question the authenticity of ‘100 per cent organic' claims
Organic clothing, the preferred option of a niche segment, trickled into retail stores a few summers ago. The percentage of organic clothing as opposed to regular garments is still marginal, but finding a shirt made from organic cotton is easier today. A handful of brands display their organic collection alongside their regular garments and there are specialty stores and designers catering to this market, too. But scratch beneath the surface and both designers and manufacturers will confide their doubts about the authenticity of the process.
“It takes three years for a land that's been previously fed on chemical pesticides to rid all chemical residues. Only the crop that grows in a completely chemical-free land can be called organic,” explains designer Rahul Mishra. He is one of the few in the fashion fraternity to have veered towards organic clothing to realise that it's not a cakewalk and now does a balance between organic clothing and clothing that uses natural fibres.
Natural or organic?
He rues that not many understand the difference between organic and natural fibres. Ahimsa silk, cotton, khadi, wool, linen, hemp, bamboo, flax, fibre from banana, pineapple and even soy bean are natural fibres. “All these natural fibres are not essentially organic,” says Mishra.
Mishra, who now sources organic raw material from Ethicus (a brand by Apachi Cotton in Pollachi) and Sally Holkar's Women Weave, travelled to the organic farms owned by these organisations to study the process. “The quality of cotton is directly proportional to the quality of the soil, which depends on the nutrients added to the soil etc.,” he explains.
Does a designer have to go the fields when he can design from the comfort of his studio, you may ask. Designers don't want to risk rejection when they send consignments for international orders of organic clothing.
Joydeep Taulkdar, Aneeth Arora, James Ferraira, Digvijay Singh and Jason and Anshu are some of the designers who've tried their hand at organic clothing. Digvijay Singh, who was solely working with organic fibres for the brand Bhu:Sattva, has now moved away from the brand. “It's tough to work only with organic fibres. You are limited not just by the small market but also creatively. Organic fabric is not receptive to many colours and the tenacity of the fabric is not conducive for certain silhouettes. I now work with both organic and natural fibres,” he says. Aneeth Arora questions the claims of ‘100 per cent organic clothing' labels. “It's tough to ensure that the process is completely organic. You may source organic cotton from those who have a certification such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), but when you use a synthetic thread or put a plastic label on the garment, it defeats the purpose. Even when I use organic fabric, I don't claim that my garment is 100 per cent organic,” she says.
In fact, Rahul Mishra shares his doubts over organic clothing available in the retail sector. “Even well-known brands use chemical (VAT) dyes instead of natural dyes. Their collections cannot be called organic,” he says.
To overcome the limitations of using organic raw material (in terms of styling limitations and colours), designers go back to manufacturers and give them guidelines on the quality of yarn desired. This is where garment engineering comes into play. But this is a time-consuming process. Hence, striking a balance between natural fibres and organic yarn seems to be a way out for now.