With the word ‘organic’ or ‘sustainable’ trending as a USP across the global markets including India, apparel manufacturers are switching a percentage of their production to organic or sustainable merchandise even as a number of brands too are offering these products following gradual rise in consumer demand. The recent times have also witnessed a number of start-ups offering organic clothing. Organic clothing is not just the taste and flavour of the affluent class, but it is also for all those who understand the importance of sustainability. The new-age consumers today are aware about the importance of protecting themselves from the impacts of chemicals and of keeping the earth green.
“Today, due to social media and a constant stream of information, we are seeing an increase in the more conscious and aware consumer. Given an option — whether it is clothing, food or travel — people’s preferences these days are leaning towards organic and environment-friendly products and practices. This shift from fast-fashion-fuelled constant consumption to embracing a more thoughtful and sustainable lifestyle has made organic clothing increasingly popular in recent times. Organic fashion is no longer limited to celebrities and artists — it has reached the common man. With new local sourcing avenues, the availability of natural fibres, access to skilled craftsmen and advanced technology in manufacturing processes (new fabrics, techniques) the organic clothing business has received a boost and reached the masses,” asserts Vaishali Karad, Founder and Principal Designer, Paashh.
Also, sustainable or ethical clothing need not be old school or not trendy. Today’s day and age is witness to a number of designers as well as retail brands coming up with stylish, well-designed, durable collections which are made from sustainable or organic fabrics such as Khadi and hemp.
The concept is not new to the Indian market. From paying workers fairly to using natural dyes and fabrics, brands are embracing the new shift in the world of clothing industry. Furthermore, it is important to note that the impact of using clothing made from organic cotton isn’t direct and immediate and is a reversal of the harm that’s done by the chemical farming since cotton crops use a significant portion of fertilisers and pesticides, thereby eroding the soil. And so, traceability is tacking the centre stage now and consumers are trying to have a direct connect with the farmer who is growing the cotton for their clothing.
“The way organic cotton is looked at has changed from a mere product story to a larger commitment towards nature. Consumers are trying to have a direct connect with the farmer, who is growing cotton for their clothing, the way it is grown, the environmental and societal impact the cotton-growing is ensuing. Consumers all over the world have responded very positively to organic cotton and the holistic change it brings. Various brands have committed to this initiative and even gone a step forward. Many brands are only using organic cotton in 100 per cent products and doing extremely well,” maintains Ashwani Palaha, CEO, Pratibha Syntex.
The organic drive
Each brand has its own story and reasons to enter the organic apparel market and stand out from the rest.A number of new ventures are doing their part and are offering sustainable merchandise with sustainable business practices. Indigreen displays 100 per cent eco-friendly fabrics made from organic cotton, bamboo fabric and handwoven Khadi using non-toxic colours. No Nasties believes strongly in fair trade no pesticides, no genetically modified seeds, no toxic agents, no child labour or exploitation and uses 100 per cent organic cotton certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and 100 per cent fair trade cotton certified by Fair Trade India.
Aura is another venture that works to prevent global warming and pollution coming from textiles and dyeing processes, and besides offering eco-friendly merchandise; they also recycle both solid and liquid wastes which are used as manure and to irrigate farms. These, along with a number of established brands, show that the organic concept is gradually gaining ground in India.
Global sportswear brand Puma too had announced its collaboration with First Mile in February to produce a sportswear collection made from recycled plastic. And now, in April, the brand has announced the second part of the collection, which features a full line of performance shoes and apparel made from recycled yarn. Puma has been working on its sustainability drive for years now.
“Puma’s sustainability strategy focuses on creating a substantial positive impact. At the end of 2018, 50 per cent of all cotton and 66 per cent of all polyester used in Puma apparel came from more sustainable sources. Such sources include Bluesign-certified polyester, a production standard which eliminates harmful chemicals from the production process and promotes resource efficiency and cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative, an organisation seeking to improve the environmental, social and economic impact of cotton production. Having achieved our previous sustainability target 2 years ahead of schedule, Puma now aims for 90 per cent of all cotton and polyester used in its products to come from more sustainable sources by 2020,” avers Abhishek Ganguly, General Manager – SE Asia and India, Puma.
How feasible is this business?
The United States and Europe are the major markets of organic apparels for textile manufacturers in India and anticipating this market for organic apparel which is growing at 10 per cent annually, manufacturers are ensuring that their units increase the production of organic and sustainable products for both overseas and local markets. Even as the demand is increasing in the overseas market, resistance by brands in increasing prices for organic products is hitting margins of manufacturers. Cost of manufacturing organic apparel is around 5 per cent higher than the normal garments because of the higher procurement cost, certifications, etc.
While the trend is up and awareness at its highest, the point still remains whether organic or sustainable, clothing business generates the expected revenue for the fashion conglomerates. Manjula Gandhi, Chief Product Officer, Numero Uno, informs “The fashion industry is changing fast and last few years have shown how challenging it is for apparel brands to adapt to these changes, one of the most pressing challenges is that of achieving greater sustainability and transparency. Today brands and retailers are expected to produce garments that are environmentally and socially responsible, but the important fact is that, firstly, making sustainable products and processes is expensive, and secondly, the consumption of ethical fashion has not become mainstream in India yet, either due to lack of awareness of issues faced by the industry or due to unwillingness to pay the premium for sustainable products.”
While some opine that with increasing awareness about climate change and increasing income levels, today’s conscious consumer is ready to pay the right price for sustainable clothing, others are of the view that India is not ready yet and that feasibility of the business is a question that’s still debatable.
For Sumit Gupta, Representative in India and Bangladesh, GOTS, Mumbai, “The sellers – be it a retailer or a textile value chain partner – must be able to share their story effectively. They need to present convincing arguments on why they deserve a better price as compared to their peers that are selling ‘similar’ products. Third party certificates and eco-labels like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) can indeed act as a proof for organic status of products being sold.”
In Indian retail, there are more than 10 brands that are selling ‘certified’ organic textile end products with the GOTS label and a number of others are in the process of getting the certifications. For Parvati Fashions, which only manufactures sustainable products, while it is an extensive process, it definitely is feasible and profit making.
Naresh Bajaj, Partner, Parvati Fashions, says “Sustainable clothing is definitely a feasible business opportunity, if one works and operates the business in the right way. However, it is an extensive process since a lot of processes are involved in ensuring that everything and every process are sustainable and environment-friendly. Not every fabric or raw material is verified as an organic or sustainable product, and so the cost of procuring the right products is high. But again, if done in the right way, it is feasible and profit making.”
While a lot has been done in this sphere by a number of brands and manufacturing firms, the segment is on the path to a big market shift and accelerated growth trajectory.