Natural fibres are renewable and biodegradable, which makes them preferred textiles for a circular fashion industry. But, while natural fibres are inherently more sustainable, it does not always mean that the process of farming and processing them is ethical and sustainable. When the farming of fibres is not regulated, animal abuse, exploitative labour practices, and environmentally harmful processes can go unnoticed and unaccounted for. Creating greater transparency and accountability in the farm-to-fibre process is key to creating a more regenerative fashion system.
The rise of conscious citizen-consumers
As citizen-consumers, we can choose, where possible, to support brands that are committed to improving the fashion industry. There is a growing population of people investing in businesses trying their best to tread lighter on the earth and treat the people involved in their supply chains with care and respect.
A study done by Nielsen in 2015 found that, in a survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, 66% were willing to pay more for products or services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. This is an increase from 55% in 2014 and 50% in 2013.
The role of textile certifications in creating thriving natural fibre systems
Textile certifications help to communicate and simplify the sustainability efforts of natural fibre producers. These certifications are acknowledgments of a business’s commitment to various sustainable and ethical business practices.
While textile certifications are still voluntary, they hold brands accountable with clear guidelines and requirements that ensure the fibres were ethically and sustainably sourced. They also allow people to make more informed decisions when they are investing in a garment and choosing which brands they want to support.
But, just because a business isn’t certified, that does not always mean that they are not trustworthy. The certification process often inherently excludes smaller producers and businesses. Getting certified can often be a long, time-consuming, and costly process, which many smaller businesses do not have the capacity for.
The following are all voluntary textile certifications, available in South Africa, that monitor the social and environmental impact of the fibre production and can be found on the labels of your clothes:
Sustainable Cape Wool Standard
Cape Wool’s certification seeks to improve the transparency and traceability of wool farming in South Africa. While mulesing, a violent process of removing a piece of skin from sheep to prevent infection, is banned in South Africa, the Sustainable Cape Wool Standard centres on animal welfare in their ethos by renouncing mulesing and other harmful practices as well as setting regulations around the treatment of the sheep. Cape Wools is also committed to the protection of labourers as well as the environment. Learn more here.
Responsible Mohair Standard
South Africa is one of the biggest suppliers of Mohair in the world. Created by the leading organisation on fibres, Textile Exchange, the Responsible Mohair Standard is a certification that has set standards for the growing of Mohair sustainably and ethically. This certification is concerned with the entire supply chain of mohair products, extending beyond just the farming of the fibre. Learn more here.
Responsible Wool Standard
Another Textile Exchange certification, the Responsible Wool Standard’s main pillars are animal welfare, which includes shelter, adequate provision of nutrients and disease prevention, land health such as promoting biodiversity and soil health, and social welfare for the workers on the farms with gender equality and fair pay. Learn more here.
Better Cotton Initiative
The Better Cotton Initiative is an internationally recognised non-profit organisation that works towards eradicating farmer poverty and fostering environmentally-friendlier practices in cotton farming plantations. They seek to improve the farming of cotton through training techniques that reduce carbon emissions and use less water. Learn more here.
Global Organic Textile Standard
Currently, Mungo is the only Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified company in South Africa. GOTS aims to promote a socially and environmentally considered textile manufacturing process. It focusses on organic farming practices, and promotes regenerative practices that maintain healthy ecosystems and soils. Learn more here.
South African Cotton Mark
The representative body of cotton farming in South Africa, Cotton SA, has their own certification to indicate locally-grown and sustainable cotton. The certification of local cotton is marked green for consumers to support South Africa’s textile industry and support the growth of local communities. Learn more here.
- Cover image by Samantha Reinders
- Textile certification symbols sourced from open source platforms