Textile Expo Houses a Growing Eco-Friendly Contingent

Earlier this month, a Treehugger delegation set out to investigate Premiere Vision New York, the slimmed-down U.S. version of the enormous textile and clothing expo held every year in Paris. We had hoped to see some new eco-friendly fabrics, but were disappointed. A number of presenters, however, proudly touted their organic cotton, and many were happy to discuss the problems and potential in bringing environmentally sound textiles to the market.The booklet and map made no mention of eco-fabrics, so we hunted down Laurence Teinturier, the North American representative of Premiere Vision. She was thoroughly familiar with the offerings on display, and she ran down the list of designers and checked a few off from memory. "There are definitely more organic and recycled fabrics every year," she said. "There's a big interest. Many manufacturers are starting to also reuse the water from dyeing and investigate other ways of being environmentally friendly."

Our first stop was the booth for Masters of Linen, a French company that helps to market European linen all over the world. Pauline Delli-Carpini chatted with us about the ways that linen outperforms cotton: conventional linen growing practices use 80% fewer pesticides and fertilizers and no irrigation, and its processing is mechanical and requires no water or solvents. Although they're not currently using any vegetable dyes, they are very excited about recent advances in Rubia, a dye made from madder roots (which have been used for dyeing for thousands of years), and plan to investigate working with it to produce an all-around eco-friendly textile.

Manuel Pirez at Teviz, a Portuguese textile group, showed us several examples of organic cotton textiles, ranging from very fine white pima to a soft and fuzzy flannel. "It's all market-driven," he said. "We started using organic because Patagonia asked for it." (Treehugger has featured Patagonia's organic t-shirts in the past.) "Now everyone wants it. Soon we'll be doing recycled polyester as well. The vegetable dyes currently available are in a limited range of colors and aren't very colorfast, so we don't use them, but we're keeping an eye on it." He pointed us to Organic Exchange, an excellent resource for anyone interested in organic cotton.

At a nearby booth, Veronique Renucci-Bel was also happy to display organic cotton wares in a similar range from French manufacturer Bel Maille. Both she and Pirez emphasized the need to choose between organic and fair trade, as the low-income growers who participate in fair trade programs can't afford to produce organic cotton. "Fair trade cotton is coarse," Renucci-Bel said flatly. "There's not much we can do with it. All the fair trade growers are in countries far away from our usual suppliers and our mills. Organic is more expensive, of course, but buyers are willing to pay higher prices for clothes made with it. We've definitely seen increased interest in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the U.S." She gave us a sheet explaining the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 for products that come in direct contact with skin, covering everything from raw materials to dyes, and showed off the compliance labels on Bel Maille's organic products. It was clear that we weren't the first to ask these questions.

Japanese manufacturers are also getting into the act. Showa has a 100% organic cotton line available only in Japan; they use up to 30% organic in the fabrics they make for the U.S. and Europe, and are researching organic dyes. Yoko Tashiro in Katsu Kawasaki's booth showed us fabrics made from organic cotton and recycled polyester. The staff at Toki Sen-I scoffed when we asked whether they had an eco-friendly line: "There's not much demand for it," one said. We did notice, however, that their booth was completely devoid of customers.

Many of the other booths Laurence had pointed out to us were very busy with buyers, so we contented ourselves with flipping through samples. The venerable Fedora Lanificio (Italy) boasted a completely recycled line of wool clothing for men and women; Abraham Moon & Sons (England) also use recycled wool in their high-end men's clothing. It was clear that organic and recycled fibers were regarded as being of sufficiently high quality to use in just about any setting.

The trip certainly wasn't a waste; we're very heartened to see so much interest in organics and recycling, and to know that more manufacturers are looking into vegetable dyes. We're looking forward to Material World New York in September and hope to have more good news from there. ::Premiere Vision New York; see also ::Where is the Organic Clothing Market Headed? and ::many other clothing-related items on Treehugger