No.1 Buyer of Organic Cotton: H&M

No.1 Buyer of Organic Cotton: H&M

H&M isn’t without its share of controversy. The brand has become synonymous with wasteful fast fashion, and earlier this year, the company was the target of protests across Europe decrying labor practices in Cambodian factories where their clothes are manufactured.

But according to Textile Exchange’s Organic Cotton Market Report, there is a silver lining when it comes to H&M – for the second year running, the company was the largest buyer of organic cotton, all the while increasing its use of cotton by nearly 100 percent in 2011.

Since 2007 H&M has offered 100 percent organic cotton garments, and last year launched its first Conscious Collection of which organic cotton is front and center. According to Textile Exchange, organic cotton now represent 7.6 percent of H&M’s total cotton use – a number that while sounding small, has made H&M a leader in calling for innovation in the area of ecotextiles. The company claims to be on track for sourcing 100 percent of its cotton from “more sustainable” sources by 2020; it’s unclear if that means 100 percent organic, but the commitment to expanding its use of greener materials is good news.

What is most exciting in this story if you ask me is who H&M reaches with their organic cotton. Any time I’ve walked into H&M, I am quickly reminded that I am 10 years older than their average customer. And that’s good news – young people who are searching through the racks of cloths are getting exposed to organic cotton and seeing that buying organic doesn’t mean looking frumpy (unless that’s in style of course).

The Organic Cotton Market Report for 2011 isn’t rosy across the board however. While some brands like H&M are growing their use of organic cotton, the market as a whole did not follow suit. For the first time in 10 years, organic cotton production dropped, falling by 37 percent from 2010. Textile Exchange points to (1) a shortage in the availability and purity of the cotton seed, resulting in the dominance of GMO cotton, (2) continued economic uncertainty which put downward pressure on commodity prices, and (3) a shift by some companies towards other green certifications, some of which have lower barriers to entry than certified organic.

The organization sounds hopeful that this decline is temporary, but it will take the commitment of companies like H&M to continue to increase demand for the organic crop. Consumer pressure will be a critical ingredient driving this.

Here’s a list of the top 10 users of organic cotton in 2011:

  1. H&M
  2. C&A
  3. Nike
  4. Inditex (Zara)
  5. Anvil Knitwear
  6. prAna
  7. Puma
  8. Williams-Sonoma
  9. Target
  10. Otto Group
November 12, 2012