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A quick guide to organic fashion

We look at what it takes for garments to be labelled organic and why buying organic clothing is becoming increasingly important and popular. 

We also shine a light on the differences between numerous ethical labels and explore the benefits of shopping organically. 

What does organic mean in fashion?

Organic labels on fashion items refer to how the fabric has been produced.

Organic clothing is made from natural fibres.

Natural fibres derive from plants. Like all plants, the growing process relies on seeds, nutrition (or fertilisers) and often pesticides.

Organic plants are grown without the use of certain pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and are not genetically modified (GMOs). This low impact process also uses less water compared to conventional farms.

A garment can be labelled organic if 95% of the fabric is organically grown. Examples of fabrics that are labelled as organic include:

  • cotton
  • bamboo
  • hemp
  • linen

For example organic cotton is grown without artificial fertilisers and pesticides and is guaranteed to be GM-free. Organic cotton is generally estimated to have about half the emissions of conventionally grown cotton, although it uses more land.

Organic cotton also has to meet criteria for other chemicals used in its processing, such as dyes. There are often also social criteria in the accreditation process, e.g. pay and working conditions.

Therefore, seeking certified organic cotton offers some assurance that it has not come from a supply chain directly linked to forced labour. This is in stark contrast to non organic cotton.

We delve into the environmental impact of different fabrics and rank the most sustainable in our feature article on fabrics.

What are the benefits of buying organic clothes?

There are several benefits of buying organic clothing, particularly for the environment. These include:


We know that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are often harmful to wildlife, and organic farms significantly reduce the number of toxic chemicals used.


When pesticides are made, three main greenhouse gases are emitted: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These emissions are avoided with organic farming methods due to the lack of pesticide usage.

Organic farming also stores higher levels of carbon in the soil compared to non organic agriculture methods.

Improved quality of the land

Organic methods of production restore the quality of soil by using natural methods to return nutrients to the soil.

Better conditions for animals

The standards around animal welfare mean that animals reared organically lead healthier, more comfortable lives.

What are the organic labels to look out for?

Unlike organic food, which is regulated, there are no UK regulations in place to uphold standards for organic fibres. 

Instead, international standards for organic textile certifications across the world are set by the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS). Although this certification is globally recognised, it's not enforced by law. This lack of regulation has allowed a wave of greenwashing to take over the UK fashion market and now, with a plethora of sustainable marketing buzzwords to navigate, it is more important than ever to buy ethically certificated consumer goods. 

For organic clothing, the label to look out for and trust is the GOTS certified organic. The GOTS quality assurance system is based on on-site inspection and certification of the entire textile supply chain, from processors to traders. Independent specially accredited bodies perform the on-site inspections and certification. GOTS has twenty one approved certification bodies.

Flow diagram to show the organic certification process used by GOTS
Image of the certification process used by GOTS.

A textile product carrying the GOTS label 'organic' must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibres, whereas a product with the label 'made with organic' must have a minimum of 70% certified organic fibres.The label guarantees that the garment isn't made with any genetically modified products.

Some social standards are also incorporated into GOTS standards, such as:

  • no forced or child labour
  • no harassment and violence
  • no discrimination is practised
  • occupational health and safety (OHS)

All certified GOTS processors, manufacturers and traders must have a social compliance management system, with defined elements in place to ensure that the social criteria are met. For more details, see GOTS ecological and social criteria.

If workers' rights are essential to you, the Fairtrade label is trustworthy in the fashion industry. Our own Best Buy label is also helpful for various other ethical categories making it easy to find the products and services that reflect your principles.

Increased demand for organic fashion

According to the 2020 Ethical Consumer Markets Report, the market for organic produce was £1,475m in 2010; it grew to £2,208m in 2018 and again to £2,298m in 2019.

In the 2021 Ethical Consumer Markets Report, we saw a similar trend in ethical personal products, which grew 16.2% between 2019 and 2020. This category includes fashion items, such as organic clothing.

Where to buy organic clothing?

The fashion industry is a prolific polluter; it is now more important than ever to buy ethical fashion. We have a comprehensive list of ethical fashion brands in our ‘Who’s who of ethical fashion’ feature.

Below is a list of shopping guides where you can find the most ethical fashion brands.

In these guides, brands which use organic materials are indicated with an 'O' next to their name. These brands also received an extra mark for Product Sustainability.

 An organic wardrobe is plastic-free wardrobe

Nylon, derived from fossil fuels, was invented in 1930. Before this point, the majority of garments were created from natural fibres. By the mid to late 20th century, numerous different fibres derived from plastics had entered the fashion industry.

Today, up to 64% of new fabric is made from plastics. There are many issues with using plastic materials for fashion, one primary being pollution. Pollution is present at every stage of the life cycle of a plastic garment, from being manufactured from fossil fuels to shedding microfibres when washed. These facts can be overwhelming, but that’s where organic clothing can help you as a consumer.

By shopping for organic clothing, you are simultaneously eliminating plastic and pollution from your wardrobe. (And hopefully, it can help ease any potential ‘environmental anxiety’ you might be feeling too.) 

Consumer Actions

Find out more about other clothing options: