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"Sourcing more sustainable cotton is the best way forward"

London - The fashion industry has yet to fully embrace sustainable cotton, which poses a serious threat to the future of the sustainable cotton market. Although several fashion retailers, such as People Tree, Filippa K and Marks & Spencers, have shared their goals to increase the usage of sustainable cotton, the uptake of the material by fashion brands in general is severely lagging behind production of the cotton, according to new research commissioned by PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF.

Production of sustainable cotton has never been higher. In 2014 it reached 2,173,000 tonnes, accounting for 8 percent of the total global supply and is estimated to rise to 13 percent of the global supply for 2015. "Buying more sustainable cotton has never been easier", pointed out Richard Holland, Director, WWF’s Market Transformation Initiative. "Leading companies like IKEA and H&M are showing it's possible to use 100 percent more sustainable cotton in their products within a couple of years."

"Sourcing more sustainable cotton is the best way forward"

Brands and retailers must buy more sustainable cotton to protect the future of the industry

However, fashion companies uptake of sustainable cotton has fallen far behind the production rate, as many labels lack fixed targets to source more ethical cotton. In spite of at least 12 global fashion companies committing to source 100 percent more sustainable cotton, only 17 percent of all sustainable cotton is sold under the label. The remaining 83 percent is reportedly sold as conventional cotton.

"Lots of sustainable cotton is available but frustratingly it is not being sourced and bought as such", argues Isabelle Roger, Global Cotton Programme Manager at Solidaridad. "International clothing brands and retailers have a crucial role to play. Without much larger orders from retailers, there is a risk that farmers will abandon sustainable growing practices, the opportunity to transform the cotton market will be lost, and negative effects on people and nature will persist."

Cotton is grown in approximately 80 countries around the world, with the top producing countries including China, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Uzbekistan. It is a vital raw material for the textile and garment industry, accounting for 32 percent of all fibers used. 33 million hectares around the world are planted with cotton, accounting for 2.5 percent of global arable land.

"Sourcing more sustainable cotton is the best way forward"

"Cotton needs cleaning up"

Sustainability issues linked to regular cotton production include the widespread use of pesticides, with 6.2 percent of global pesticide sales linked to cotton production, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, contamination and intensive water use, as 73 percent of global cotton production is currently dependent on irrigation.

"Cotton needs cleaning up. Conventional production requires the use of large amounts of water and pesticides. Sourcing more sustainable cotton is the best way forward", said Keith Tyrell, Director at Pesticide Action Network UK. While many cotton farmers around the world are driven into debt due to the cost of pesticides and fertilisers, sustainabl cotton production also has the potential to help farmers move out of poverty by providing them with a stable income and improved working conditions.

For more sustainable cotton to break through to the mainstream, production and supply need to increase, and this can only happen if greater demand is generated and leads to more sourcing.