The fashion industry has been relatively slow to sign up to the environmental cause. But as carbon footprints and household recycling become global concerns, value retailers, supermarkets, high street multiples and some young fashion brands have taken the plunge.
Mainstream brands have been particularly slow in their approach to the life organic. But Danish brand Jackpot, owned by IC Companys, is pushing ahead with its organic offer following the spring 07 soft launch of a four-piece vest and T-shirt range. The autumn 07 organic collection will include 13 pieces - among them pointelle knitwear and denim designed to complement the key looks in the mainline. An additional 16 pieces will hit shop floors with the winter delivery.
Jackpot brand director Sune Bjerregaard believes the organic angle fits perfectly with the brand's lifestyle signature. "There was a time when Jackpot had lost its way," he says. "It was moving away from its colour and print format towards a more fashion-forward customer, which didn't really work. The brand lost its identity."
However, he says the organic range has helped to realign the brand's position. "The collection is pitched well for this move forward," she says.
The range has been picked up by 101 of Jackpot's 184 UK and Republic of Ireland stockists. Victoria Withers, owner of Charles Ashley in Cheltenham, stocks Jackpot alongside CCDK and Inwear, but initially approached the collection with caution.
"I bought into the pointelle jumper and cardigan mainly because I thought they had been designed really well," she says. "It was a bonus that they were also organic, but I'd have bought into these pieces anyway. I merchandise by trend and these particular styles will sit well with the autumn stories I've picked up on across our other brands."
Wendy MacGregor, owner of two-store independent Frocks Away with branches in Islington and Muswell Hill, north London, stocks Leiko, Avoca and Hartford and has bought into the organic range on a much larger scale. "As a business, I've become very aware of organic fashion and I've found my customers are asking for it more and more," she says. "I already stock Mavi, which has an organic denim offer, so I was thrilled when I learnt that Jackpot had taken the organic route."
By dragging their heels, mainstream brands have fallen behind the high street in terms of organic ranges. Over the past 12 months, organic collections have been launched by Sainsbury's Tu, Peacocks, H&M, Topshop, Tesco, and Evans, with Marks & Spencer and New Look both expanding their offer.
In the young fashion sector, denim brands have been blazing the organic trail for some time. Some - including Loomstate, which launched in 2002- already promote 100% organic collections, while others generally offer a capsule range. Nudie Jeans sells five eco-aware styles, Freesoul jumped on board for autumn 07 with an organic capsule collection, and Replay launched two men's and two women's styles in May.
The premium market has also been tapped. The Exhibition at London Fashion Week introduced an ethical area, Esthetica, two seasons ago to support the likes of catwalk brand Noir and boutique brand Ciel.
However, Nicky Sale, owner of mainstream Dorset independent Signature - which stocks Stills and Ana Nonza - believes that buying organic from mainstream brands would be more of a token gesture than a valuable business decision. "The brands I stock don't offer an organic option, but I don't see that as a disadvantage," she says. "Buying into organic ranges may seem the fashionable option, but customers are still very conscious of price, and the mainstream organic sector is not ready to compete with prices on the high street."
The price of Jackpot's organic lines will be 15% to 30% higher than similar pieces in its mainline, but those who have bought into the collection have not been deterred by cost. Withers says the increase is justified. "I think the designs I bought were worth the extra cost, and I'm sure my customers will think so too," she explains.
The higher prices reflect the slower and more expensive processes involved in producing organic fabric. It takes three years for soil to cleanse itself from chemical treatments. And with fewer organic harvests per ear than chemically assisted production there is not enough organic cotton to meet demand.
Tesco UK clothing chief executive Terry Green recently told Drapers that expansion of the supermarket's new Choose Love label was limited by supply of the raw material. He also pointed out that Tesco alone "could easily buy all the production there is at the moment".
Clearly, smaller mainstream brands have a tough road ahead. With so little fabric available, Sale says brands should focus on fair trade ranges. "I think consumers are more concerned with where their clothing has come from," she says. "It would be better if brands focused on this first and moved into organic fabrics once lower price points can be sustained."
Jackpot's organic range has been produced in collaboration with Made-By, a Dutch company that Jackpot representatives met at the Modefabriek fair in Holland last April. Working directly with local people in India, China and Peru, Made-By's mission is to expand the market for clothing manufactured in a sustainable manner. The company helps fashion brands clean up their production processes and develops socially responsible production chains.
As a result, Jackpot now works with either new suppliers or existing ones that have changed their production methods. And with Made-By's help, every care label attached to a Jackpot organic product will be given a unique number. Customers can log on to the brand's website, type in the care label's code and the production history of the garment will be displayed, including product details and the working conditions of the cotton grower, spinner, manufacturer and designer.
"Our consumers were starting to ask about where their clothing was coming from. Now we're able to give the answers," says Jackpot head of sourcing Charlotte Witmeur.
MacGregor was impressed with the Made-By collaboration. "I love the fact that my customers can trace the origins of their purchase. On Muesli Hill - as we are sometimes known here in Muswell Hill - it will be a great selling point. I'm planning to promote an organic area in the store and I'm on the lookout for other brands that are moving forward like Jackpot."
The penalty for the buyer is that prices must rise, although MacGregor equates the increases with added value. "Jackpot is a tried-and-tested supplier so I know the quality will be good. I think customers who shop at an independent are very loyal. They trust the buying decisions and they expect to pay higher prices than they would on the high street. I don't think my customers will think twice about paying more for their organic fashion from Jackpot."
Made-By director Mark Huis in't Veld supports MacGregor's view. "Brands have to pay more for their yarns, so the final price must reflect this," he says. "But at the moment, that's the name of the game. This move towards fashion that addresses both environmental and social factors is a trend that is here to stay."
Number of pieces: 13 for autumn 07; 16 to follow in winter 07
Price points: 15% to 30% higher than the mainline
UK and Ireland stockists: 101
Organic product ratio: organic lines make up 8% of the overall Jackpot collection
Production: 50% of the production process is certified
Key pieces: the range includes melange collared and striped T-shirts, a pointelle hooded sweater with woven ribbon belt and coordinating scarf, lace-trimmed ribbed vests, an A-line denim skirt, wide-leg denim shorts, and full-length and cropped jeans. Denim is available in two washes.