Sainsbury's is to launch a babywear collection this month made from organic cotton, but the supermarket will be unable to market the range as organic.
Pure and Natural, which is part of Sainsbury's Tu clothing range, is made from organically-grown cotton sourced from China. It is also free of toxins, dyes and pesticides. It represents the retailer's first move into organic clothing, but it will not be able to label the range as organic; to do so in the UK, the full manufacturing process must be organic.
The retailer signalled its intention to move into organic clothing when it registered Organic Tu as a trademark last year. Plans are under way to introduce a men's and women's organic offer by the end of the year.
According to the Soil Association, which certifies clothing as organic in the UK, the full manufacturing process must be organic for a product to be accredited.
Textiles account manager Lee Holdstock said: "Even if the cotton is organically grown, every stage of the process needs to be organic, including the weaving and spinning, for example."
He said retailers now have more choice in terms of certifying bodies outside the UK, but certifiers have their own standards that consumers in the UK may not recognise.
"In 2002 we launched the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) with four overseas bodies, but other certifiers are still in the process of joining," said Holdstock. "If one part of Sainsbury's supply chain does not adhere to the GOTS - even if it has its own organic standards - the Soil Association cannot label the clothing line as organic. There's a huge problem with organic certification in the fashion industry."
A spokeswoman for Tu said Sainsbury's was likely to seek accreditation for Pure and Natural's next range. "Any retailer would prefer to have organic certification," she said.
However, the supermarket later said it had never intended to get the range certified by the Soil Association.
The chief executive of one value chain said that Sainsbury's had missed a trick. "Consumers don't care if the entire process is organic. Sainsbury's should have just concentrated on the cotton and played up the fact it's organic," he said.
Pure and Natural, which caters for boys and girls aged 0 to 24 months, will launch in 30 stores this month, priced from £6 for trousers to £13 for dresses.