Demand increases for eco-fashion


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But 15 years ago, Chinese entrepreneur H.L. Ding already had his sights set on homegrown hemp, a 4,000-year-old fibre used in sails for old ships that he describes as the "fabric of the future."

Strong, resistant, in need of little water or care, and no fertilisers, "it is a very special plant, the strongest of the natural fibres, even better than linen."

Five years ago, said the head of Hemp Fortex, based in Qingdao with a design studio in Seattle in the United States, almost nobody had heard of hemp. Now Nike uses the breathable, anti-bacteria, anti-UV fabric for its shoes.

"We believe organic cotton and hemp will be the main direction in the future," said Ding, whose turnover has grown from $400,000 to 10 million a year selling to Walmart stores and labels such as Banana Republic and Patagonia.

Taiwan's Chia Her, a 30-year-old textile-maker, said it turned to eco-friendly textiles three years ago "because it was popular in Europe." Sales of green fabrics since have grown 100-fold.

India's Vardhman Fabrics, a firm founded 40 years ago that says it is the country's top yarn producer, also tip-toed down the green path four years ago "because everyone's asking for eco-friendly to save nature from global warming."

But going green is no easy business. And the first hurdle is winning the right to tag products as being environmentally-correct.

A guide to eco-textile labelling published by the organisers of the Texworld fair lists around 30 eco labels variously issued in Japan, Europe and the US, that all set standards for organic textiles and yarns as well as environmental and fair trade certifications.

"It's very expensive and very difficult to get the certifications," said Syed Adeel Haider, deputy marketing manager for Pakistan firm US Denim Mills, one of the big players on the jeans front, supplying to Levi's and Esprit.

Bringing in consultants, ensuring supplies such as yarns and chemicals met all the right standards, and re-adapting the manufacturing process called for sizeable investment, he said.

"We don't want to harm the environment, the soil or the crops, which are a livelihood for our people," he said. "So being green-friendly is a social attitude, but it's also business.

"Organic materials are in high demand and stores such as Marks and Spencers for example won't buy anything unless we're clean from the environmental point of view."

Two years ago, he said, when the firm began offering green-friendly products, there was no interest. "Now we have enquiries every day."

Even in China, world textile leader with a workforce of 20 million and turnover last year at 400 billion euros, green fabrics are gaining a toe-hold.

"China is receiving increasing orders for eco-friendly textiles, with European customers handing you a thick book like a dictionary with standards and certifications, from the raw material to the finished product," said Yan York, the Chinese representative for Texworld.

"And in China too wealthy people are demanding green," he added. "They want trendy and fashionable clothes that also respect the environment."

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