In conversation: Organic cotton by Elmer & Zweifel

17th July 2014     Fabrics Future Fabrics Expo Sustainable The Sustainable Angle Ethical Sourcing Interview

written by Charlotte Turner

Elmer & Zweifel, a German textiles company founded in 1855, have been showcased in the Future Fabrics Expo by The Sustainable Angle since 2012 due to their extensive range of high quality certified organic cotton fabrics, which are available in both small and large quantities. In addition to retail and wholesale finished fabrics, they also produce greige goods and their own brand of organic cotton products called Cotonea. A selection of their fabrics can now be viewed on the Future Fabrics Virtual Expo.

We spoke to Linda Schall from Elemer & Zweifel to find out more.

Elmer & Zweifel: organic cotton plantations in Kirgistan and Uganda

Elmer & Zweifel have been working towards creating a more sustainable company and product offer for some time, and have extensive knowledge and control of their supply chain. For starters, they have their own organic cotton plantations in Kirgistan and Uganda, with Swiss NGO Helvetas training the farmers in organic agriculture, to produce high quality cotton certified by IMO. The cotton is then spun in Turkey and Germany, and woven and finished in the Czech Republic by Elmer & Zweifel. All stages of the supply chain including wet processing are certified by GOTS.

According to Linda, the original motivation to start offering more sustainable fabrics was “to improve social and environmental factors over the entire textile supply chain.” They also believed that to create better products, transparency had to be established. She says initially they were producing more sustainable textiles based only on demand, but then more and more clients started requesting these products, leading to the introduction of a permanent organic range – testament to the impact designers and buyers can make simply by asking questions and requesting more sustainable materials.

Elmer & Zweifel fabrics in the Future Fabrics Expo

Creating more sustainable products means adapting the normal design and production process, sometimes meaning that added aspects like environmental certifications can make the process take longer, but at the end of the day it is worth it: as Linda says “for us it is important that the whole supply chain is transparent, and we can have an impact all along it.”

As a business, and especially as a business that wishes to continue producing more sustainable textiles, growth is still essential. “It is for example important that the cotton projects in Uganda and Kirgistan that we support are financially viable, and hence, financial turn over needs to increase.” Elmer & Zweifel are seeing increased demand for sustainable textiles, but it is essential that as an industry we continue to seek, develop, and demand more sustainably and ethically produced materials and products.

Linda believes that one of the most pressing challenges in the industry is around ethical and social labour conditions, which need to become fairer, especially in countries such as Bangladesh. In terms of sustainable textiles, one challenge the company has identified is that there are still requests for products which at the moment are not possible to produce in an ecologically sustainable manner, for instance ‘non-iron’ fabrics. However considering the amount of innovation we have been seeing in recent years, it may be only be a matter of time until that is possible.

100% organic cotton chambray. Elmer & Zweifel also produce plain and patterned knitted and woven organic fabrics.

Linda summed up by telling us what she thinks is the biggest obstacle to becoming a more sustainable and less harmful industry: “More fashion collections in ever shorter intervals are coming on the market, and this fast turn around of clothes means increased production, more consumption, and more waste of clothes. Therefore, the consumer needs to be made aware much more of the quality of textiles, instead of focusing only on lower prices.”

This approach to consumption, and to a lack of focus on quality, requires an industry and society wide systemic change, in which Elmer & Zweifel believe both the consumer and industry have a part to play. Combining a refined outlook on how we buy and wear fashion, along with the use of higher quality and more sustainable fabrics would certainly have a positive affect on the damage we are causing to our environments and society.

You can find out more about Elmer & Zweifel and see a range of their sustainable fabrics on the Future Fabrics Virtual Expo, which is generously sponsored by Elmer & Zweifel and Kassim Textiles. Elmer & Zweifel will additionally be showcased at the 4th Future Fabrics Expo in London, on 28th – 30th September 2014.