A Ridgefield-based fabric company is now certified as organic by an international trade organization. While the company, founded in 1991, claims to be the first organic fabric business in the U.S., there wasn’t a formal certification until recently.
“There was very little oversight in terms of regulating and ensuring [who was] selling organic cotton products” said Jeff Reich of Fox-Rich Textiles, which acquired Organic Cotton in 2010.
The certification, the Global Organic Textile Standard (called “GOTS”), is designed by an international working group of trade associations.
“GOTS is basically a system where each process has to be certified and the goods and products are tracked in every step,” said Mr. Reich.
There are a lot of steps, and a lot of companies, involved with bringing cotton products, to market whether fabric or finished products. Not all of Organic Cotton’s partners, in the U.S. and India were willing to make the shift, and the company chose to use only organic suppliers in its two-year pursuit of the organic certification.
“There’s a big textile business in India, there were a lot of options… most of them were willing to change and get certified.”
The process starts on the farm.
Since GOTS is international, it specifies that growing of fibers has to comply with the national recognized organic standard of the country in question. In the U.S. that’s the United States Department of Agriculture. Farms can’t get certified overnight, since there might be chemicals in the ground, so it can take a while to become compliant.
“For a farm to get certified organic, it does have to go through a transition process it takes a few years because of residual pesticides and herbicides,” Mr. Reich said.
The ginning process is next — separating cotton fiber from seeds.
“The ginning process is generally a clean process,” said Mr. Reich. “It’s mostly a matter of keeping separate” the organic and non-organic fibers, which is crucial to each step.
Spinning fibers into yarn is next.
“Spinning, which is usually wet processing that’s when the certifications really are important. We have to make sure the dyes and pigments and any other coloring agents are eco-friendly,” Mr. Reich said. For example, “heavy metal chemicals are not allowed in the finishing process.”
After spinning comes weaving or knitting into fabric, which Mr. Reich said is also fairly clean, and printing if there is a pattern.
“And then the easy part was really us getting certified… since we don’t have any processing of the material.”
The company’s warehouse in South Carolina is the end of the road, at least until the fabric is sold. The job is again keeping everything sorted and labeled properly, and “just making sure there is a clean flow of paperwork” with “transaction certificates” for each step of the way, from the farm to the warehouse, Mr. Reich said.
Selling is done online to keep overhead down.
“We sell basically 100% online,” mostly to small commercial and home sewers, Mr. Reich said.
All of the Web site and office work is handled at the Danbury Road office, where the company has been located for 20 years.