Do you like to take pride in your garments years after you bought them? If you are thinking "hey, that's me!", then Organic Basics will definitely stand out to you. Designed in Denmark and made in Europe, its essentials will bring simplicity and comfort to your life. The brand is people's favorite one-stop shop for durable and long-lasting underwear, activewear, and casual daily outfits from ethically sourced, organic, and recycled materials. Its founders commit to sustainability that goes far beyond the basics (no pun intended) and promise it is the only way they would ever act.
Organic Basics is making a bit statement, but is it all that rosy? Find your answer with our unbiased analysis based on the public information out there.
TLDR; Is Organic Basics Ethical?
Organic Basics is among the most open and ethical brands in their segment. It makes lasting basics from eco-friendly materials and supplies from certified facilities in Europe that pay a living wage. However, it still has work to do on circular design and should try to eliminate virgin synthetics.
Want to hear about the details? Just keep on reading...
Every ethical business should be willing to open up to the consumer. This means listing facts and quantitative data about products and company operations regardless of their sentiment. It also means keeping a public record of goals and respective achievements that allow tracking progress over the years.
[Pros] What it deserves credit for?
- Sets goals, plans initiatives, and releases annual impact reports to track progress.
- Lists and provides details about suppliers.
- Admits when it doesn't trace some of its Tier 2 suppliers - mills, spinners, and raw materials.
- Releases the exact proportion of materials used in its collection.
- Calculates the environmental impact of its products in 5 critical areas.
[Cons] How to build more trust?
- Peer review the lifecycle methodology used to calculate impact.
- Impact reduction is communicated in absolute units which are not useful to gauge business efficiency or track progress. Relative values would be more indicative.
- Back its statement on labor conditions with a 3rd party certification such as Fair Trade.
- Figure out how to trace its organic cotton yarn back to the original supplier (2020 goal).
Organic Basics has focused on five areas to protect the environment - carbon emissions, energy, chemicals, water, and waste. It calculates the impact on each one of the areas and the figures are released in annual reports. According to its assessment framework, the lifecycle data is either directly obtained from its suppliers or derived from industry benchmarks. The LCA methodology covers three phases of the product lifecycle - raw materials, manufacturing, and use.
Note that this is in-house research that hasn't been peer-reviewed and it can't be considered a full lifecycle assessment (e.g. cradle-to-grave) because it doesn't account for the product disposal phase.
According to its 2019 impact report, Organic Basics has saved 1781 tons of CO2-eq going into the atmosphere. That's 60% fewer emissions compared to conventional manufacturing - could have been 2894, instead of 1113 tons.
The brand doesn't disclose what makes the most difference, but we assume it's mainly due to the use of
- eco-friendly fibers (organic cotton, recycled nylon, and TENCEL),
- simple logistics (manufacturing and shipping within Europe),
- carbon-efficient factories, and
- reduced washing in the use phase (SilverTech™ Active collection).
As of 2020, Organic Basics partners with One Carbon World to completely offsets its carbon footprint of production, shipping, use phase, and end of life through reforestation projects. Of course, that isn't a reason to stop reducing carbon emissions in the supply chain, so the brand is committed to reaching Net Zero Emissions by 2025.
Much of the same processes that reduce carbon emissions also save energy. Recycled fabrics require much less petroleum to produce especially if they are made in factories running on renewable energy. Local sourcing of raw materials and shorter shipping distance also significantly reduce the amount of fossil fuel used in transportation.
GOTS certified Organ Cotton guarantees that no toxic chemicals have been used to grow, manufacture and dye it. On top of that its antibacterial activewear featuring SilverTech™ is made of recycled silver salt called Polygiene® which is Bluesign® Approved - another standard verifying the responsible use of chemicals.
The latest impact report claims that its water footprint is reduced by 16% from using recycled fabrics (nylon, wool) and TENCEL. The water savings from organic cotton cultivation were not included as a factor, probably because the OB still doesn't trace it down to the origin. Besides that, there's no evidence that OB's facilities are saving or recycling water in manufacturing.
Textile waste management generally starts at the product design and manufacturing stages to prevent disposal at the end-of-life stage. We noticed that Organic Basics tries to identify with a lot of the circular design principles, but its collection doesn't live up to the expectations.
Design for deconstruction.
Aiming to create products that can be recycled by not blending or mixing materials. Organic Basics says it will "only mix fibers if that's necessary to make a marketable product". As it turns out, it is hard to make marketable underwear and activewear without adding a bit of stretch - e.g. elastane. This why only 20% of OB products can be recycled.
Design from natural resources.
100% natural fibers are circular by default because they eventually biodegrade and resources are returned to the ground. Organic Basics uses a high proportion of natural materials, yet the majority of the fabrics are elastane blends. According to our data, only 18% of OB products are fully biodegradable.
Organic Basics claims to work with factories that use efficient fabric cutting techniques and recycle their textile offcuts to reduce the total amount of waste. In some cases, the leftovers are downcycled into upholstery or worn garments are upcycled into accessories like these cashmere gloves.
In addition, the brand plans to address post-consumer waste and is committed to pilot a take-back program by 2022.
Most of Organic Basics' final stage product is made in Portugal - 53% and Turkey - 46%, places with a high risk of labor abuse. It traces all of its garment factories and some of the Tier 2 supply chain and beyond - mills 82%, yarn spinners 65%, and raw material suppliers 53%. The brand is transparent about its suppliers and confidently calls them "the good guys" of the textile industry.
The brand says it only works with trusted, certified factories that ensure their workplace is free of child labor and forced labor, their workers are surrounded in a safe working space, paid a living wage, offered employee perks like free lunch and childcare - and of course, they are treated with respect at all times.
The statement covers most of what we expect from an ethical employer. However, it is not clear if it fully applies to each supplier. Also, it doesn't mention regulated working hours and overtime policy as per ILO's recommendation. According to the published information, the work hours in most factories fall in the legal range of 40 - 45h / week. Yet two of the facilities in Turkey don't list daily or weekly working hours.
Some of the factories have obtained SEDEX, SMETA, or SA8000 certification, yet none of them is a Fair Trade facility. While it may not be mandatory to ensure good working conditions, it presents a challenge to validate the claims.
In 2020, Organic Basics joined 1% for the planet and this means that at least 1% of its revenue is donated to grassroots activists and organizations that address our planet’s environmental crises.
On Black Friday, the brand announced a partnership with WWF© and committed to regenerating over 60,000m2 of a cotton field in the Büyük Menderes Basin, Turkey. That's the pilot of its regenerative cotton project that is supposed to sequester approximately 1600 tonnes of carbon which is a step towards the goal of Net Zero Emissions by 2025.
It donated 100% of Earth Day 2020 profits (19,000 €) to Rewilding Europe. Rewilding Europe is an organization that takes a progressive approach to conservation by making Europe a wilder and more biodiverse place.
Nearly one-third (33%) of the styles offered by OB are certified PETA-Approved Vegan Friendly.
Animal fibers represent 1% of the total manufacturing. Organic Basics uses virgin and recycled merino wool and cashmere in its knitwear - sweaters, hats, scarfs, socks, etc. The knits are made in Scotland, but it's not clear whether the wool is locally sourced. The products are NOT advertised as cruelty-free.