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CHOOSING ORGANIC:
MORE THAN FOOD

When her first child was born in 1992, Ginny Caldwell could not find the natural and organic fiber products she wanted for her baby.

“I was frustrated because there were only one or two sources. So in 1993, I started a catalog business out of my garage,” Caldwell recalls.

“I started with a black and white catalog Xeroxed by my mother, with her boss’s permission, at her job. We sent it out to about a thousand mothers on a general mailing list I rented. At night we’d go over to the garage and pack orders.”

The initial results weren’t very successful. However, Caldwell was convinced that a color catalog would help. With money fronted by her husband, she published one. In 1994, the business acquired a warehouse, and hired several employees to take and pack orders. In 1996, her husband helped design a web site, over which a substantial part of company sales now take place. In June 1999, the business, Organics, was incorporated, with Caldwell as president and her mom as vice president. That year, the business broke its first million dollars in sales.

“We still haven’t made a profit, but we’re really close,” reports Caldwell, who is able to do much of her part of the business from her El Cajon, CA, home where she is raising four children, ages 13 months, 5, 7 and 9. Employees are moms, and her extended family also is a big part of the company.

“I really believe in organic, and that is why I did this. For me, it is a health issue. I really think our kids are being exposed to a lot of chemicals and substances that they shouldn’t be. And that is why I choose organic,” she explains.

If you are like a growing number of parents, you buy organic food because you believe it is good for the planet, and thus good for your family. But do you know there also are many products geared for your child that are made from organic fiber?

Children’s products are a growing market segment for organic fiber, with items for babies and toddlers leading the way. Organic fiber products for children range from crib mattresses, sheets, blankets, quilts and pillows, to layette items, clothing, diapers, and toys such as stuffed bears and other animals.

Many of these items are made by mothers for mothers seeking items that are good for the planet and thus good for their children.

Mary Fellows started Fellows based in Newtown, Connecticut, as a new mother and designer “who had a hard time finding a few simple things. So we launched our line of comfort items for child (and mother) in the purest, softest and most simple fauna and flora nature has to offer,” she recalls.

Each item her business sells is hand assembled in the United States by Mother, a group of moms who use organic materials to make these products.

Why buy organic?

Organic refers to the way agricultural products, whether food or fiber, are grown and processed. Organic production systems are designed to replenish and maintain soil fertility, eliminate the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. All organic products are produced without the use of genetically modified materials, irradiation, and sewage sludge.

As The Original Goods points out on its web site, although people often think of all cotton as “natural,” cotton raised traditionally is heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals. In fact, cotton is grown on about three percent of the earth's farmland, but accounts for an estimated 18 percent of all agricultural chemicals used. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 84 million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on cotton in 2000, making cotton the second most heavily pesticide-sprayed crop, behind only corn.

The process of textile production also pollutes the environment. To create finished goods, fabrics are often colored with toxic dyes and finished with formaldehyde. Residues of these substances accumulate in the environment and can become irritants by reacting with detergents and bleaches.

Organically grown cotton, however, is grown without the use of dangerous and often ineffective chemicals. Instead, insects are controlled by introducing natural predators such as ladybugs. Only natural fertilization is used. The balance of nature is maintained and production can be sustained for many years. Cultivation without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides also provides a healthier environment for those working in the cotton fields.

Manufacturers of organic fabric products point out that two yards of organically grown fabric used to create one baby blanket set saves about one pound of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers from polluting the earth.

“We don’t think our kids deserve all of the harmful chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and formaldehyde used in growing and manufacturing traditional cotton clothing,” proclaims Earth Organic Cotton Originals on its web site.

Meanwhile, manufacturers of organic cotton bedding note that most bedding contains chemicals such as formaldehyde, vinyls and plastics, foam, and other chemical residues. Organic cotton bedding is free of these substances.

Currently, there are organic standards in place governing how organic fiber—whether cotton, wool, hemp, or flax—is grown. The Organic Trade Association is completing guidelines for processing organic fiber. Once adopted, these guidelines will determine which dyes and other finishing inputs can be used in finished products and how such products will be labeled.

Diapers often the first purchase

OTA’s Organic Fiber Shopper Study, conducted by The Hartman Group and released in 2000, found that parents who themselves use organic products such as food are more likely to buy organic products for their children. This study also found that organic cotton diapers are often the first organic fiber product purchased by parents.

“Parents who are core organic consumers express concern about exposing their children to chemicals and using diaper products that are not recyclable. Many of these parents use cotton cloth diapers, but the majority have recently discovered small and private companies who produce organic cotton diapers,” the report notes.

Natural based in North Canton, Ohio, Organics, and Rags are among the companies selling organic cotton diapers.

Clothes for children

Organic cotton diapers, however, still represent a small market, particularly compared to that for children’s clothing. By contrast, there are many organic clothing options for babies, toddlers, young children, and even older children.

Organic cotton clothing items for infants and toddlers are often eye-catching and comfortable looking. This is because children’s wear manufacturers recognize that items for the younger set must appeal to the fashion sense of their parents.

Organic cotton clothing items available for infants include baby gowns, one-piece outfits, undershirts, sleepwear, booties, dresses, caps, jumpers, and bibs. It is even possible to find organic christening dresses, baby jackets, pants, and baby bonnets. There is a wide range of items for toddlers and older children as well, from pants and tops to jackets and hats, and even socks.

Rompers and pants and tee sets are among the most popular items.

“We see more interest from a broader market of consumers as people become more aware of environmental concerns,” says Vicki Lasin, for our children. “For instance, we have noticed growing interest in toddler boy clothes that are organic.”

Some of the items demonstrate creativity. For instance, the storesells a convertible romper for infants through 24 months that can be used as a baby sack or gown. As the baby grows, snaps placed all along down the front can be adjusted to shape the garment into a romper. Because of the excitement these are generating, Company in Spring 2002 will offer the rompers under its Pure Baby label and brand.

Meanwhile, some in the industry see clothing for ages 6-14 as a particularly difficult market, chiefly because pre-teens and teens generally help pick out their clothes and experience peer pressure concerning what they should wear. This has not stopped Michelle Pothier, in Creemore, Ontario, Canada, however.

“Yes, it is a difficult market, but kids of this age group can understand the message when you explain the value of organic,” says Pothier. Her company sells organic clothing geared for children ages 6 months to 14 years.

To produce kid-appealing clothing that is price-competitive and of good quality without catering to fads that soon go out of style.

“There still is a gap in the 6-14 age category for organic fiber clothing. We have many customers who call up just to say, ‘We are so happy you’re there, for being organic and socially responsible in your labor practices,’” said Pothier.

Two leading active wear companies have also come out with organic clothes for kids. Patagonia has a kid’s sportswear line for sizes XX Small (size 3-4) through XX Large (size 14) that incorporates organic cotton, and will include several organic cotton pieces for infants in its children’s line in the upcoming Spring 2002 season. Mountain Co-op based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, meanwhile, sells organic shorts, pants and t-shirts for children, and reports it is moving as much as its cotton clothing into organic cotton fiber as it can.

Accessories for children

Organic fiber accessories for infants and children include organic blankets and bedding-related products.

“Our most popular items are what I call ‘take-me-home’ (receiving) blankets. You just can’t have too many,” says Fellows.

Indeed, organic cotton receiving blankets are one of the most popular, and most widely available, organic fiber baby items in stores. Organic baby blankets and quilts are ideal gifts for baby showers, as are baby futon Moses baskets.

Parents can find even crib and twin-size mattresses in organic cotton and organic cotton/wool, mattress pads, bumper pads with covers, crib sheets, and comforters with duvets.

“People are far more aware and concerned about what they have their children sleep in,” according to a spokeswoman from Mattress based in South El Monte, California. These products are becoming more mainstream and are available in retail stores, sleep shops, and decorating stores, as well as through catalogs and the Internet.

But the choices don’t stop here. Moms can also find organic cotton pillows and hooded towels, as well as organic baby herbal salves, oils and lotions.

Playfully organic

Toys made from organic fiber are also readily available.

Popular items include organic cotton animals, from bears and bunnies, to elephants and puppies. Or, you can find tooth fairy pillows and miniature comfort blankets.

Bunny Gardner, owner of The Original Goods, based in Fort Worth, TX, contracts with seamstresses to make her company’s toys and does all of the finishing work herself. “It is very much a labor of love,” she says.

Gardner does not believe concern for the environment is what motivates many of her customers. “Instead, I think they look at the items and love them, and the price is acceptable. The fact that they are organic is an added bonus.”

Especially for moms, but dads like them, too

There are a number of organic fiber items on the market with the new mom in mind.

For those who are breastfeeding, there are organic cotton nursing tops as well as nursing bras. Added recently are organic cloth baby carrier slings so that moms can comfortably carry their youngsters, while nursing or at other times. The slings are also ideal for dads who want to snuggle or carry their young children.

There are also crescent-shaped organic cotton nursing pillows available. Washable, these are equipped with a strap that goes around the mom’s waist.

Other items include organic cotton balls and swabs for infant and child care.

Not just organic cotton

Manufacturers of organic fiber products use primarily organic cotton, but do on occasion use other organic fibers, such as wool, when available.

Eco time, for one, sells some organic wool products, including diaper covers, infant care pelts, crib bumpers and comforters.

As the availability of organic fiber increases, parents can look forward to even more offerings.


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