Organic Cotton Clothing clothing and diapers are easier than ever to find thisyear, with new children's companies entering the market, as well as hugeapparel companies like The Gap beginning to support the industry.Fueled by the ecofashion trend of the early 1990s, organic cotton farmacreage in the US grew from 100 acres in 1989 to 25,000 acres in 1995,as apparel companies from Esprit to Levi's introduced "eco" clothinglines. But there were inherent problems: Organic cotton items were moreexpensive, and customers weren't willing to pay a premium for them;companies had trouble telling the organic cotton "story" without makingtheir conventional cotton items look bad; and supply of organic cottonwas volatile, since the industry was so new. Consequently, the bottomfell out of the market, many companies went out of business or stoppedoffering organic cotton lines, and organic cotton farming dropped to10,000 acres in 1996.
Now the big apparel manufacturers have hit on a new approach: blending.Levi's, Nike, and The Gap have all begun buying organic cotton again,but instead of trying to sell pure organic lines, they are asking theirmills to blend organic cotton into the conventional cotton process.Although for these companies organic cotton only represents 1 to 3percent of their overall cotton usage, that adds up to more than all ofthe pure organic cotton used by smaller companies combined.
In 1997, Levi's, the largest apparel user of cotton in the world,purchased over one million pounds of organic cotton, while The Gap andNike purchased half a million pounds each. "We're integrating organiccotton to help the industry mature. It's a chicken and egg thing-overallsupply of organic cotton is limited now, but we'll purchase andintegrate as much of it into production as is available," explainsClarence Grebey, spokesperson for Levi's. The items containing organic cotton won't have any special labeling, andthe price won't be affected. "We tried to offer an organic line, but itwas costly to make, and consumer acceptance was poor. This is a moremodest approach, but the net effect is the same," adds Grebey.
The effect has been the beginning of restabilization of the organiccotton market. "Demand for organic cotton is at an all-time high," saysNathan Boone, coordinator of the Organic Trade Association's FiberCouncil. "All of the organic cotton in production in the US this yearhas already been bought, and everyone is increasing acreage. But thistime it's based on a rational approach rather than a fad or trend."La Rhea Pepper, executive officer of the Texas Organic Cotton MarketingCooperative, which sells organic cotton for use in everything from babyblankets to stuffing for teddy bears, affirms that they're sold out thisyear. "We're seeing an increase in demand across the board, from thesenew blending programs as well as our long-term existing client base,"she says.
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE -->Written by: By Jane McConnell
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