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ORGANIC COTTON
CLOTHING INDUSTRY BOOMING

Organic Cotton Clothing clothing and diapers are easier than ever to find this year, with new children's companies entering the market, as well as huge apparel companies like The Gap beginning to support the industry. Fueled by the ecofashion trend of the early 1990s, organic cotton farm acreage 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" clothing lines. But there were inherent problems: Organic cotton items were more expensive, and customers weren't willing to pay a premium for them; companies had trouble telling the organic cotton "story" without making their conventional cotton items look bad; and supply of organic cotton was volatile, since the industry was so new. Consequently, the bottom fell out of the market, many companies went out of business or stopped offering organic cotton lines, and organic cotton farming dropped to 10,000 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 their mills to blend organic cotton into the conventional cotton process. Although for these companies organic cotton only represents 1 to 3 percent of their overall cotton usage, that adds up to more than all of the 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 and Nike purchased half a million pounds each. "We're integrating organic cotton to help the industry mature. It's a chicken and egg thing-overall supply of organic cotton is limited now, but we'll purchase and integrate as much of it into production as is available," explains Clarence Grebey, spokesperson for Levi's. The items containing organic cotton won't have any special labeling, and the price won't be affected. "We tried to offer an organic line, but it was costly to make, and consumer acceptance was poor. This is a more modest approach, but the net effect is the same," adds Grebey.

The effect has been the beginning of restabilization of the organic cotton market. "Demand for organic cotton is at an all-time high," says Nathan Boone, coordinator of the Organic Trade Association's Fiber Council. "All of the organic cotton in production in the US this year has already been bought, and everyone is increasing acreage. But this time it's based on a rational approach rather than a fad or trend." La Rhea Pepper, executive officer of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, which sells organic cotton for use in everything from baby blankets to stuffing for teddy bears, affirms that they're sold out this year. "We're seeing an increase in demand across the board, from these new blending programs as well as our long-term existing client base," she says.

CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE --> Written by: By Jane McConnell, Mothering Magazine


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