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ORGANIC COTTON
CLOTHING INDUSTRY BOOMING

However, not everyone applauds the blending programs as a totally positive change. "It looks great on these companies' mission statements for them to buy organic cotton, but I question why they're not converting it into organic products," says Harvey Campbell, president of BC Cotton, Inc., a large organic cotton breeder and grower. "And are these companies willing to really support the industry by making forward contracts (committing upfront to buying a certain number of bales of organic cotton for the following year)? So far the farmer has had totake all the risk."

Meanwhile, outdoor apparel manufacturer made a commitment two years ago to switch all of the cotton items they offer to 100 percent organic cotton, and in February they introduced 100 percent organic cotton denim jeans and an organic cotton canvas sneaker. "It costs usmore to produce these items, but we've taken lower margins on them, to split the difference with the customer," explains Lu Setnicka, directorof public affairs for the store.

The children's market is growing as well. Queen is a brand-new company offering organic color-grown cotton children's clothing anddiapers as well as natural wooden toys. The business was started by a single mother and her friend, and employs home-based sewers and woodworkers. Also new in the children's market is Hinder, an organic cotton diaper and clothing company started last year by Bob and Melissa Herbert when they couldn't find organic diapers for their son."We eat only organic food and wear as much organic clothing as we can.When our son was born, we certainly didn't want to put pesticide-laden cotton on him where it would be wet and against his skin," explains Bob Herbert.

Lings, the original and largest organic cotton clothing company for children, is anticipating growth from switching to selling direct rather than through retail stores. "We found the retail market to be a dead endin terms of creativity. This way we'll be able to offer a complete line,at lower prices since we've cut out the middle man, and to talk moreabout the message behind organic cotton," explains owner Dawn Ceniceros.

Why choose organic cotton? Conventionally grown cotton is one of most heavily sprayed field crops in the world-using 2 percent of the farm land worldwide, it consumes 10 percent of the world's pesticides and 25percent of all insecticides, according to Pesticide Action Network.Sprayed from the air, these highly toxic pesticides often drift over farm houses, roads, water sources, and workers, resulting in water and soil contamination, as well as danger to wildlife and human health. Forexample, a 1993 EPA study focusing on carbofuran, an insecticide used oncotton, estimated that one to two million birds are killed annually by this chemical. Cotton is also a food crop: cottonseed oil is used insnack foods, and cottonseed is used to feed beef cattle. As insectsgradually become resistant to pesticides, ever-increasing amounts are required to be effective.

In contrast, organically grown cotton makes use of beneficial bugs and manure in place of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. The farm plan includes soil rotations, cover crops, and hand-weeding. A field must bepesticide-free for at least three years to be certified organic, and the cotton must be processed according to accepted standards. (Cotton grown organically for less than a three-year period is termed "transitional";"green", or "unbleached," cotton is processed without chemicals but notgrown organically.)

Organic cotton is more expensive to grow for several reasons, explains La Rhea Pepper: "Because of the rotation program, one-third of the cashcrop is out of production every year; and because we don't usesynthetic fertilizers, we get about a 20 percent lower yield." Inaddition, costs are increased in the processing stage because the cottongin must be stopped and cleaned of contaminants before the organic cotton is processed.

"The organic cotton industry is where the organic food industry was ten years ago-it's the same kind of learning curve," says Mattie Bosch,owner of Xanomi, another manufacturer of organic cotton children'sclothing. "It's a holistic issue-it's not just about having something organic next to your skin but wanting to contribute to a clean process.The bottom line, though, is that people won't buy organic cottonclothing out of duty, they'll buy it because it's cute. We have to makeproducts so good that people will buy them regardless of whether they'reorganic."

Written by: By Jane McConnell


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