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Organic Cotton Clothing Sales Increase in the U.S.

>From Women's Wear Daily
 
WWD
June 8, 2004

ORGANIC COTTON TAKES ROOT

By: Beth Wilson

 

CHICAGO -- As the use of organically grown foods has increased, so has the
interest in clothing made with organically grown natural fibers.

"We've been noticing a surge over the last three years," said Matthew
Reynolds, chief operating officer of Indigenous Designs, which makes
clothing from organically grown cotton.

His 10-year-old Santa Rosa, Calif.-based company increased sales in 2003 by
30 percent over 2002 to $ 2 million.

"There's definitely a ramp-up going on," he said.

Reynolds' family-run business is not alone. Others are cashing in on the
organic trend, as was clear at the All Things Organic conference held at
Chicago's McCormack Place May 2-4.

According to Rebecca Calahan Klein, president of the Organic Exchange, a
nonprofit association of businesses focused on promoting the growth of the
organically grown cotton industry, 20 million pounds of organic cotton were
sold last year in the U.S., up from 6 million pounds in 2001.

Overall, the organic products industry -- including food and home products
-- has maintained a growth rate of more than 20 percent a year for the past
12 years, according to the Organic Trade Association. The OTA said organic
products represent a $ 10.8 billion business in the U.S. Sales of
organic-fiber products last year came to $ 85 million, according to figures
from an OTA manufacturers' survey.

At American Apparel, a manufacturer of T-shirts with more than 1,700
employees in Los Angeles, the organically grown cotton line is a bestseller.

"We double sales every two months," said Roian Atwood, community relations
coordinator of the line, which includes three styles of T-shirts, thong
underwear and infants' T-shirts. "We've had an amazing response."

American Apparel wholesales the undyed organic cotton T-shirts at about $
3.65, depending on quantity ordered, the same price as its conventional
colored T-shirt, Atwood said.

"We want organic to be accessible to everybody," he said, noting that its
organic cotton is grown domestically, mostly in California and Arizona.

Big apparel vendors such as Nike Inc. are leading the surge. The Beaverton,
Ore.-based company in 2001 pledged to use a minimum of 5 percent organic
cotton in all its cotton garments by 2010 and has introduced organic women's
activewear in the U.S. and organic cotton kids' clothing in Europe.

After conducting research showing that women are the principal purchasers
of apparel and that they are concerned about environmental issues, Nike
launched its women's organic cotton line in fall 2002. Today, the line
includes capri and full-length pants, a hooded wrap, a tank top and a
cap-sleeve shirt, ranging in price from $ 28 to $ 42, similar to regular
cotton items.

"Because of the volume, we've been able to keep the pricing comparable,"
said Eraina Duffy, sustainable innovation director for Nike global apparel.

The capris and pants contain 95 percent organically grown cotton and 5
percent spandex, while the tops contain a blend of 85 percent regular
cotton, 10 percent organic cotton and 5 percent spandex.

"Sales, as we've tracked them, have steadily increased," Duffy said. "As
consumers are aware of what's going on in the food industry, it transfers
over to us."

Nike's commitment has helped the organic cotton industry secure credibility
and viability, said Klein of Organic Exchange.

"When Nike set this 5 percent goal, farmers were looking ahead, as well as
millers and spinners," Duffy said. "It allows people to start planning
long-term. We're so glad they're in this because it's a signal to the
industry that organic is here to stay."

According to the Organic Exchange, Nike is the largest retail user of
organic cotton in the world.

Other companies such as Timberland vowed to convert to 100 percent organic
cotton within seven seasons beginning in 2004, and Marks & Spencer of the
U.K. plans to use 5 percent in all its cotton products by 2012, Klein said.
Patagonia spearheaded the movement in 1996 when it began using only
organically grown cotton.

"It was a very big statement," Klein said. "They really exercised a lot of
leadership and it turned a lot of heads."

In 2001, almost 12,000 acres in the U.S. were planted with organic cotton,
but that represents only a tiny fraction, less than 0.1 percent, of the
nation's overall cotton crop.

Still, advocates of organic farming contend that even in small areas it
pays environmental dividends.

"From an environmental standpoint, every pound of organic cotton means
about one-third less pound of pesticides in the U.S.," said Klein of Organic
Exchange.

But makers of organic cotton clothing said consumers think about a lot more
than pesticides when they're looking at garments in a store.

"They want it to be a good design, they want it at a reasonable price, then
they look at the fiber aspect," said Reynolds of Indigenous Designs.

Likewise, Nike's Duffy said customers first evaluate the color, fit and
performance of a fabric.

When they notice it's organic, Duffy said, "It's sort of an 'a-ha' moment.
They think, 'This is great and, by the way, it's organic...It's almost like
a seamless transition for our customer."

Another company delivering organic fashion options is Under The Canopy, a
wholesaler and retailer that sells organic cotton ponchos and capri
corduroys, as well as organic linen trenchcoats and organic denim
miniskirts, capris and low-rise and boot-cut jeans in different rinses.

"We are introducing fashion to organic and organic to fashion," said Marci
Zaroff, founder and president.

Zaroff said her company focuses on fashion, fit and design for a customer
who wants the latest looks with a bonus, fabrics that are kind to the
environment.

"This is for a consumer who won't compromise," she said. "We're going to
give you everything you can get at boutiques with value added."

Organic cotton styles also have greatly evolved.

"I see a growth in finesse," said Sandra Marquardt, coordinator of the
OTA's Fiber Council. "We're away from the blah and boxy. Now we have
products that are hot. They have the shape, drape and appeal of regular
products."

In the early Nineties, she said, organic clothing was primarily
loose-fitting basic T-shirts and underwear for the environmentally
conscious.

"The focus was on the product being organic, rather than a stylish product
that's organic," she said.