Posts tagged ‘organic cotton’
Textile Exchange, the global organization dedicated to promoting the use of organic cotton, just released its annual Global Sustainable Textile Market Report. According to the Report, organic cotton represented a $6.2 billion industry last year and stands to grow another 20 percent in 2012, ballooning to $7.4 billion.
Along with that forecast, the Report also published its list of the top 10 corporations using organic cotton. Just a quick glance reveals that the list is filled with industry-leading apparel companies who wield strong taste-making influence, from athletic brands like Nike and adidas to big box retailer Target or mall fashion brand Zara.
At the top of the list is Sweden’s H & M, which used more than 15,000 tons of organic cotton in 2010. According to CSR Product Manager Henrik Lampa, by creating demand for organic cotton, H & M is incentivizing cotton farmers to adopt sustainable cultivation practices.
Of course, there are many experts who think that cotton, as a crop, is too difficult to sustainably grow. Given that opinion, we won’t be surprised when next year’s edition of the Report begins to track the rise of organic cotton alternatives, such as flax and hemp.
With so much talk about the soaring costs of cotton these days, we thought we’d offer a fresh perspective from the other side.
Due to undesirable weather conditions including flooding, cold snaps and hailstorms, cotton crops are coming up short this year and with the world’s demand of cotton so high, prices have been skyrocketing – rising almost 80% since July. With global apparel prices stagnant for some time now, apparel manufacturers and exporters are being hit hard. Companies like Jockey, Liz Claiborne, Levi’s and Hanes are in search of a solution so as not to have to pass this price hike onto consumers.
While some are in search of cheaper cotton sources in Banglasdesh and Vietnam, others are attempting to find alterntive cost effective yarns to blend into their cotton garments. You’d be surprised at the increase of emails we’ve received lately from spinners, knitters and manufacturers from around the world, enquiring about the availability and pricing of our CRAiLAR® fibres.
Both Levi’s and Hanes have stated that they will be integrating new materials into their products in order to lower costs, Bon-Ton chain is switching from 100 percent cotton in items like sweaters to more acrylic blends. Liz Claiborne, which makes brands like Juicy Couture and Kate Spade, is also playing with some of the materials it uses. One example, said spokeswoman Jane Randel, would be shifting from some imported Italian fabrics to “suppliers who produce their own raw materials or yarns”.
Ms. Johnson, an analyst with First Capital Group, stated that “We may be training a new generation to be far more accepting of synthetic fibers, which is likely to hurt cotton’s market share in the long run.”
We believe that companies can blend their way out of the cotton dilemma. However, with the higher demand from manufacturers switching away from cotton mixed with the anticipated rise in oil costs, the price of polyester and other synthetic fibres continue to rise – nearly 25% this past year. So, are synthetic fibres the solution?
We believe that CRAiLAR® Organic Fibres are the foundation of the first truly sustainable yarn in the apparel industry, and are poised to become the revolutionary next step in sustainable fibres, providing an economically sustainable complement to cotton.
Created using bast fibres such as flax, hemp, jute and kenaf, the yarns made from CRAiLAR® Organic Fibres can be used in knit, woven or nonwoven fabrics, alone, or blended with other natural fibers. CRAiLAR® can be used in both mainstream and alternative apparel and fashion fabrics, as well as industrial textiles. Through spinning trials, CRAiLAR® Flax was found to be of very high quality and ideally suited for fine knit items such as T-shirts.
With cotton prices currently well over a dollar per pound, flax is a cost-effective raw material for fibre production. We estimate that we will be able to provide CRAiLAR® Flax at approximately $0.90 per pound making it an econimically viable complement to cotton.
The cotton industry has weathered many storms this year, literally. The crop killing hailstorms in Texas, devastating floods in Pakistan and record low tempartures in China, all played a role in the record high cotton prices we’ve been seeing in the headlines.
India, which is the world’s third largest supplier of conventional cotton and is responsible for supplying 51% of the world’s organic cotton, is facing a dilemma of their own. Several Indian farmers, specifically in the Karnataka, Raichur, Nanjangud, Haveri and Hubli regions, may soon fall off the organic cotton map due to shortages of non-Bt cotton seeds and contamination of traditional seeds.
The non-availability of conventional seeds is often due to the contamination of the parent line with the genetically modified variety because of cross-pollination, which is difficult to check or monitor. Traditional cotton seeds are regularily sent for testing and the results confirm that the seeds are contaminated. Officials in the Department of Agriculture have confirmed the near absence of the traditional variety of cotton seeds in the market. These issues have been discussed with National Seeds Corporation Ltd., which can grow the traditional variety of cotton seeds but the process would take at least two years. The fact is, no farmer could afford to wait for two years which means that in all likelihood organic cotton growers will have no choice but to shift to Bt seeds.
Initially the introduction of Bt cotton seeds brought hope to Indian Farmers. There was widespread propaganda in India that genetically engineered (GE) cotton crops would provide the solution to poverty and hunger eradication. On the contrary, recent global analyses have concluded that eco farming – using low-cost, locally available and agro-ecological technologies – is effectively having the same outcome. The study, completed by Greenpeace, is a comparative analysis of two contrasting methods of agriculture: Bt cotton cropping that relies primarily on chemically intensive agriculture vs. ecological farming in the example of organic cotton farmers. The goal of this study was to document the realities of farming in the Indian cotton regions and the focus of the analysis is the economic livelihood of the cotton farmers themselves.
Organic cotton is in high demand in the textile industry across the world. India was one of the first country’s to have an organic farming policy in place and was at the forefront of promoting organic cotton which fetched a higher premium than Bt cotton in the market and earned farmers substantially more (Rs. 900) per quintal (100 kg).
Policy makers need to ensure that farmers have a say on what seed, crops and varieties they choose to plant. They need to safeguard the interest of farmers by developing indigenous technology. Bt cotton appeared to be a Godsend when first introduced in 2002, but the realities of this ‘wonder crop’ have now set in and it’s become clear that it is robbing Indian farmers of their hopes, dreams, potential as well as generations of seed saving and farming practices that can’t afford to be forgotten.
Gone are the days of $5 tees and undies. Shoppers will begin to pay more for clothing next year as skyrocketing cotton prices force companies to take their chances with price increases even as consumer demand remains slow.
Cotton prices have been driven higher by demand from developing countries, mostly China and India, where rising wealth is boosting consumption patterns. Severe weather is also to blame, with heavy rains in China and flooding in Pakistan damaging many crops and limiting cotton supply.
Companies like Jones Group, which includes lines Nine West and Anne Klein, and Hanesbrand plan to raise prices on clothing by as much as 10%. When cotton prices began to rise a year ago, retailers and manufacturers were uncertain how much of the cost would be passed along to consumers but with cotton now up approximately 80% since the beginning of the year, apparel companies can no longer eat the costs.
Children’s clothing manufacturer and retailer Carter’s Inc., which includes OshKosh B’Gosh brand, said in October that costs for its spring 2011 product rose 11% and that it expects costs to rise even further for fall merchandise.
“The price increases mark a sharp reversal in apparel price trends, which have been deflationary for at least a decade”, says Emanuel Weintraub, a retail consultant. “The moves are setting up a “high-stakes poker game” with retailers”, he says, “who are reluctant to accept price increases while their customers remain in a thrifty mood”.
“Larger, well-capitalized vendors are more likely to have the bargaining power to convince retail partners to pass through the increases but some of the smaller firms could be forced out of business”, says Mr. Weintraub.
Retailers have been shielding customers from the full impact of commodity price rises for some time now. Weak consumer confidence means retailers are competing even more fiercely for the limited discretionary spending available. That situation is unlikely to change from now until Christmas, with retailers clamouring to win the attention of cash-strapped consumers through discounting and promotions.
Not long ago Wal-Mart announced their global commitment to sustainable agriculture in which they aimed to help small and medium sized farmers expand their businesses, get more income for their product and reduce the environmental impact of farming. Wal-Mart pledged to make it’s Faded Glory brand 100% more sustainable. Now, just a few months later, reports from India indicate that the retail giant may be cutting back on it’s use of organic cotton.
Anil Jain of Venus Garments stated, “We had a considerable good order for organic garments from Wal-Mart last year which is has not continued for this year.” Although sizeable orders continue to come in from Wal-Mart, it’s Spring 2011 line is made up of a mixture of both conventional and organic cotton as opposed to 100% organic cotton.
According to one advisor at Ecotextile News, the most likely reason behind Wal-Marts decision to cut back on their sustainability commitments has something to do with the record high costs of cotton. Five years ago, organic cotton was selling 20 – 25 cents per pound more than conventional cotton, whereas today organic cotton is 5 – 7 cents more per pound.
Some industry leaders have suggested that any cut backs by Wal-Mart may last only a short while until the prices return to reasonable rates. Either way, downsizing of Wal-Marts organic cotton commitment will be a disappointing blow to Indian organic cotton farmers.
Recently named by US News as one of America’s Best Leaders 2009, Yvon Chouinard is a passionate rocker climber, surfer, kayaker, fly fisherman and writer but is most noted for his environmental activism and the clothing and gear company Patagonia.
One must ask, what makes a great leader? Well, according to US News, they judge based on the following criteria; Set Direction (25%), Cultivates a Culture of Growth (25%) and Achieves Results (50%).
Chouinard is not your typical executive as he is known to ignore the bottom line and refers to fellow business leaders as “corpses in suits”. He leads his own brand of MBA (Management by Absence) and it’s proven effective.
His first business was born, in 1957, out of discontent over the quality of climbing hardware. He taught himself blacksmithing and began forging his own equipment. Soon he was able to support himself by selling equipment to climbers from the back of his car. By the 1970’s, his company grew to be was the largest domestic supplier of climbing equipment, and it began to dawn on Chouinard that he had become, by default, a businessman. Along the way, Chouinard had the idea of making climbing knickers and double-seated shorts out of heavy corduroy. By 1973, an expanded clothing line grew popular enough to warrant its own label, and Patagonia was born.
Chouinard decided to blur the lines between work, play and family so employees could have flextime to surf when the waves were good or take care of a sick child. Patagonia made the “best-company-to-work-for” lists. In 1984 he opened an on site cafeteria offering healthy, almost vegetarian food and started an on-site child care at headquarters – this led to an average of 900 applicants for every job opening. In 1986, he committed the company to “tithing” for environmental activism by donating 1% of sales or 10% of profits, whichever was greater.
Some Patagonia philosophies include:
Change – Chouinard writes in regards to the corporate world and in the environment, “Only those businesses operating with a sense of urgency … constantly evolving, open to diversity and new ways of doing things, are going to be here 100 years from now.”
Environment – Despite being a self-professed pessimist about the fate of the planet, Chouinard writes that the cure for the end-of-the-world blues is action. Patagonia’s lofty goals in this area include: Lead an examined life; clean up our own act; do our penance; support civil democracy; influence other companies.
By walking the talk, Patagonia has done very well. Chouinard claims that every time Patagonia has elected to do the right thing for the environment (i.e. switching to organic cotton and using recycled plastic soft-drink bottles as raw material for jackets), even when it costs twice as much, it’s turned out to be more profitable.
By pioneering these processes, Patagonia hopes to continue to convince other companies that green business is good business. Already, Chouinard writes, large companies such as Nike, Levi’s, Gap and Walmart buy organic cotton to blend in with their industrial cotton to support the organic movement without pricing themselves out of their markets.
Some of Chouinard’s most noteable accomplishments are;
Be sure to grab a copy of Chouinard’s biography, Let My People Go Surfing, on your next trip to the bookstore or library.
Crailar Organic Fibers are the building blocks for the first truly sustainable yarn in the apparel industry. Our fibers are processed through a patented enzymatic bath created in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada. Prior to the bath, the fibers of up to a meter in length are cut to the desired staple length rivaling the very best long line cotton. These fibers then enter processing equipment which turns the straw-like fibers into soft, fluffy white fibers similar to organic cotton.
The result is a yarn with characteristics such as increased burst strength, enhanced wicking properties and reduced shrinkage that organic cotton simply can never achieve. As every step of the process can be certified organic, Crailar’s Organic Fiber has become the first truly sustainable yarn in the apparel industry.