Scaring up Organic Cotton
By Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Walking through the showrooms during the Home Textiles Market in New York last month, there were several new “trends” that seem to have emerged spontaneously across the market.
One was the extensive offering of organic cotton for both towels and sheets; the other was the proliferation of Egyptian cotton as a selling point, again in both towels and sheets.
Looking at the extent of the offerings, especially in the organic cotton segment, initial reactions had to be positive. We're definitely in an era of greater awareness of the environment and its challenges, and certainly the use of a fiber without any chemicals would be a plus.
While discussing the product benefits for the organic products, it became clear that few of the suppliers were completely aware of all the parameters involved in marketing an organic product. While some were quick to point out that vegetable dyes were used for the coloring, the finishing was another issue. And for some, vegetable dyes were not part of the equation.
Then there's the question of available quantity. With folks like Patagonia already major longtime users of organic cotton, and Wal-Mart now pledging to move heavily into the fray, there seems to be an immediate shortage since world-wide only 116,000 bales were harvested in 2005. Of this number, only 6,000 bales of U.S. certified organic cotton were harvested, and the United States has stringent specs for organic certification. Turkey had 90,000 bales; the balance was from other countries -- and none of them have uniform specs for certification.
Taking the available crop to the level of sheets, if all the U.S. crop was converted into full-size sheets only, there would be a maximum production of 1,620,00 sheets — far less than even the number of sheets any one of the top five home textiles retailers need for a year.
Even Turkey with its far larger crop could only supply 24 million sheets, again well below the potential needs of the top five retailers.
As for the Egyptian cotton, with a million bales in 2005, and the product used far more extensively across all textiles products than organic, there seems to be a potential for dilution of the standards.
In both cases, there appears to be the potential of moving into another chapter similar to the thread-count wars. Hopefully with both products, the marketplace will see them as inspiration, not a buzzword for desperation.
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