IATP Organic Cotton Monitor Vol. 3, Number 2

  IATP Organic Cotton Monitor - Vol. 3, Number 2    February 13, 1997

		Table of Contents 
		- Cotton Blending May Shape Future of Organic Industry
		- Nike Considers Organic Cotton
		- Tambrands Balks at Organic Proposal

Interest in organic cotton from companies like Nike and The Gap may be pointing the industry in a new direction. Patagonia has led the way for large textile manufacturers by using exclusively organic cotton in its product line. However, organic cotton furnishings and clothing need to continually expand outward from its, albeit thriving, niche market status if current growers will be able to maintain organic farming practices, and if others are to join the sustainable cotton movement.

Agricola Partners in California has done some research on the opportunities for blending organic cotton with conventional (grown with the use of pesticides) cotton in the manufacturing of textiles. Whereas Levi Strauss might shy away from a line of organic clothing on the grounds that there is no demand for "green" jeans (see November 1996 issue), using organic cotton as a component in production rather than as the focal point may yield effective results. Blending is a building point, allowing corporations to reduce the environmental impact of their manufacturing in a way that will not be cost prohibitive.

Blending cotton presents an opportunity for overcoming and eventually eliminating the barriers of limited organic cotton supplies and the higher costs associated with the production of organic cotton fabrics. Specialty marketing and labeling costs will be avoided, since textiles will not be marketed as an exclusively "green" line. Blending does not require that certified organic cotton be handled separately from conventional cotton, and can be done at any point in the manufacturing process. Most important, a relatively small amount of organic cotton would need to be blended with conventional cotton to achieve significant pesticide reduction.

Agricola Partners estimates that for a jeans manufacturer producing 40 million pairs of jeans, blending one to five percent organic cotton (50 to 200 grams per pair of jeans) with conventional cotton could reduce pesticide use by 5,600 to 28,000 pounds. This assumes a U.S. average of 6.43 pounds of pesticides per acre. Pesticide reduction in California would be about double the above total, assuming an average of 12 pounds of pesticides used per acre. The additional manufacturing cost per garment at one percent organic cotton would be about three-tenths of a cent ($0.0032).

Granted, blending does not eradicate the problem of pesticide use in cotton, but it is a necessary and dramatic first step toward sustainable cotton development for large-scale manufacturers of textiles. As more companies turn to blending,  growers will finally have a secure market for their cotton. Prices will then be able to come more in line with conventional cotton prices; more strategic alliances within the organic cotton industry can be developed, e.g. stronger  grower cooperatives; and national and international organic certification programs would become more uniform as manufacturers seek sourcing flexibility.

The Gap commissioned a report from Agricola Partners on the opportunities that exist for pesticide-reduced cotton in their industry. The report is currently under review by The Gap, which plans to release the findings and its intended plan of action later this year.

Phone interview with Will Allen of the Sustainable Cotton Project, February 3.

Nike is about to boll over the competition. The premier sports manufacturer is considering using organic cotton in its shoe and apparel line. The Nike Environmental Action Team (NEAT) has been evaluating the use of organic cotton in Nike products, and the project is said to be in the testing phases, according to a company spokesperson. While Nike doesn't foresee the launch of any organic cotton use until its 1999 fiscal year (July 1998-June 1999), Nike's use of organically grown cotton would have Jordan-esque implications for the industry.

"Nike is looking for a way to incorporate organic cotton into our product line, in a way which won't sacrifice the quality of our product," Katie McCarthy, NEAT team member said in an interview. Nike will be meeting with its designers this year to discuss the feasibility of and opportunities for organic cotton use in their product line. Nike doesn't plan to market a separate organic line, or appeal to customer's "green" side in the sale of its products.

"Nike is not branded as a 'green' company," McCarthy said, "Our customers are not willing to pay a higher price for a shoe or a shirt because it uses organic products. Our customers pay for quality goods associated with Nike. Our goal is to integrate organic cotton into our production so that it's not a 'self-conscious' thing, but rather, a natural, good business decision [to use high quality organic cotton.]"

McCarthy pointed to the example of Adidas' hemp sneaker a few years ago, part of a "green" marketing campaign, which had quality problems and ultimately failed. McCarthy says, "We don't want to make a 'green' shoe for the sake of making a 'green' shoe." Nike's NEAT team is charged with developing  minimal impact production methods and using lower-impact materials in its product line. The company is working to improve the environmental rating of the synthetic leather used in its shoes, and on lower impact leather alternatives.

Phone interview with Katie McCarthy at Nike, January 15, 1997. 

Tambrands Inc. has shied away from a proposal to run one of its facilities as an organic tampon operation, citing concerns over the available supply of organic cotton.  Will Allen,  Director of the Sustainable Cotton Project, in conjunction with the Rutland, Vermont Economic Development Corporation and Vermont National Bank, had proposed that Tambrands use its Rutland plant to produce a line of organic cotton tampons.

After a company restructuring in September 1996 combining Tambrands American and International groups into a single global organization, the company decided to close four plants: Tours, France, Tipperary, Ireland, St. Petersburg, Russia and Rutland, Vermont. The Rutland  plant employs 200 people. The closings result in a net reduction of about 600 jobs, or 17% of Tambrands' worldwide workforce. The net reduction includes the elimination of approximately 1100 jobs at closed facilities as well as the addition of about 500 new jobs at upgraded manufacturing facilities that will absorb production, and in marketing and product development positions.

Rutland's Economic Development Corporation had proposed using sustainable jobs funding to upgrade the current facility to an organic tampon manufacturing plant.  The Vermont National Bank, a socially-responsible financial institution, signed on with other funding support. Tambrands' concern about organic cotton supply is a blow to an industry where growers are desperately seeking secure market outlets for their products in order to continue to grow organic cotton.

Tambrands' notes on  the side of each box of tampons it sells that "Tampax cares about the environment," evidenced, it says, by their biodegradable wrappers and recyclable packaging. Will Allen challenged Tambrands to address the bigger issue in tampon production, saying that "Cotton is toxic and it doesn't have to be." A point of contention between Allen and Tambrands is the cotton byproducts (sometimes called "gin trash") used to make tampons. Allen argues that the byproducts have pesticides present that are long-lived (such as dicofole and omite). Tambrands holds that there are no residues on Tambrands' products, and that cotton byproducts contain short-lived pesticides that are not present when tampons are produced.

"It is hard to try and get across to people and corporations how urgent this is," Allen said, referring to the need to develop sustainable cotton. The Rutland project is not dead yet, according to Allen. "If we can find the cotton for [Tambrands], they might consider doing it." Allen will be sending a petition signed by 300 people to keep the plant open and running as an organic tampon facility. He is encouraging growers to contact the White Plains, NY company to encourage the organic line.

"Tambrands Adopts Single Global Strategy and Rationalizes Production Facilities to Support Global Growth Strategy." Sept.18, 1996.