With global retail sales of organic cotton topping $1 billion last year, companies in the supply chain are searching for the best way to maintain sales momentum and deal with climate change, high oil prices and savvy consumers.
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. — With global retail sales of organic cotton topping $1 billion last year, companies in the supply chain are searching for the best way to maintain sales momentum and deal with climate change, high oil prices and savvy consumers.
More than 300 players in the category — from farmers in India and spinners in Japan to clothing designers in Canada and retailers such as Nordstrom, Wal-Mart and South Africa's Woolworths — convened here last week to brainstorm on the intricacies of their challenges.
The conference, sponsored by Organic Exchange, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit trade group funded by some 200 members including Topshop and Gap, opened amid a report that global retail sales for organic cotton products increased 85 percent to $1.1 billion last year, up from $583 million in 2005. Sales are projected to grow to $1.9 billion by the end of this year, and to $3.5 billion next year, $4.5 billion in 2009 and $6.8 billion in 2010.
The top five users of organic cotton were Wal-Mart for the second straight year, Nike, Woolworths, Coop Switzerland and Germany's C&A. The quintet accounted for half the world's consumption of organic cotton.
Organic Exchange said the amount of organic cotton produced globally rose 53 percent to 57,931 metric tons, or 265,517 bales, last year from 2005. Turkey, India, China, Syria and Peru were the biggest producers of the 24 countries that grow organic cotton.
Buoyed by future prospects, speakers and guests discussed how to create sustainable design and "slow fashion," or clothes that are made of quality materials and are intended to last years without succumbing to wear and tear or seasonal trends.
The participants stayed in a hotel — designed in the natural, early 20th-century style of the Arts and Crafts era — on Asilomar State Beach outside of Monterey, Calif., where rooms lacked telephones, TVs and Internet access. Although acknowledging long-term challenges to manufacturing and sourcing, such as high oil prices, poor agricultural conditions affected by climate change and the scarcity of water to farm cotton, they didn't seem fazed by the cooling retail environment that might curb consumers' appetites for paying a premium for organic cotton.
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