WASHINGTON — Global retail sales of organic cotton apparel and home textiles increased 35 percent in 2009 to an estimated $4.3 billion from $3.2 billion a year earlier, according to the Organic Exchange.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The group’s “Organic Cotton Market Report 2009” noted that the top brand and retail users of organic cotton were Nike Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Williams-Sonoma Inc., Hennes & Mauritz AB, Anvil Knitwear, Levi Strauss & Co., Coop Switzerland, Target Corp., Adidas and Nordstrom Inc.

The Organic Exchange projects that organic cotton usage is likely to continue to increase. The association predicts the global organic cotton market will grow to about $5.1 billion in 2010 and $6 billion in 2011. The organic cotton market has increased an average of 40 percent annually since 2001, according to the report.

Growth in the organic cotton market was fueled by a combination of consumer interest in “green” products and retailer and brand expansion of organic cotton programs, according to the Organic Exchange. For cotton to qualify as organic by the Organic Exchange, it must be grown through a system of farming that maintains soil fertility without using pesticides and fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.

“Many people thought the recession would mean an end to all things organic, but the market reacted in quite the opposite way,” said LaRhea Pepper, senior director with the Organic Exchange and author of the report. “Consumers dug in their heels and continued to support the use of organic cotton and other sustainable fibers, while brands and retailers maintained or even expanded their commitments to making their product lines more sustainable by continuing to increase their use of such fibers and safer manufacturing processes.”

Production of organic cotton is also on the rise. Production in 2008-09 grew 20 percent to 175,113 metric tons. Twenty-two countries now grow organic cotton on 625,000 acres of fields.

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