Despite the recession, 2009 was a dynamic year for the organic cotton sector. Global retail sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products reached an estimated $4.3 billion in 2009, according to the Organic Cotton Market Report 2009 released by the non-profit organization Organic Exchange (OE).

This represents a 35% increase from the $3.2 billion market in 2008 and indicates little change from the 40% average annual growth rate the organic cotton market has experienced from 2001-2009. It also demonstrates considerable growth at a time when the overall global apparel and household textiles market decreased almost 7% from 2008. Companies reported significant and, in some cases, phenomenal growth of their organic cotton programs and increased adoption of standards addressing organic product traceability and sustainable textile processing.

According to the results of OE surveys and interviews, the Top Twelve organic cotton-using brands and retailers globally in 2009 were:

C&A (Belgium);
Nike, Inc. (Oregon, USA);
Walmart (Arkansas, USA);
Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (California, USA and recorded last year as Pottery Barn);
H&M (Sweden);
Anvil Knitwear (New York, USA);
Coop (Switzerland);
Greensource Organic Clothing Co. (Washington, USA);
Levi Strauss & Co. (California, USA);
Target (Minnesota, USA);
adidas (Germany);
Nordstrom (Washington, USA).

“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, OE senior director and co-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 retailer 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,” she added.

OE predicts the global organic cotton market will grow 20-40% in both 2010 and 2011 to form an estimated $5.1 billion market in 2010 and $6.0 billion market in 2011.

The continued rapid expansion of the global organic cotton market was driven in large part no less by consumer interest in “green” products, significant expansion of existing organic cotton programs by brands and retailers, and the launch of organic cotton programs by newcomers to the market.

Companies increasingly adhered to traceability standards such as the OE Blended or OE 100 standard, which help to track users’ actual use of organic fiber from the field to the finished product and contribute to the increasing integrity of the organic fiber market. Many manufacturers also became certified with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) that addresses textile’s processing stages and stronger labor provisions.

Overall, organic cotton production in 2008-09 grew an impressive 20% over 2007-08 to 175,113 metric tons from 145,872 metric tons, and was grown on 625,000 acres (253,000 hectares) in 22 countries. Organic production is defined as a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.

Founded in 2002, Organic Exchange facilitates the expansion of the global organic cotton fiber supply by working closely with the entire value chain, from farmers to retailers, to help develop organic cotton programs. OE has hosted numerous organic cotton conferences and trainings in supply chain centers around the world, including Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, the UK and the US. The next OE conference, the 8th Organic Exchange Global Conference and Marketplace, will take place in New York City on October 27-28, 2010.