Western and Central Africa
Eastern and Southern Africa
Eastern Europe and Central Asia
The United States is the biggest market for organic cotton and
eco-textiles. Current organic cotton consumption in the form of
apparel end-products in the United States is roughly estimated at
9,500 tons (41% of the world total) against 7,000 tons in Europe
(30% of total).33 Japan is estimated to consume the
equivalent of about 350 tons of organic cotton per year. Other
markets exist in the rest of Asia, in Australia, in Canada, in
Egypt and Israel, and in South Africa.
In Europe, organic cotton usage is highest in Switzerland (about
2,250 tons), followed by Germany (1,500 tons), the United Kingdom
(about 750 tons), France (600 tons), Sweden (350 tons), Italy (250
tons) and the Netherlands (100 tons). Smaller markets exist in
other European countries including Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
Greece, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Portugal and Spain.
The importance of large brands and retailers in the use of
organic cotton fibre is increasing steadily. An estimated 58% of
organic cotton fibre worldwide is taken up by just 25 brands and
companies. Some of these brands sell their organic cotton items
throughout the world.34
The biggest user of organic cotton fibre until now, United
States-based Nike, is one of the brands selling internationally.
The focus of Nike's original blending and conversion programmes was
first on the United States. Today, the organic cotton programme
relies more on the company's Europe, Middle East and Africa
division, based in the Netherlands.
Nike's own estimates for 2007 are that Europe, the Middle East
and Africa will sell 84% of all Nike's 100% organic cotton items,
and the United States just 3% of the total. For the organic cotton
blending programme (blends of 5% or more organic cotton), the
United States accounts for 37% of units sold, against 44% for
Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This difference in orientation
of organic cotton use across geographical markets is likely to be
related to the availability and price of organic cotton fibre, yarn
and fabrics in the United States and the Europe, Middle East and
Outdoor wear company Patagonia is now the fourth-largest user of
organic cotton fibre worldwide, with an annual consumption of about
650 tons. Patagonia sells its products in the United States, in
Europe and in Asia. The organic cotton it uses comes primarily from
the United States and from Turkey.
The consumption of organic products in the United States has
been increasing for many years, and was strengthened by the
introduction in 2002 of the National Organic Programme (NOP)
administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The growth rate of the organic food sector was 18% per year on
average since 1997, while the conventional market grew by only 3%.
The organic market share thus tripled to 2.5% of total in 2005
In 2005, organic turnover amounted to $14.6 billion (EUR 12.2
billion). Sales of organic food products grew by 17%. Turnover of
non-food products including textiles and clothing, cosmetics,
flowers and animal feed, increased by 33% to $774 million (OTA,
2006). Consumption of organic products is largest in the north-east
around New York and Washington, and on the West Coast in
California. However, sales are increasing throughout the United
States now that organic products are being included in the regular
offer of shops and supermarkets.
Total United States organic cotton consumption is approximately
9,500 tons of fibre, or 40% of global production and trade.
Wal-Mart is the leader in organic cotton usage in the United States
and in the world today. In 2006, it bought an unprecedented 10,000
pounds of cotton fibre (4,500 tons) at once. A wide range of
organic cotton items is currently being manufactured, and will be
available for sale in 2007. Wal-Mart started sales of organic
cotton items in 2005 through its subsidiary Sam's Club (yogawear).
In 2006 it launched sales in Wal-Mart supermarkets of babywear
under the label 'George Baby Organic'.
Up until 2003, sale of organic cotton items in the United States
relied predominantly on electronic commerce, mail order catalogues,
natural and health food stores, and small specialized eco-textile
shops or boutiques. Today, however, regular shops and supermarkets
also have organic cotton items for sale, including the department
stores of Nordstrom, the brand stores of American Apparel, Levi's,
Nike and Timberland, Wal-Mart supermarkets, and the natural food
giant Whole Foods. Electronic commerce and mail order purchases
remain important though. They are also more common for United
States consumers than for Europeans.
In the early stages of the United States eco-textile market,
organic cotton items tended to be made primarily with United
States-grown cottons. However, strategies for cost reduction and
increased economic efficiency now lead United States companies to
increasingly source their organic cotton elsewhere - mostly in
Turkey, but also in China, India and Pakistan. United States cotton
is relatively expensive, as is local textile processing, which has
experienced a significant decrease since 2000. The larger companies
are accustomed to sourcing their cotton, yarns, fabrics and
garments in lower-wage countries. Many also work with decentralized
purchasing and sales, which favours sourcing organic cotton outside
the United States.
An exception to the trend of textile industry relocation is the
brand American Apparel, which uses United States cottons to process
'sweatshop-free' 100% United States-made T-shirts in downtown Los
Angeles. The company's turnover has increased 50% per year since
2002, to $210 million in 2005. American Apparel has used organic
cotton fibre for the unbleached and undyed Sustainable Edition
collection since 2003, but usage is still small. American Apparel
sells its products through department stores and regular shops, and
runs own-brand stores. Recently, sales were expanded to Europe with
the opening of shops in Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt, among
In Europe, Germany has long been considered to be the largest
market for organic cotton textiles. Today, however, Switzerland is
the largest European user of organic cotton fibre, thanks to the
involvement of the two main supermarket chains Coop and Migros,
which offer 100% organic cotton items for sale. T-shirt producer
Switcher is the third-largest retailer involved in the Swiss
organic cotton market, selling items through its own stores as well
as through supermarkets and department stores.
Total organic cotton usage in Switzerland is estimated at 2,250
tons of fibre, of which Coop carries 1,428 tons (63%), Migros about
500 tons (22%) and Switcher 150 tons (7%). According to the NGO
Helvetas, which actively promotes organic cotton, the Swiss
Government has agreed to aim for 5% of Swiss cotton fibre use to be
organic in 2007; the equivalent of about 2,700 tons of fibre. One
way to reach this goal is through 'green public' purchasing. The
police of Zürich, for example, recently committed to purchasing
uniforms made of organic cotton.
Switzerland is the second largest market for fair trade products
in Europe after the United Kingdom (Krier, 2006). Max Havelaar food
products are carried by Migros and Coop under special labels. Max
Havelaar Switzerland has been a pioneer in the launch of fair trade
cotton, next to Max Havelaar France (see below). Fair trade cotton
textiles and clothing currently for sale include T-shirts,
babywear, towels, bathrobes and cotton wool products. These are
available at Migros supermarkets, Manor department stores, the
Switcher points of sale, the mail order companies La Redoute and
Lehner Versand, and at retailers of home textiles.
Germany is the largest market for organic products in Europe,
and also has the highest population in Europe (82 million).
Environmental awareness is high in many layers of society.
German companies have been at the forefront of the development
of the market for ecological textiles. Demand for
Naturtextilien (natural textiles) was fuelled in the early
1990s by concerns about skin allergies caused by textile dyes and
clothing accessories, and by a strong movement of 'green'
consumers. Also, the major German textile and clothing industries
were interested in converting their production to higher-value
items, such as organic items, in order to cope with the competition
from low-wage countries in the production of textiles and
Consumption of organic cotton in Germany was estimated to be the
equivalent of about 1,500 tons of fibre in 2006. Eco-textile sales
in Germany have always been dominated by mail order companies.
Specialist Hess Natur was the largest eco-textile selling mail
order company up to 2000 when the much larger OTTO took over. Other
mail order companies selling organic cotton textiles and clothing
in the German market include Greenpeace-Germany, Hans Natur, Maas
Natur and Waschbär. The large German mail order company Neckermann,
which has owned Hess Natur since 2001, recently launched its first
sales of organic cotton textiles (bioRe 96% organic cotton bed
linen). Neckermann is part of the Karstadt/Quelle group.
Organic cotton items are also for sale in Germany in specialized
natural and health food stores, including the large AlNatura Super
Natur markets. These sell a wide collection of 100% organic cotton
Cotton People Organic babywear which is produced in Egypt, and some
hygienic products for daily use (Bo Weevil 100% organic cotton
wool, Natracare 100% organic cotton tampons).
The sale of organic cotton items by high-street retailers is
increasing rapidly in Germany. In August 2006, for example, the
author encountered organic cotton items for sale in downtown
Frankfurt in the department store Sportarena (Nike's 100% organic
cotton shirts), the Timberland brand store (15%, 6% and 5% blended
items), the Grüne Erde natural store (100% organic cotton home
textiles and bed wear, including brown and green naturally coloured
cottons), and the new American Apparel store (100% organic cotton
T-shirts). The Dutch company C&A, which is an important actor
in the German market, plans to follow this organic trend by
blending 1% organic cotton into its cotton products by 2008.
Germany has a significant number of small and medium-sized
eco-textile processing companies, many of which gather twice a year
at InNaTex, the international trade fair for ecological textiles.
About 200-250 companies exhibit at InNaTex, most of them German.
They sell organic cotton items, but also many other products made
out of silk, wool, linen and bamboo. Most visitors are
representatives of small and medium-sized natural textile
The United Kingdom is one of the fastest-growing markets for
organic food. In 2005, the organic market increased by 30%, three
times the rise of the previous year. More and more United Kingdom
consumers look to organics as a way to reduce their environmental
impact and enjoy eco-friendly products. Organic cotton usage in the
United Kingdom is estimated to be the equivalent of 750 tons of
Popular high-street retailers such as Topshop, Marks &
Spencer (M&S), Next, and Oasis, and supermarkets such as Asda
already sell organic cotton items or are preparing to do so in
2007. Tesco will launch a 100% organic cotton collection by top
designer Katharine Hamnett. Successful United Kingdom brands
selling organic cotton textiles and clothing include People Tree,
Hug, Gossypium, Seasalt and Ciel, and mail order companies such as
Greenfibres and Howies (Soil Association, 2006).
A big push forward for the organic cotton market in the United
Kingdom was expected from M&S, which announced in 2003 that it
would convert an increasing percentage of its cotton use to
organic. This has not yet materialized however. Today, M&S's
focus is on fair trade cotton items, for which it is now
establishing itself as the leading retailer worldwide.
One of the new United Kingdom brands in organic cotton is Next
which sells clothing and home furnishings. Next has close to 400
stores in the United Kingdom, and some in Ireland and Denmark. It
is also represented through 80 franchise stores in 14 other
countries in Europe and in the Middle and Far East. In addition,
Next sells by mail order and through electronic commerce, and had
about 2 million active customers in 2005. Turnover of the Next
Group was EUR 4.3 billion (GBP 2.9 billion) in 2005.
In 2006, Next investigated opportunities to develop specific
ranges in 100% organic cotton across its business. A trial range of
four women's jersey long- and short-sleeved tops and ecru jeans
went into store in September 2006. A range of organic babywear is
also on sale (three-packs of bodysuits and sleepsuits for newborn
boys and girls). 'For 2007, the number of organic cotton products
will be expanded to include women's,men's and childrenswear.Next is
also exploring the opportunities for fair trade cotton, and hopes
to have a small range of products on sale in 2007', writes Next's
Philippa Dalton (20 October 2006).
The United Kingdom certification body Soil Association reports
high interest from fashion brands for organic textile
certification. In 2007 the Soil Association will adopt the new
Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), together with other
international organic textile certifiers.
France is another booming market for socially and
environmentally responsible cotton products. France has been a
pioneer in the development of fair trade cotton, and the fair trade
movement is supported financially by the French Government. Organic
cotton consumption is also increasing. Organic cotton textiles and
clothing can be encountered with surprising ease in the French
capital Paris today. Consumption in 2006 is estimated at 600 tons
Supermarket chain Monoprix is the main French retailer of
organic cotton products, with a consumption of 163 tons of bioRe
cotton in 2005. Monoprix sells 100% organic cotton clothing
products under different labels for babies (Bout'Chou, whole
range), children (C.F.K. sweaters and underwear, WWF shirts), men
(Derby underwear, Autre Ton printed shirts) and women (Miss Helen
underwear and nightwear). Monoprix's household textiles and bed
linen do not yet include organic cotton products, nor do the
hygienic cotton products. Many textile and clothing products at
Monoprix carry the skin-friendly Oeko-Tex label, including some of
the 100% organic cotton items.
Another major French retailer is the textile and clothing
company Celio, which has a total of 370 shops, of which 220 are in
France and the others elsewhere in Europe, the Middle East and the
Maghreb. Celio is the leader in the French market for menswear,
before Gap, H&M, Zara and others (Collomp, 2006). Celio now
carries a range of printed T-shirts made of 100% organic cotton.
Celio is also involved in the sale of Max Havelaar-labelled fair
French mail order companies carrying organic cotton items
include Somewhere/La Redoute, Vertbaudet, Le Camif and Fibris.
The French market for fair trade products is growing rapidly.
Max Havelaar France pioneered the production and trade of fair
trade cotton in 2004, with first sales starting in spring 2005.
Fair trade cotton was launched with a range of textile and clothing
products. Sales in Belgium, Switzerland and the United Kingdom
followed soon after.
In 2006, there were 27 companies registered by Max Havelaar
France for the production and sale of fair trade cotton items in
France. The fair trade cotton items are for sale in main
supermarkets and department stores (Auchan, Carrefour, Casino,
Cora, Intermarché and E. Leclerc), through mail order and over the
Internet (La Redoute, La Camif), as well as through specialized
stores and brand stores.
Further markets for organic cotton textiles and clothing
products can be found in the other European countries (including
Eastern Europe), in Japan and the Far East (China, Malaysia,
Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Thailand), in Canada, in
Australia, in the Middle East (including Israel, Egypt and Turkey),
as well as in countries of low average income but with significant
segments of society enjoying a medium to high income (such as
Brazil and South Africa).
33These figures take into account
the fact that many United States-based textile and clothing
companies involved, including Levi's, Nike and Timberland, sell a
significant part of their production
34Wal-Mart is the largest organic
cotton fibre user in the world today. Its organic cotton items are
so far only for sale in the United States. Expansion to other
countries and regions may occur if United States sales are