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Soaring oil prices good news for natural fibres
By Sean Pratt
CHICAGO, Ill. — Farmers are understandably upset about soaring oil prices but there is at least one good reason to embrace them. High oil prices are driving up the cost of petroleum, the raw material that produces polyester fabrics, and that is creating an opportunity for natural fibres made out of crops like cotton, flax and hemp.
"As the price of oil continues to rise, the price of polyester continues to rise," said Guy Carpenter, president of Cape Fear Apparel, a North Carolina company that makes garments out of sustainable and organic crops.
Clothes made out of natural fibres have become more price competitive with polyester articles and a small but growing segment of the natural fibre apparel business is going organic. According to the Organic Trade Association's 2006 Manufacturer Survey, sales of organic fibres were $160 million in the United States in 2005. That's up 44 percent over the last survey conducted in 2003.
While $160 million is a minuscule fraction of the $207 billion U.S. linen and clothing industry, there is a growing demand in certain segments of the retail market for organic apparel.
Clients of high-end designers are increasingly requesting those types of fabrics, said Lori Wyman, fibre forum liaison with the Organic Trade Association.
"Their customers are very interested in sustainable and organic fashion because they are very environmentally aware," she said. There is also a burgeoning market among people in their 30s who grew up in the recycling era and are demanding organic clothing for their babies.
"They don't want to put conventional clothing on their newborns," said Wyman.
In April, the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, announced it was launching a line of organic cotton clothing for babies to meet that demand.
Roian Atwood, director of organic clothing for American Apparel, a trendy clothing manufacturer based in Los Angeles, said customers are bugging him to expand the available colours and styles in their line of organic clothes.
Ninety percent of American Apparel's clothing is cotton and five to seven percent of that is 100 percent organic cotton clothing. The firm is restricted by the lack of organic yarn. "Quite honestly the supply chain just doesn't exist. There is not enough organic cotton out there to fulfil all our needs," he said.
While cotton is by far the most popular natural fibre, there is a growing
market for crops like flax and hemp, said Carpenter. "Hemp and flax
are two of the strongest players in terms of increased usage in the future
in textile and apparel fibres," said Carpenter, who was wearing flax
pants, a flax shirt and hemp shoes during his presentation at the All
Things Organic conference in Chicago.
© 2012, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC)