Our Organic Cotton Journey
20 years ago when we started Ecodownunder, organically grown cotton was almost unheard of. Organically grown food was just starting to get some traction outside a hard core minority.
We decided that if we were going to be serious about being eco friendly, we had to have organic cotton options. There was no organic cotton available in Australia so we had to look elsewhere.
We heard about a company in Turkey making organic cotton sheets. Eventually we managed to find them and buy some organic cotton sheets. We wanted them to be “eco perfect” so we chose not to have them dyed. We could only afford very small quantities, so by the time they were air freighted half way around the world, they were very expensive. The combination of being a “cooked tofu colour” and the high price meant no one wanted them. I think we sold about 7 sets. This was not going to change the world anytime soon.
We needed to get the price down and make a more attractive product. We visited factories in India. Every time I asked about organic cotton, you could see them rolling their eyes as if to say “oh no, another time wasting basket weaver!”
Eventually we found a small factory in Kolkata, (which back then was still called Calcutta) that had been doing small production runs of organic clothing. It was very much a cottage industry. There were small scale organic cotton farmers, then small scale spinners and weavers. Our factory would then cut, make and pack for shipment. The volumes were very small, and with all the middlemen, costs were still too high which meant our selling price was too high to be affordable to enough people.
We had to find a better way!
We decided that the only way to get the price down was to cut out all the middle men and manufacture in volume. We used our contacts in India to purchase 5,000kgs of certified organic cotton direct from the farmers, then paid a spinning mill to weave it into yarn for us, then had another company weave it into wide width sheeting fabric. We used oxygen whitening on the fabric so that we had a colour more customers would like. We still wanted to make in Australia whenever possible so we shipped the fabric to Sydney and had it made up here. The finished product wasn’t certified organic but the cotton was, and the sheets were made up in Australia. It wasn’t perfect but the result was the best value organic cotton sheets available anywhere in the world.
17 years later we still work with the same weaver but now they’re fully certified organic manufacturers. In fact, as we have evolved, so have our partners who all now have full organic certification.
Next step, Australian grown organic cotton! How hard could it be?
No one was growing organic cotton in Australia, but there were plenty of food growers that were fully certified. Surely someone would be keen to have a go!
Eventually we found a certified organic farmer up near the Queensland border prepared to try. We agreed to pay $10,000 with half payable up front and the other half once the crop was picked. We were super excited once the crop was planted. All we could do was wait and hope the weather did its part........ Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law kicked in and everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The weather was so bad we ended up abandoning the crop and it was ploughed back into the ground. From what we learned, while it might be possible to significantly reduce the use of insecticides and pesticides on cotton in Australia, organic cotton was a long way from commercial viability in Australia.
India is a different story. Generally in India, farmers are restricted to small plots. That means hand weeding and hand picking is commercially viable in a way that it never could be in Australia. Organic cotton farming is a lot more attractive for farmers in India due to lower costs (not having to buy chemicals), better yields as the ground recovers, and higher selling prices than conventionally grown cotton. Organic cotton farming in India fortunately has a strong future.
While we now have the best value organic cotton sheets and towels anywhere in the world, we are still a bit restricted on what products are commercially viable. If the price is too much higher, too few people are prepared to pay the extra! There is generally less control over the growing process with organic cotton which makes it prohibitively expensive to get the extra long fibres needed for finer yarns. We now have organic cotton sheets, towels, quilt covers and shopping bags but have not found the right organic cotton for our finest quality bed linen.
Hopefully we'll get there eventually.
The journey continues.....
LUXURY ORGANIC BED BUNDLE: Waffle cotton quilt cover set + Classic organic sheet set.
CLASSIC ORGANIC BED BUNDLE: White organic tailored quilt cover set + classic organic sheet set
LUXURY ORGANIC COTTON BATH SHEET BUNDLES: Plush, super soft and absorbent.
Organic Baby Bundle: includes a cot throw and cot sheet set with fitted sheet, flat sheet and 2 pillow cases.