Organic cotton is generally understood as cotton, from non genetically modified plants, that is certified to be grown without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides. Its production also promotes and enhances biodiversity and biological cycles. In the United States cotton plantations must also meet the requirements enforced by the National Organic Program (NOP), from the USDA, in order to be considered organic. This institution determines the allowed practices for pest control, growing, fertilizing, and handling of organic crops. As of 2007, 265, 517 bales of organic cotton were produced in 24 countries and worldwide production was growing at a rate of more than 50% per year. (Wikipedia)
India is the world leader producer of organic cotton. It’s the second largest producer of cotton and second largest exporter. The demand for organic cotton over the world increases every year, especially in US, Europe.
The organic cotton industry in India has been growing since past five years and has caught the attention mostly of farmers and manufacturers. What is interesting is that the domestic market for organic cotton is virtually untapped due to low domestic demand. Most Indian customers don’t buy organic cotton clothes or organic food. While the West shows an increasing trend towards moving away from fertilizers and chemicals, the Indian consumer is largely unaware of the many benefits of organic products. Awareness and purchase of organic products is a limited trend only amongst high net worth customers in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.
While branded organic food stores exist (in a small way) branded organic clothes are not readily available. Products from international apparel brands that retail in India are a blend of pure organic cotton along with other fabric like polyester, etc. Usually the percentage of organic cotton ranges from 50 to 80 percent mixed with other fabrics. To develop the domestic market for organic cotton targeted marketing activities that drive both, awareness and behavior change are necessary.
The first barrier that needs to be overcome is that of explaining the concept of ‘Organic Cotton’ to the average Indian consumer and how it differs from the ubiquitous cotton that we are all used to.
While Organic Cotton and Fair Trade products are a fantastic example of buying for a cause. the larger challenge is one of behavior change. The fashion industry survives on the philosophy of ‘Change’. New trends for every season and new clothes for every social event are the norm. Even if we move towards these more sustainable fabrics, we will not be able to make a significant dent unless we impact fashion mindsets that dictate over consumption and excess at every point.
The big question then is – Do we sell Sustainability to the Indian consumer ? or Do we talk about Organic Cotton as a new fashion trend?