Brands wishing to incorporate organic cotton into their supply chains may find there isn’t enough to meet their needs. Demand for organic cotton has increased dramatically in recent years to the point that, without a plan to convert more conventional acreage to organic acreage, brands may not be able to ensure a future supply.
Brands wanting to secure future supplies of organic cotton need to send clear demand signals to farmers so that farmers can make the switch to “in-conversion” or “transitional” cotton and feel confident that there will be a market for it.
Establishing an organic management system requires an interim period, known in different countries as either the “in-conversion” or “transitional” period (hereafter “in-conversion”). This varies in time based on the organic standard being applied but is up to 36 months. During that time, farmers implement all the practices required to achieve organic certification (including not using inputs and practices prohibited in organic farming) and are audited annually by certification bodies as per international organic agriculture standards. In-conversion cotton is the output of the farms during this conversion period.
Through the Organic Cotton Round Table (OCRT) Textile Exchange is working with the global organic cotton community to expand the production of organic cotton and facilitate the journey to get there. Click here to join the OCRT community.
In-Conversion to Organic Cotton: The Basics
This brief document provides background information on what in-conversion cotton is – including discussion of standards, fair pricing, and claims that may be made. Download here.
The Organic Content Standard (OCS) is an international voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of certified organic input and chain of custody. The goal of the OCS is to increase organic agriculture production.
In January 2021 Textile Exchange released guidance that permits material which is in-conversion to be verified under the OCS, including from OCS-recognized organic standards – such as the U.S. National Organic Program – that do not recognize in-conversion material. However, public facing claims for in-conversion products may not reference the OCS at this time.
Certification to Textile Exchange standards is performed by independent, third-party certification bodies (CBs). The searchable list shows the CBs that are currently licensed to conduct certification to Textile Exchange standards, including the OCS.
Examples of General Marketing Language
The following are links to brands that are successfully incorporating in-conversion cotton into their products, introducing the public to the concept of and promising them an organic future.
In 2020, the demand for organic cotton from brands and retailers increased significantly, with companies of all sizes making it a major component of their fiber and material portfolios. More and more companies are setting targets and commitments to increase their use of organic cotton, encouraged by growing evidence of its environmental benefits and by the millennial generation’s interest in sustainability and buying power in the marketplace. Some of these companies were already sourcing organic cotton and have decided to increase their procurement, while others are completely new to sourcing the fiber.
A positive result of this heightened demand for organic cotton is companies increasing interest in sourcing “in-conversion” cotton to support farmers through the transition phase and help to expand the organic cotton market. However, such programs require investment and commitment – and up to 36 months for farmers to make the conversion. It will take even more time for this production to reach the market.
Another demand-side trend we are noticing is that brands and retailers are increasingly keen to source from specific geographies such as India, Turkey, and the United States, increasing competition in these regions, though other geographies such as Africa and Latin America are not yet seeing the same level of interest.
The primary supply-side factor contributing to the shortage of organic cotton currently being experienced are the reports of forced labor in Xinjiang, China, that caused some countries to ban imports of cotton from this region (read Textile Exchange’s official statement on the reports of forced labor here). China has been the second largest producer of organic cotton for years, growing 17 percent of the fiber in 2018/19 harvest year. As a result, companies that were sourcing from China are turning to other sourcing destinations, particularly India, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and the U.S.
Another reason for the supply shortage is due to the detection of fraud in India in 2020. For further details, Textile Exchange’s statement.
If you wish to secure a reliable supply of organic cotton, here are our suggestions:
To guide you to add organic cotton to your portfolio, Textile Exchange has also developed the following tools and resources: