Organic cotton is another sustainable alternative to chemically-based or synthetic fibers. There are strict standards in the United States for organic cotton, and it is not easy to become a certified organic cotton operation. "Organic" means the cotton is produced to a set of strict USDA standards, enforced by USDA-certifying agents who must annually inspect fields and the operation for adherence to National Organic Program (NOP) standards. NOP standards require a 3-year conversion for land before organic crops can be harvested, so becoming an organic cotton producer is a long-term decision.
Interest in organic cotton has increased among retailers and brands but there is no sustained, measurable increase in the organic cotton supply, which is estimated at only 0.55% of global cotton production. In fact, the entire world supply of organic cotton would fit on one medium-sized cargo ship. And that's understandable when you look at what it takes to become organic - tough standards and more management because of the standards that prohibit various synthetic inputs and practices. Generally, organic production means higher costs, which typically translate into premiums of 50% to 100% in raw fiber prices. From a production perspective alone, it would take an additional 6 million acres - 40 percent of the current harvested cotton acreage in the U.S.-to meet the current market demand for U.S. cotton.