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Home > Feature Articles > GREEN FASHION for Sustainable Clothing & Accessories

Southern California Organic Cotton Manufacturer

In this day and age of textile manufacturers moving to Mexico and China, one local California textile manufacturer is able to run their entire operation from Rancho Dominguez, CA.

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by Darice Clark

BGreen Organic Cotton

BGreen Organic Cotton began in 2002, according to Mike Farid, the company's founder. Farid's family entered the textile industry in Tehran, Iran where his grandfather started a knitting business. It was a complete vertical operation that sold to retail stores in 1960s and 1970s. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution the family moved to the United States in the 1980s. They started a textile company that did contract knitting and fabric manufacturing. Then eventually began making garments.

When the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, it didn't make sense for most factories to continue making fabrics themselves. That's when many manufacturing jobs moved south of the border to Mexico.

Business Model Challenges

“In the late 80s there were 5000 manufacturers in CA. Now we have less then 500,” said Farid.

So the company had to reinvent their business.

“Costs of business went up,” said Farid, “but costs of clothes goes down or stays the same. Anything else you can double the price of, movies etc. due to inflation. Apparel seems to be the only thing that seems to go down (in price).”

Discovering Organic and Green Opportunities

In late 1990s Farid had heard about organic cotton and how much better it is for the environment. "It seemed like a no-brainer," he said, "so why not?"

For the first few years BGreen just dealt with tiny businesses that were excited about organic cotton.

"Most of them had no design or manufacturing background.” according to Farid. “We just stuck with it and now, five years later, it has become a part of everyday manufacturing.”

Sustainable Manufacturing Choices

When asked about using traditional dyes versus low impact dyes, Farid remarked that BGreen has grown used to using low impact dyes.

"It's about the sustainability impact," Farid said. "People don't often realize the amount of energy needed to create natural dye: the water, electricity, and land use is incredible. It becomes counter productive to use so much land, electricity, and water to create dyes when we could use those resources for agriculture. Plus the color bleeds when you wear it (into your other clothes) and they fade wash after wash. Plus there are only so many colors you can grow and the cost is really high. So it is limited. Chemical companies get a bad rap but some of them do amazing things in terms of variety, in terms of disposal, and improving quality."

"By default, it is a smarter choice to use certain dyes produced without heavy metals and that have low impact on environment. Consumers have a bad reaction to the word chemical," Farid commented. "Well-water and vinegar are technically chemicals. We need to educate consumers and give them both sides of the story. My approach is if we can reduce what we did last year by 5 percent compared to doing nothing, that is positive. It could be months, years, or decades of a process (to create a more sustainable way of manufacturing.)"

Farid explained some of the innovations retail manufacturers have created. For example there are now zippers completely recycled from polyester or water bottles. Today clothes are shipped in bags made from recycled plastic. Maybe one day plastic bags will be eliminated all together for shipping.

"It is not all or nothing. It's a gradual process based on what I have seen for the last 10 years. That's what keeps me hopeful," said Farid.

Organic cotton now represents 0.76% of global cotton production.

Farid explained that organic cotton is a growing part of the overall cotton market.

Organic Exchange, a non profit dedicated to advancing the development of sustainable textiles, released it's “Organic Farm and Fiber 2009 report” this past February. The group's press release (Feb. 16, 2010) states:

“Production grew an impressive 20 percent over 2007/08 to 175,113 metric tons (802,599 bales) grown on 625,000 acres (2.53,000 hectares). Organic cotton now represents 0.76 percent of global cotton production.”

The Organic Exchange 2009 report also states that the global economic recession emerged just as there was an increase in organic cotton production leading to an oversupply in the market and falling prices for organic cotton.

Follow the Money

Unfortunately these factors create a situation where “retailers don't want to buy organic cotton at higher prices,” according to Farid. “Everyone (in retail manufacturing) is working very hard to have a decent price for the garment at the end,” Farid noted. “These are big challenges for our industry, looking at the overall picture.”

Effective Manufacturing Strategies

BGreen is able to keep the cost of their clothing comparable to department stores because “we are one of the few vertically integrated companies in US,” stated Farid. “That gives us savings that other retailers don't have. Most brands sell on the internet and do their manufacturing somewhere else.”

The company also manufactures for about a dozen small to medium sized brands as well. This allows them to be competitive.

“I knew that to be successful the prices had to be comparable” said Farid. “The majority of people are not willing to pay -more to buy organic cotton. They won't replace their whole wardrobe if it is too expensive. We look at prices for mainstream shopping for pieces of similar quality. That's our approach. We have a small advertising budget. If we focus is on quality of the product the hope is that word of mouth advertising will take care of itself.”

Future plans for BGreen include a children's line and the company is conducting research on possibly creating a plus size line.

Farid attends the annual conference hosted by Organic Exchange and the Green Festival in San Francisco, CA. The Green Festival is a retail and wholesale trade show that is a joint project of the environmental non profits: Global Exchange and Green America.

GREEN MANUFACTURING RESOURCES:

BGreen Apparel

Organic Exchanges web site

Green Festival web site

Global Exchange

Green America



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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