Having taken the lead in the introduction of organically grown produce in South Africa a number of years ago, retailer Woolworths has now turned its attention to one of the world’s most important agricultural crops – cotton – and has announced its intention to incorporate a minimum of 5% organically grown cotton into basic cotton textile items by July 2006. This follows Woolworths’ successful trial of a limited range of organic cotton garments in 2004. Towards this end, Woolworths has joined other major international brands including Marks & Spencer, Nike and Timberland as a sponsor of Organic Exchange, a non-profit, U.S.-based organisation which promotes the use of organically grown cotton throughout the world, and has invited experts from Organic Exchange to participate in a 2-day Organic Cotton Conference in Cape Town along with major local suppliers and industry decision makers. Through the conference, Woolworths aims to bring its supply partners on board and assist in facilitating the growth of an organic cotton industry in South Africa. Among the experts presenting at the Conference is Rebecca Calahan Klein, President of Organic Exchange. “We are excited to be moving into the South African market,” says Klein. “Having worked with leading brands around the world, I believe there is a natural synergy between Organic Exchange and an innovative, forward-thinking company like Woolworths, and look forward to helping to develop a local organic cotton industry.” Currently, no organic cotton is grown in South Africa. Conventionally grown cotton consumes approximately 25% of the insecticides and over 10% of the pesticides used in the world. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is produced using only natural fertilisers, pesticides and phosphates, making it much healthier for the environment and safer for farm workers. The growing awareness among consumers of these advantages has sparked a worldwide move towards organic cotton. Says Richard Butt, Director – Product, at Woolworths, “Our on-going organic strategy is integral to the business as a whole and is one of the ways in which we continue to meet the changing needs of our market. We believe we have a responsibility not only towards our customers, who have embraced our philosophy towards organics and have welcomed our initiatives in foods, but towards the world at large, to promote the use of environmentally sound production processes and sustainable farming techniques.” While the organic cotton Woolworths currently uses is sourced from outside South Africa, Woolworths remains strongly committed to the local textile industry and believes that South Africa, together with the rest of the continent, can play a major role in the production and promotion of organic cotton. Woolworths’ introduction of a limited range of 100% organic cotton garments in April 2004 – a first for South Africa – was eagerly received by customers, leading to the decision to expand the use of organic cotton into basic t-shirt and underwear ranges. Because supplies of organic cotton worldwide are limited, a 5% organic cotton content is the international accepted starting point. The inclusion of organic cotton will not affect pricing, quality or feel of the garments. Woolworths is also expanding its offering of 100% organic cotton items. Made using only permissable low-impact dyes and prescribed finishes, these will be available in the women’s “Pure” range and selected babywear items at selected stores.