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Garment Printing with a Conscience

(October 2004) posted on Fri Nov 12, 2004

Making social and environmental issues a priority in your daily operations may not seem practical when turnaround times and finances are tight. But if you follow the lead of garment printers who have researched the effects of sweatshop labor, chemically treated cotton, and ecologically unfriendly inks, you may just change your mind.

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

For a finished cotton garment to maintain the organic label, all processing must adhere to strict standards, such as the OTA's Fiber Processing Standards. These standards address all stages of textile processing, from post-harvest handling to wet processing (including bleaching, dyeing, printing), fabrication, product assembly, storage and transportation, pest management, and labeling of finished products. They also include an extensive list of materials permitted for, or prohibited from, use in organic fiber processing. Third-party sources are used by mills that produce garments from or-ganic cotton to certify that the standards have been followed.

Remember the boom in demand for organic foods? Well, the demand for garments produced from organic cotton are on the rise as well. The OTA reports that organic cotton's market share is quite strong. The OTA's 2004 Manufacturer Survey reports that consumer sales in organic women's clothing during 2003 totaled $32 million, $23 million in clothing for infants, $13 million in men's clothing, and $6 million in garments for children and teens. Respectively, these revenue totals represent increases over 2002 figures of 52%, 25%, 8% and 5%. The OTA forecasts annual growth between 2004-2008 for organic sales at 15% for women's clothing, 18.4% for infants' clothing, 11.4% for men's clothing, and 14.9% for the children/teens market.

What might these numbers mean for you?
For starters, if you bring a line or two of organic cotton garments into your shop, you may be able to win new business and generate more from existing customers. Another benefit is that you can use your inventory of organic garments to make your business unique in an overcrowded market.

One of the easiest solutions screen printers turn to when they need to lighten their cost burden is to source the cheapest blank garments they can find. Everyone wants a good deal, especially when competition drives the selling prices down for decorated garments. But not everyone knows the true costs--in human terms--associated with procuring cheap garments of questionable origin. Frequently, such goods are produced in what have come to be called sweatshops.


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