Organic Fibers

While the skate industry’s foundation is in hardgoods, the shoe and apparel sectors have taken the skate industry to the point where this once little industry isn’t so little anymore.

The reason behind this, for both companies and retailers alike, is simple: the higher profit margins that clothing and shoes offer.

In a sense, long gone are the days of fringe culture. Today’s music videos, movies, and advertising have embraced skateboarding to the point that seeing the placement of a reputable skate brand T-shirt on TV or in a movie hardly makes your head turn. As the apparel sector of the skate industry reaches new and previously unfathomable dimensions in growth and popularity, it might be important to understand an expense that the industry’s growth has been at about the impact these products are exerting on the environment.

Will skate companies be daring enough to make pennies less on their product for improved environmental practices and the adoption of eco-friendly materials?

Cotton In A Nutshell

In 2000, over 84-million pounds of pesticides and 2.03-billion pounds of synthetic fertilizer were applied to 14.4-million acres of conventionally grown cotton in the United States alone.

Boiled down to the basics, this translates to approximately one third of a pound of toxic pesticides and fertilizers per single T-shirt! Although you may never see it nor feel it while wearing your T-shirt, the residue pesticides and fertilizers associated with chemical use are rarely far away as they rest and accumulate to threshold levels in the soil and water table.

If farming practices proceed as planned, all surplus chemicals are contained and separated from excess surface and groundwater runoff. In some cases, the built up levels of salt, boron, fertilizers, selenium, and other chemicals in these collection areas are so acute that the toxic materials are either covered over and contained within concrete or dug up and trucked away to contaminated waste sites.

The organic-cotton industry presents a clear and effective alternative to conventional means of cotton production and harvesting. Using organic standards, all cotton crops are grown using natural fertilizers and insecticides. Although crops are harder to maintain, organic farmers and cotton producers realize the environmental benefits of clean soils and water sources.

A Case Study: Patagonia

The Ventura, California-based Patagonia clothing company has been active in the apparel industry since the 1970s, specializing in products geared to the outdoor sports and lifestyle market. In a move to explore new product sources and associated environmental practices, Patagonia offered their first organic-cotton product, a hooded sweatshirt, in 1992.

Being an outdoor-products-focused company, customers snapped up the offerings promptly leading Patagonia to explore further opportunities for organic-cotton production and products. One year later, senior Patagonia staff decided that all cotton products used in their clothing lines was to be of organic cotton.

The first complete line of organic-cotton products was shipped in 1995, again proving to be in high demand and highly lucrative for the company. In 1998 and 1999, Patagonia started to receive inquiries from some of their old suppliers eager to shift their cotton production practices to more sustainable means.Today, Patagonia continues to offer a 100-percent organic-cotton line, but more importantly they are committed to acting as a resource center for other companies that are curious about product sources and environmental practices within the apparel business. Heavy hitters such as Nike, Eddie Bauer, The Gap, and numerous others have sought out the assistance of Patagonia in an effort to better their product offering and reduce their environmental impact. Nike, for instance, makes an estimated 30-million T-shirts a year.

When you consider that roughly one third of a pound of chemicals and fertilizers is used iin the production of each T-shirt, the cumulative impact is massive. Although Nike has not opted to delve extensively into the organic-cotton program, they have explored new means of developing organic and standard cotton blends for some of their products. Patagonia actively encourages Nike’s participation even though they are competitors because they have the ability to set standards for the rest of the world.

If the largest athletics company in the world were to jump on board the organic movement, the rest of the world may follow.

Today, most skateboard-industry companies rely on overseas factories and unknown product sources to develop their lines. Although few companies command the market share of the other giants of the athletics sector, there are a host of organic suppliers and retailers available to the skate market. Companies like Patagonia and the Organic Fiber Council are willing to assist operations, utilizing their in-depth knowledge of the cotton business.

Ready-made blank T-shirts can be sought out easily in a variety of colors from places like Beneficial Tees, SOS from Texas, Maggie’s Functional Organics, Certified Organic, Access, and a handful of other suppliers.

While unit pricing is slightly higher than traditional T-shirt blanks, bulk pricing is available and is in most cases quite competitive with conventional cotton source product. Even American Apparel is in the process of developing blanks that will be 100-percent organic.

Lead By Example

As a popular youth-culture industry, skateboard companies have an opportunity to make a significant statement to millions of young consumers.Although greening up business practices in the skateboard industry will not rid the world of environmental problems altogether, it would be an important step toward establishing consumer alternatives, both inside and outside of skateboarding.

Environmental awareness needs to be ingrained early to the young citizens of this world. As a company, you have the opportunity to lead product development and sourcing in a new direction; as a board shop you can demand the best products available to you; and as a consumer you can support these changes by supporting the companies and riders that lead the change.

The answer doesn’t stop at organic cotton. Post-consumer fleece made from recycled pop bottles, organic denims, hemp fabrics, soy- and water-based dyes, sustainable wood products, water-based glues and catalysts, and recycled urethanes are here to change the skate industry.

As is so often the case, it will only take a few leaders to set new standards and expectations for the industry.

Even though the skateboard-apparel industry is a small player in the world’s garment market, skateboarding and its industry have consistently proven to be a radical force that’s been at the forefront-or at least in the shadows of the forefront, influencing fashion and pop culture throughout the world.