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USA: Our Factories Today 97% of garments sold in the US are knit or sewn elsewhere; we produce 25% of ours in New York and California.

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INTERVIEW:

THE ORGANIC SPINNER

By Claire Whitcomb

We sit down with Martin Kägi, CEO of Hermann Bühler, the Swiss company that spins the organic yarn for our yoga tank.

Read More: The 17,000-Mile Yoga Tank
You have a mill in Jefferson, Georgia. Why don't you spin organic cotton there?
Organic cotton—and especially extra long staple organic cotton—is a niche market. To be honest, there is not enough demand to justify the expense of organic certification in two factories. Since most of our customers who use organic cotton are in Europe, we spin it exclusively in Switzerland.

Why does organic cotton yarn cost more than conventional yarn?
The main reason is that the raw material costs 20% to 40% more than conventional cotton. Spinning adds to the cost because we need to stop and clean the machines before an organic run. And organic certification is another expense.

Why do you buy organic cotton straight from American farmers?
If a farmer doesn't have a buyer, he won't plant organic cotton. He'll plant something else. Ninety-seven percent of US extra long staple cotton is conventionally grown. To guarantee a supply of organic fiber, we commit to a cotton crop before it is even planted. We agree to take whatever the Arizona farmer grows, regardless of the yield, if it meets our quality. If the crop fails, the farmer is out of luck and so are we. For us it's a substantial risk and an added expense because we warehouse the cotton until orders come in for spinning. A harvest has to last us an entire year—until the next harvest.

Can you buy conventional cotton more easily?
Typically we can buy conventional extra long staple cotton as we need it.

Why do you source most of your cotton from the US?
We like US cotton because it is machine picked and the bales are very clean. In some countries, cotton is picked by hand and bales arrive with trash in them. One red handkerchief can contaminate up to ten tons of cotton yarn.

Do you buy cotton from other countries?
Extra long staple cotton only comes from climates with a long hot growing season—Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Peru and of course the United States. If we need to supplement the amount of US organic cotton in our warehouse, we use Israeli cotton handled by a German trading house.

You're very proud that your mill is still powered by water from the River Töss.
Historically, mills were built by rivers, and we have been relying on energy from the River Töss since 1858. We divert the water into three small hydro power plants that supply 10% of our energy needs. The rest is from the public utility. In Switzerland, power is about 40% nuclear and 60% hydro.

And your factory is pretty close to zero waste.
Our waste consists of short cotton fibers. We sell 97% of this waste to spinners who turn it into coarser fiber for jeans and other products. The remaining 3% is sent to the local incinerator, where it is burned to generate electricity for the town.