August 31, 2004


"Helping Weave a Healthy and Sustainable Lifestyle with Organic Cotton 'Made in Earth'" (Made in Earth)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.24 (August 2004)

Staff writer Kazunori Kobayashi

Team Oh Three, Co. Ltd., a planning company, established "Made in Earth" as an in-house brand name in 1995 for products such as 100 percent organic cotton goods and of soaps made exclusively from natural ingredients,. In the conventional process of producing cotton goods, large amounts of various types of chemicals are used at almost every stage, from planting and cultivation to spinning and processing. Organic cotton is chemical-free and grown without pesticides.

Made in Earth cotton goods, including towels, bedding, clothing, baby goods and other products for daily use, are all made exclusively of cotton certified by a public certifying agency. In addition, no chemicals are used at any stage of production, not even during processing. The brand's concept is to be "as kind as possible to the skin of people of all ages, from babies to elders." With nine people on its staff, Made in Earth markets its products at natural food stores and variety shops nationwide as well as online.

The brand's representative Tsuyoshi Maeda first encountered organic cotton soon after he started up Team Oh Three in 1989, after working for an advertising production company. He was fascinated with its soft, warm, fuzzy texture, something he had never felt before. At the same time, he was also shocked to learn that cotton, which is generally considered a natural material, is actually processed using chemicals at every stage of production. It has been reported that a surprising 25 percent of the pesticides consumed in the United States are used on cotton plantations.

For example, chemicals used in cotton fields include bug repellents used during seeding, herbicides and insecticides to protect the plants, and fertilizers to enhance their growth. During the summer when the cotton bolls open, chemicals are sprayed aerially to artificially defoliate the leaves and stalks before the bolls are plucked. Defoliation agents are used because cotton bolls with spots of chlorophyll from the leaves and stalks are given a lower grade. In the yarn spinning process, chemical paste is added to prevent yarn breakage. In processing and preparing cotton fabric to accept dye, chemicals are used to remove natural oils from the cotton, to minimize shrinkage, and to dye and soften the cotton fibers.

"Large amounts of chemicals are used to ensure efficient mass production and consistent quality. Without chemicals, large volumes of cotton products in the same color and texture cannot be made. If towels of the same brand are always uniform in color and texture, they are artificially produced. Most of us just don't notice this fact," says Maeda.

To produce organic cotton, organic fertilizer is used instead of chemical fertilizer, weeds are pulled by hand instead of using herbicides, and predatory insects are used for pest control instead of pesticides. In addition, the cotton is not harvested until autumn when stalks and leaves wither naturally. Spinning machines are operated at half speed to prevent the thread from snapping. During processing, beeswax, flour, rapeseed oil and fruit juice are used instead of chemicals. Maeda says, "I want to acquaint our customers with the real cotton, which has wonderful texture, colors and performance." For example, non-dyed natural cotton is cream-colored, brown or sage-green, depending on the variety of cotton used. "These are all natural, fantastic colors. Although the colors are not consistent, this is because they are truly natural."

Organic cotton produced without chemicals has an amazingly soft texture. "After washing, the volume of organic cotton towels doubles without using a fabric softener," says Maeda. "They are really soft and fluffy like a stuffed animal. This natural feeling is the most important thing for us." Growing and processing organic cotton, however, requires many hands and high costs, and thus it is more expensive than ordinary cotton. This is why, according to a report, organic cotton marketed around the world accounts for only 0.5 percent of total world cotton production, and as little as 0.1 percent (or less) of organic cotton has received an organic certification that meets international standards. On the Japanese market, organic cotton accounts for less than 0.1 percent of total annual cotton consumption - about 800,000 tons. Nevertheless, Made in Earth's organic cotton products have been gradually gaining popularity, mainly among allergy sufferers, particularly those with sensitive skin. Its products have also become popular as gifts.

One of the characteristics of Made in Earth products is their unique and humorous designs. Masaru Fukuda, a painter and a poet, has created a variety of images and designs reflecting his travel experiences in Bali, Nepal, Vietnam, Madagascar, India and other countries, and these images and designs are used for the products. "Playful designs can attract the attention of people not concerned with protecting sensitive skin or with the environment. If we unobtrusively include environmental information with our products, they may get our message when they pick up and look at the product," Maeda says.

Another popular Made in Earth item is cotton feminine hygiene products. Although it is not well known, most feminine hygiene products currently on the market contain petrochemical substances: non-woven fabric made of polyester or polypropylene is used on the surface, and flocculent pulp and gelling agents are used as absorbents. These chemicals could possibly cause health problems, such as endometriosis. Many users are fully satisfied with Made in Earth's hygiene products made of 100 percent organic cotton.

The Product Photos :

The company is now focusing on the development of new products using 100 percent native Japanese organic cotton. Native Japanese cotton varieties are on the verge of extinction, and so the country relies completely on imported cotton. However, until the middle of the Meiji Era (1858 - 1912), about 200 varieties of native cotton existed in Japan, and the country was completely self-sufficient in cotton.

Many kinds of cotton exist throughout the world. Cotton clothing that Japanese people usually wear nowadays is made from American or Egyptian cotton. There is a Japanese saying to the effect, "Plant the right crop in the right spot." Cultivating crops suited to the climate and soil provides what we need without excessive effort. Fabric made of Japanese cotton is a little thick, but it absorbs and retains moisture very well.

Despite the expense of producing cotton in Japan, some farmers are striving to promote native Japanese cotton varieties, both to prevent their extinction as well as to reduce the environmental impacts caused by importing cotton. In partnership with these farmers, Team Three Oh plans to develop new products while guaranteeing transparency in production so that consumers can get to know the cotton farmers, spinners, weavers and salespersons. It is also considering the idea of a "Cotton Trust," in which consumers help produce cotton products starting with the cultivation stage by setting up a reserve fund.

"There should be varieties of cotton suited to each region. We hope to grow cotton suitable for Asian countries in cooperation with farmers in East and Southeast Asia in future," Maeda says. Made in Earth will continue working to provide organic products, and also trying to help customers live in comfort by relaxing their minds and bodies.