It is probably safe to say that talking about the pros and cons of organic cotton
is not a subject which comes up every day at the office water cooler congregation. Though debate and dialogue have surely arisen about low-fat
versus low-carb, decaf versus caffeinated, or bottled water versus tap water – all subjects discussed in mainstream media – organic cotton on the other hand is less of a conversation ice-breaker. While a rising number of Americans are concerned about what they put in their bodies, what they put on their bodies is a different story.
This is not the case for Laurie Dunlap, founder and creator of Blue Canoe organic cotton clothing company, now leading the way in educating the public about the benefits of organic fibers, and the pitfalls of cotton as we know it today. Founded in 1993, and nestled in the soaring redwood trees of northern California’s Humboldt County, Blue Canoe designs and manufacturers active wear for women, infants, and a soon to be released a men’s line. Blue Canoe offers a diverse range of yoga and casual clothing including workout tops, bottoms, bras and underwear. All of their collections are available in a carefully chosen array of eco-dyed colors with the common thread, quite literally, being organic cotton.
When Dunlap initially set off to create a line of clothing, manufacturing products made from organic cotton was not her first motivation. “My impetus to start designing was that I just couldn’t find things in the marketplace that were simply about comfort,” says Laurie, who can be described as statuesque brunette, and gifted with beautifully sculpted cheekbones which continually emanate an age-defying healthy glow. In fact, Laurie, who began the company in her late 30’s, did not intend to become the businesswoman that she is today – she simply wanted to unleash her creative juices and design apparel, clothes she could wear.
When Laurie showed up with her line at local summer arts fairs and festivals, women gravitated towards her designs. Eventually, Laurie began to sell to local shops and soon realized that this business could indeed be quite legitimate. “I had this inner voice telling me I could do this. I felt like I was being pulled by a greater force.”
Laurie’s sense of determination to make her business viable was catapulted into full gear the day she read an article about the facts of cotton farming. “I had been living this organic lifestyle but I just hadn’t put two and two together. I had no idea that conventional cotton farming was one of the most environmentally destructive activities.” According to the non-profit Sustainable Cotton, cotton is one of the top four crops in California using the greatest number of pesticides: approximately 6.9 million pounds of chemicals annually. Many of the most common pesticides are scientifically linked to serious health problems and toxicity in water, air and soil.
Laurie’s awakening propelled her to search for cotton suppliers free from synthetically derived chemicals. Today she uses organic cottons from India, Turkey, Peru and California. Despite the higher costs of these goods, Laurie believes that having “pure, non-toxic fabric next to your skin is crucial.” As Laurie evolved her clothing line to 100% organic, she was promptly welcomed into the growing number of boutiques specializing in organic casual wear. One could say ‘right place, right time,’ but these days Blue Canoe can be found in hundreds of retailers across the country.
Blue Canoe is not the only company who carries the organic flag. Major players such as Nike, Timberland and Patagonia have all taken a stance in the continued development of organic farming
. The demand is currently greater than the supply as organic cotton represents less than 1% of the global cotton market. Laurie believes that similar to the food industry, which has had an insurgence of organic food into the mainstream market – organic food sales have increased 20% over the past decade – the public and in particular those already part of the yoga lifestyle movement will embrace organic cottons and further push the organic industry to meet the growing demand.
Supporting both organic food and apparel is not only about supporting the environment, including water resources, independently-owned organic farms, and renewable energy use, but also acknowledging that “organic farming techniques provide a safer more sustainable environment for everyone,” as stated by the Organic Trade Association
Despite the benefits of organic cotton, Laurie’s mission has always been to offer comfortable clothing designed to wear all day, everywhere one might go, and definitely for a yoga class or two. Unlike synthetic fabrics, which many fitness types like because synthetics dry quickly, cotton breathes, so your body stays cooler. Another plus for organic wearers is that the cotton doesn’t retain odors like synthetics do; it doesn’t pill, and it tends to last longer than synthetic apparel.
Aside from a laundry list of pros for organic cotton, Laurie is highly conscientious about offering the right fit for a variety of body shapes and sizes. Her customer ranges from 25 to 65 year olds and at each end of the spectrum one can easily find a style for her taste. Blue Canoe’s “Sheer Collection” made of organic Pima cotton is ultra soft, and its lightweight nature is like wearing a sexy second skin. For those who prefer having more support in basic tops and bottoms, Blue Canoe offers a “Stretch Top Collection” that is flattering to all body types. Leggings, hip pants, workout shorts and a new yoga pant are natural compliments to the diverse top selection.
There is no coincidence that Laurie’s company is run by women who live the lifestyle and can easily talk to consumers about technical questions, or just share stories. Laurie considers herself fortunate that her employees are much more of a family, passionate about the products and the well-being of the company, and not surrounded by people who simply punch in the time clock. “We are just this loose knit web of women all working towards a common goal,” says Laurie. Though Laurie puts in long days at the office, she still take a break to either take a yoga class or even teach a class when she has the chance.
As her business matures, so does her product line. Men are asking for active wear, and her baby line is now in a rapid growth phase. “I hope that people seek out Blue Canoe for its comfort and fit, and like myself years ago, awake to the benefits of organic cotton