Eco in Action: Parkdale Mills

"The main thing about organic yarn," said Parkdale Mills's Doug Woolweaver (Sales Associate), "is that it's a yarn spun using cotton that was grown without synthetic fertilizers or defoliants."

Here in North Carolina, the first organic crop of cotton was harvested last year - in 2011.   According to a February 2, 2012, article from Southeast Farm Press, organic cotton production in this state is on the rise. Farm Press cites a 2011 trend report predicting  "opportunity.... in nascent organic cotton-growing regions such as North Carolina."

Simply put, the organic cotton market continues to rock, and industry watchers expect local acreage to account for a substantial  part of next year's  success.

Yarn produced with organic cotton, on the other hand, is an established offering  from one local company.  Parkdale Mills, headquartered in Gastonia (west of Charlotte), has been producing and selling organic cotton for about a decade and a half.  Established in 1916, the nearly-100-year-old  mill is  one of the world's largest independent yarn spinners, offering  international manufacturers both conventional and organic weaving and knitting yarns suitable for products like hosiery, apparel, and household goods, and for military and industrial use.   

According to Doug Woolweaver,  Sales Associate, Parkdale Mills first offered an organic product 15 years ago. Over time, he said, he's watched the market  evolve.   

"In the beginning, we were approached by one of our customers.  We learned about organic, and what it meant to the environment. We started with a specific program, and our business has evolved from this beginning.

"All of our organic yarns are produced in a certified environment," he said. In order to guarantee organic integrity, Parkdale Mills chooses to operate according to certain practices established by the Global Organic Trade Standard (GOTS).

"It's a corporate responsibility to operate within GOTS certification," Woolweaver said.  "The company wanted to do it."

"Parkdale Mills is a certified producer of organic yarns through Oregon Tilth, which allows us to be certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Oregon Tilth  inspects our facilities and reviews procedures and work practices annually.  They ensure correct handling and storage processes. Certified organic products have to be kept separate."

Since 1982, Oregon Tilth has backed their standards with education and research, promoting certification as way to authenticate, for both producers and consumers, organic claims.  "The main focus from Oregon Tilth is procedures and equipment," Woolweaver said. "Our equipment is modern and up-to-date, so we focused on procedures and work practices.

We learned to keep [organic cotton] separate, and we trained employees to handle it."

According to one manufacturer, Global Organic "ensures that all phases of production are evaluated by an organic certifier [such as Oregon Tilth] in order to comply with organic standards and provide documented evidence that the product’s materials are truly organic."

The mill's responsibility begins with the growers. "Anyone producing should be certified by a third party,"  said Woolweaver.  "We've been offered [uncertified cotton] quite often," he said. "USDA GOTS certified organic cotton is it - we will not accept anything else," he said.

"If it's not certified  organic, we want no part of it."