Organic cotton straight outta Compton

As I’m reporting stories I always come across little tidbits of information that might not make it into print. So before the story gets published, I’ll pass them on to you as free samples.

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I felt like I was in one of those Sesame Street segments today. You know, like where you got to see the innerworkings of the crayon factory? While working on a story about Patagonia for Fast Company, I spent the morning at Nature USA, a textile and garment manufacturer in Rancho Dominguez, which is just a stone’s throw from Compton (and it’s been 20 years since NWA recorded that album—a lot of Compton is actually really nice).

The enthusiastic Mike Farid has run Nature USA since 1987, but his threads go much deeper than that. His father, who has been in this business for 53 years was walking the factory floor, and a photo of his grandfather working at a textile factory in Iran hangs in his office. As we toured the massive and quite clean factory, I saw apparel being knit, sewed, screenprinted and packaged for Patagonia, Volcom and Zoo York, just to name a few. They also produce their own line of organic apparel, bgreen. He mentioned that he employs “quality people to create quality product” so I asked him what the difference was between his company and another progressive Southern California garment producer, American Apparel. “I’m a lot prettier than Dov,” Mike quipped. (That would be the notoriously flamboyant American Apparel founder Dov Charney).

“I got into organic cotton by accident,” said Mike, who said that it all started with a desperate woman who needed some for her line of baby clothes, then word got around that he did it, and suddenly he became the local go-to guy. And here’s a bit of information for all those who claim that converting from conventional practices isn’t good for the bottom line. Mike told us that two years ago, organic cotton represented only 10% of his business; last year it was 35%, and this year he estimates it will be 40%. He thinks that most of his major customers will make the switch over the next four years.

But it was this monster that fascinated me the most, a machine that cranks out 1012 pounds of jersey knit a day. As I was lulled into hypnosis Mike patiently explained the different stitches and yarns that make up all the fabrics I had on. All the way home on the train I was staring at people’s clothes trying to figure out how they were made.

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