Sportswear giant Nike Inc on Tuesday launched a new six-piece women's apparel line featuring certified organic cotton.

The Oregon-based firm said its Nike Organics knit collection, which includes a hoody, short-sleeved top, sleeveless v-neck tee and tank, blends five per cent Lycra with 95 per cent certified organic cotton.

Its woven collection, which includes a short and capri, is made entirely from certified organic cotton. Items from both collections are available at selected Galyan's stores.

Certified organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. The new range is only available in the US while Nike plans to include men's offerings in 2003.

"While this initial offering is modest in size, we hope that it will signal to our retailers and consumers that we are sincere in our commitment to organic cotton," said Heidi McCloskey, Nike Apparel's global director of sustainability.

She added: "Organic cotton looks, feels and wears just like conventional cotton, but is produced using more sustainable farming methods.

"We're not sourcing organic because it's easier, faster, or cheaper - in fact, in many ways it's harder, slower and more costly. We're doing it because we believe that it's the right thing to do."

In a further endorsement for organic cotton, Nike said it wants every Nike cotton product globally to contain a minimum of 5 per cent organic by 2010.

This commitment springs from a study the firm undertook into its use of cotton in 1996. The results led to a proposal to begin blending organic cotton into its apparel with the initial purchase in 1997 of 250,000 pounds of organic cotton for its autumn 1998 season.

"When we started our blending program we quickly realised that there wasn't enough supply to fulfil our demand, and we'd need to work with the industry to help increase supply," said McCloskey.

So Nike helped conceive and launch the Organic Exchange, an organisation focused on facilitating the growth of a global organic cotton industry by bringing together companies in all parts of the organic cotton value chain.

The long-term goal of the Organic Exchange is to promote building a global organic cotton industry that satisfies 10 per cent of the world's demand for cotton fibre within the next 10 years.

Nike is now one of the world's largest purchasers of certified organically grown cotton. In 2001, 33 million garments - more than one-third of all cotton-containing garments Nike produced that year - contained a minimum of 3 per cent certified organically grown cotton.

By the summer of 2003, Nike projects that organic cotton usage will represent just over 2.5 per cent of Nike's overall cotton use.