The current economic downturn is likely to slow UK demand for organic clothing and textiles during 2009 and 2010, a new industry report says, but the rate of growth should pick up again in two years' time.

According to The Soil Association Organic Market Report, sales of organic clothing and textiles will almost treble between 2008 and 2012, reaching GBP280m (US$409.5m).

This compares with last year, when sales topped GBP100m (US$147m) for the first time.

Sales of organic cotton increased by 40% in 2008, to GBP85-90m, fuelled by concerns about the health implications of products absorbed through the skin and the environmental impact of intensive cotton production.

Organic ranges are also more widely available, with supermarkets and upmarket department stores joining mainstream clothing brands and retailers such as Nike, Timberland and Marks & Spencer increasing the volumes of organic cotton they use.

Fast fashion chain New Look sold 2.3m organic cotton items in 2008 - a 50% increase on 2007 - and says it expects at least to maintain sales, and possibly increase them, in 2009.

The UK makes up about 8-10% of the global organic cotton market, the Soil Association says, with sales rising more than tenfold since 2002.

Crucially, those consumers who are committed to organic products appear to be staying loyal.

"This shows the underlying resilience of the organic market, which we believe will grow again once the economy picks up," said Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director.

The findings also mirror the results of two separate reports published within the last week.

The Organic Cotton Market Report 2007-2008, released by non-profit organisation Organic Exchange (OE), said sales of organic cotton were up 63% to US$3.2bn in 2008, but the market is facing a glut as demand fails to keep pace with production.

It also noted that most brands and retailers remain upbeat about the prospects for market growth, despite the current downturn.

Similarly, in its report 'Ethical Clothing UK,' Mintel says sales of ethical clothing have more than quadrupled to GBP175m in the last five years as British shoppers seek out fair-trade products.

It also believes future growth prospects look bright for the sector, and says adverse economic conditions are likely to have only muted effects on the ethical clothing sector.