Cotton. It’s made from a plant, it’s a natural fabric, so it must be good for the planet, right?
Despite being one of the world's most widely used natural fibres, conventional cotton is on the naughty list when it comes to fabrics.
Here’s why —
Conventional cotton is a thirsty crop. You know that cotton T-shirt hanging in your wardrobe? It took up to 2,700 litres of water to make. Although it may not seem like it right now, with water running freely through our taps, water is a highly scarce resource. By 2039, some 700 million people could be displaced by intense water scarcity, and by 2040, roughly 1 in 4 children worldwide will be living in areas of extremely high water stress.
Conventional cotton can use more pesticides than any other crop in the world. Let that sink in. Each year, conventionally grown cotton producers use more than 7% of the world’s pesticides and nearly 16% of the world’s insecticides. These harsh chemicals contaminate soil, pollute waterways and disrupt natural ecosystems.
Pesticides and insecticides don’t just damage the planet, but its people too. Exposure to these toxins are causing long term chronic illnesses, and death. This is especially true in India, the world’s leading producer of conventional cotton. The Environmental Justice Foundation travelled to India to speak with people directly affected by the farming of conventional cotton.
Mangala lost her husband from pesticide poisoning, and Sandeep lost his father.
Images and quotes supplied by The Environmental Justice Foundation*.
Finally, conventional cotton does not tread lightly. It is estimated that global cotton cultivation accounts for 220 million tonnes of CO2 every year, that's 1.8 tonnes for every tonne of fibre produced.
Speaking of which…
It’s not all doom, gloom and heartbreaking stories.
There is hope.
There is organic cotton.
As organic cotton is most commonly grown in rain-fed areas, it uses 91% less water than conventional cotton. Buying a certified organic cotton T-shirt rather than a conventional one could save a staggering 2,457 litres of water – enough for one person to drink eight glasses of water a day for three and a half years.
Organic cotton avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) standard ensure no genetically modified seeds, toxic chemicals, herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilisers are used to grow organic cotton. These measures protect natural ecosystems and provide safe working conditions for farmers.
Furthermore, studies show that organic cotton produced a 46% reduction in global warming potential compared to non-organic cotton.
Organic farming builds healthy soil matter through crop rotation and the practice of intercropping, in which farmers grow two or more crops in close proximity. Crop diversity is also beneficial to farmers, as it provides multiple sources of income and exposes them to less risk of a poor harvest or fluctuations in commodity prices.
Organic cotton not only feels better in your heart, but better on your skin too. Organic cotton is ultra-soft and breathable, making it the perfect every day fabric.
So yes, organic cotton really is better than conventional cotton. It’s better for the planet, it’s better for the people, and it’s better for you.
Of course, that's just how the fibre is grown. In our next piece we will look at how this fibre is processed to make our beautiful fabric, making sure that these principles flow all the way through our supply chain.
Shop our range of organic cotton underwear here. Made with love in Wellington, NZ by women from refugee and migrant backgrounds.
FAO. Profile of 15 of the world’s major plant and animal fibres. 2009. Available at: http://www.fao.org/natural-fibres-2009/about/15-natural-fibres/en/
WWF. The Impact of a Cotton T-Shirt. 2013. Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-impact-of-a-cotton-t-shirt
Unicef. Water scarcity. 2021. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/wash/water-scarcity
Good On You. Know Your Product: A Quick Guide to Organic Cotton. 2021. Available at: https://goodonyou.eco/know-your-product-a-quick-guide-to-organic-cotton/
Environmental Justice Foundation. Clothes and Climate: Is Cotton Best? 2020. Available at: https://ejfoundation.org/news-media/clothes-and-climate-is-cotton-best
Soil Association. Organic Cotton & Climate Change. 2015. Available at: https://www.soilassociation.org/media/11662/coolcotton.pdf
Environmental Justice Foundation. Casualties of Cotton. 2021. Available at: https://ejfoundation.org/news-media/the-casualties-of-cotton
Textile Exchange. Quick Guide to Organic Cotton 2021. Available at: https://textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Textile-Exchange_Quick-Guide-To-Organic-Cotton_2017.pdf
The Guardian. Cotton on: the staggering potential of switching to organic clothes. 2019. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/oct/01/cotton-on-the-staggering-potential-of-switching-to-organic-clothes