First Date: Organic Cotton
Tell me about yourself.
We depend on cotton a lot. It’s in your clothing, bedding, and even your tampons.
Non-organic cotton, also known as conventional cotton, is one of the most chemically- intensive crops in the world. Conventional cotton uses toxic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMO seeds, typically owned by large corporations), and harmful pesticides in an attempt to produce higher yields and larger profits. The use of the above keeps overall costs down for the end consumer who would like a less expensive t-shirt but comes at a huge social cost to the ecosystem and humans that interact with the fiber at all stages- including you.
In contrast, organic cotton is defined as cotton grown using methods and materials that:
Have a low impact on the environment including production systems that replenish and maintain soil fertility (read: less poison in the ground so the soil remains healthy)
Reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers (read: poisonous to the land, the farmers and you, the consumer, who wears the end product)
Foster biologically diverse agriculture so farmers can have a proper livelihood (read: better social impact)
This means that the end-product is usually more expensive for the consumer, but maintains an invaluable amount of product integrity.
Remind me why I swiped right…
Organic cotton is better for all those involved: the farmer exposed to the toxic chemicals, their families, and the environment
Organic cotton uses less water than conventional cotton (but to be honest, cotton across the board uses A LOT of water)
Tell me more…
Oh, so you’re interested? Get in line.
Organic cotton is a growing industry around the world. According to the Textile Exchange, a non-profit organization committed to the responsible expansion of textile sustainability, there are major players jumping on this bandwagon. Intidex, the parent company of Zara, publically has endorsed the importance of organic cotton in their supply chain and is currently the world’s fourth-largest consumer of organic cotton. Because they are trying, we give them a big high-five, but to indicate the garment is 100% organic you must identify this on the label of the garment you are eyeing. As of today, most items will not be organic and unable to be traced to any sustainable source at all.
Farming and harvesting the cotton fiber is one of many steps taken to get you the t-shirt that you desire, and that’s great if it is organic-- but let’s not forget about how we finish. Dyeing and finishing garments are the most chemically intensive steps in making clothes. It’s important to carry out the same standards once the cotton fibers are passed along the supply chain, and most of the time this can get fuzzy.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a great reference label for all things organic cotton. GOTS products have been traced through the supply chain and each processing stage has been certified against strict social and environmental criteria. In the U.S., organic cotton must be certified by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) but does not guarantee the finishing process remains organic once it leaves the farm. There are many regional and local organic labels that are popping up- make sure you do your research on what their standards are.
We know yours are high.
Alright, I’d like to see you again...now what?
We knew it. Like a first date, when shopping there is so much to consider and we don’t want to give false promises. But there are places to start. Always follow your gut and shop with your ethics in mind; support brands that are transparent with their sourcing of fibers, their supply chain, and what they believe in.
If a shirt is surprisingly cheap, chances are, so are its ethics.