Monday, April 24, 2017

What? - Organic Cotton - Good or Bad?

Organic Cotton is not the perfect solution and whether it is good or bad can get confusing. It is a good alternative to many other options but one must always be aware of labeling. Unless an item is labeled with accreditation from an appropriate third party the word organic can mean just about any thing. The two most common labels are "Made with Organic" this will normally mean that it is 70% certified organic, the other is "Cerified Organic" this means it was made from 95% organic materials. But until there is a standardized global accreditation that everyone follows this cannot be guaranteed. One of the most common uses for organic cotton presently is large fashion companies using it for about 50% of their blends in t-shirts, some are making an effort to reach "Certified Organic" status. Underwear and infant wear are also areas of fashion where it is consistently becoming more prominant.

Many people living in the United States who are concerned about organics will probably recognize the above logo. This is from the United States Agriculture Department Organics and you may see this occassionally on clothing in the US. This would ensure that the raw cotton was organic but not that the rest of the process involved in the making of the garment was enviromentally conscious.

GOTS goal is to help standardize regulation between countries on what constitutes an organic textile. Organizations from Canada, United States, Japan and Britian etc belong to this larger international accreditation board. In a lot of ways organic clothing is like organic food, make sure you read the labels for fibres/ingredients. Garments that  are labeled FairTrade plus Organic are the most enviromentally conscious, that is unless you are also concerned about your carbon footprint. As I said it can all get confusing. The basic thing to remember is Knowledge is Power. Every individual needs to decide what their priorities are when it comes to Eco Fashion and often they may use some form of a sliding scale. I also include whether it is Made Local and the companies general business practices in my equation which can confuse things even more.

Now on to some basic pros and cons of raw organic cotton.
-Farmers exposure to toxins greatly reduced
-cotton is a breathable, lightweight fabric choice for a large variety of clothing eg. t-shirts, jeans and other casuals
-normally done as a rotaing crop which helps maintain soil fertility
-better for protection of local wildlife as no leeching of chemicals into surrounding enviroment 
-premium normally paid to farmers approx. 20% more
-if FairTrade farmers are also guaranteed better wages and conditions
- a variety of cooperatives are being created in developing countries to help small farmers
-hypo allergenic

-whether organic cotton or conventional cotton it is one of the most water intensive crops. It is the 2nd thirstiest crop in industrialized countries and 4th in developing countries
-organic agriculture at the moment is still less efficient, meaning same amount of resources produce a lower volume of product - organic yields are often 25% less then conventional
-weed control can be an issue - thus more labour intensive, often greater fuel emissions and wear and tear on equipment which equals higher carbon footprint
-a bug infestation can cause devastating effects and can lead to 50% or greater loss in total yield
-must be cleaned before processing so this can be an added expense
-certification is normally to expensive for farmers, especially in developing countries. It also takes a minimum of three years to attain
-cost of finished garment more expensive for consumer
-limitation of colourways available to keep finished textiles organic

Is any type of cotton garment truly sustainable? This question can open up a whole new debate. Over the last century Cotton Growers have often been under scrutiny on various practices. There has been issues of poor working conditions, slave labour, child labour etc. It is also said that fashion manufacturing is only 2nd to the oil as the most polluting industry. Many fashion companies are making a conscious effort to become more eco friendly and this is a great movement to support. We all need to think how our purchasing actions effect others and the world we live in so any knowledge of where, what, how and who made our clothing is a wonderful base for this. A good hashtag to check out for this on social media is #whomademyclothes 


  1. What is your opinion on entirely artificial fibres - either made from recycled materials (like the ubiquitous fleece vests of the PNW) or old school fashions from the 70's. They don't compete for arable land, they require less care, and they last forever (literally in some cases). Rather than appealing to people's belief that somehow certain solutions are more natural and earth-friendly can we solve the some of the problems with technology?

  2. Technology is making things like fabrics made from plastic bottles possible which is positive. It is keeping these bottles out of landfill which is great but it is not going to be the one single thing that saves the enviroment. PET fibres are once again commonly blended with other fibres to create specifie textiles

  3. Other technology is looking into growing fibre with fungus or algae which is also fascinating and the possibilites are increasing daily. I firmly believe that people should make conscious decisions when purchasing clothing, we need to stop purchasing on a whim. Reading labels and making informed decisions is the best earth friendly route.