When we think of “organic”, we tend to think of the consumer-level impacts. We’re told that organic products are better for our health and safety. Maybe you’ve even dismissed anything labeled as organic. Perhaps you think it’s frivolous or extra.
But there’s an even bigger reason to consider organic products: sustainability. The impacts of organic farming make a huge difference in terms of environmental and social impact, first and foremost, and right now, choosing organic is one of the best defences against unsustainable practices.
It’s no secret that fast fashion is destroying our planet. The fashion industry alone is:
- Polluting the atmosphere by emitting more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined
- Using up water resources by being the second largest industry in terms of water consumption
- Polluting the oceans with the toxic chemicals used in the process
This is all happening at an incredible scale.
Why Cotton Isn’t Eco-Friendly
Cotton is a natural and biodegradable fabric, therefore it can’t be that bad for the environment. Right? Unfortunatelty, cotton has a different story. It ranks a D on our ethical clothing fabric scale, which is very low on the list. It’s worse than fabrics like hemp or linen, but better than synthetics like polyester.
Organic Cotton, on the other hand, has a B rating. So there’s a big discrepancy between conventional and organic cotton.
Why is conventional cotton so bad?
Toxic For The Environment And Workers
For one, it’s chemically-intensive. Although it’s relatively easy to turn the cotton plant into fabric, the crops themselves requires pesticides and chemicals that are not only polluting the earth, but also dangerous for the workers and farmers. The dying process is also very chemically-intensive.
Some of the chemicals used in the cotton industry are proven to be so harmful that they’re banned in the West, while workers in India are using them with bare hands and feet, and no masks or any protection whatsoever.
Organic cotton, however, is:
- The cotton seeds can’t be treated with fungicides or insecticides
- Grown without synthetic chemicals (pesticides or fertilizers)
- Grown on land without residues from past synthetic chemicals (at least 3 years “clean”)
2,168 Gallons of Water for One Single T-Shirt
To claim that cotton is a thirsty crop is an understatement. Depending on the study, it takes 2,168 gallons of water for the production of a single t-shirt. Ouch. However, when using organic cotton, the same t-shirt only requires 186 gallons of water.
For a pair of jeans, the difference is just as important: while it takes 9,910 gallons (!) of water to produce it with conventional cotton, it only takes 932 gallons with organic cotton.
Not to mention, the water used in conventional cotton is extremely polluted because of the chemicals and dyes used in the process. The water resulting from organic cotton doesn’t contribute to the pollution nearly as much, since no toxic chemicals are used.
270,000 Cotton Workers Have Committed Suicide Since 1995
When we think of cotton being unethical, we tend to think of the environmental impacts. But it’s important to talk about the more hidden aspects of this industry, which are unacceptable.
In 2014, The Guardian published a report about the mass suicides linked to the cotton industry in India.
More than 270,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves since 1995. Campaigners say a contributing factor may be the high price of genetically modified seeds flooding the market, which is piling pressure on poorly paid growers, forcing many into a cycle of unmanageable debt.The Guardian
This is the dark reality behind our cotton t-shirts. Can we fix it by purchasing organic cotton? The solution isn’t easy, but we know that organic cotton is non-GMO, safer for the workers, and offers the farmers and workers better conditions if it bears a trustworthy ethical certification such as GOTS.
Choosing Organic Cotton
The conventional cotton industry, as we know it today, is broken. Supporting an industry that’s responsible for water and air pollution, as well as for inhumane conditions for workers and farmers, putting their health and lives at risk, is far from ethical.
I highly urge everyone who’s reading this to reconsider unethical fabrics and looking for ethical alternatives such as organic cotton. We can make better choices starting today by incorporating organic cotton into our wardrobe.
If you don’t know where to start, the following brands are some examples that use organic cotton:
PACT: Relatively affordable for the ethical standards. Some quality control issues, but overall a good affordable option.
Organic Basics: They offer several ethical fabric choices including organic cotton. Mid-range prices.
Thought: London-based and mid-range. They offer several ethical materials including organic cotton.
To find more retailers, simply search the web and you’ll find several options based in your country. Also look for certifications to ensure that the organic and ethical claims are legitimate.
Please let me know if you have any favorite organic cotton retailers or garments below!