Organic cotton clothing is made from fabric that was produced using organic cotton. Organic cotton is a natural fiber that is 100% plant derived. It is non-allergenic, non-irritant, soothing and comforting on the skin. It has high absorbency properties which makes it suitable for a wide range of uses. The main cotton producing countries are India, USA, Turkey, China, Egypt, Syria, Uganda, Peru, Tanzania and West Africa.
Organic cotton is used widely in clothing and fabrics, footwear, home furnishings (like sheets, towels and bedding), kids and baby products (like nappies, clothes and toys), personal care and hygiene (like sanitary products, make-up removal pads and cotton wool) and even stationary.
The difference between organic cotton and non-organic cotton lies in the way the cotton is grown and treated.
Growing Organic Cotton
Organic cotton is grown from plants and seeds that have not been genetically modified. No synthetic or toxic chemicals, like pesticides and fertilizers, are used during the growing and production cycle. Because no GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are used, organic soil matter can be built through crop rotation, inter cropping and composting.
Weeds are controlled through physical removal and inter cropping. Bio-controlling of beneficial insects are used to manage pests. Growing organic cotton is better for the environment than non-organic cotton. Crop rotation is practiced to ensure and maintain the soil quality.
To be able to grow organic cotton, the land has to be detoxified first. For at least 3 years prior to planting organic cotton, no harmful chemicals must be used on the land.
Organic farming methods use natural fertilizers like animal manure or compost, which recycles the nitrogen that is already in the soil rather than adding more. It reduces both pollution and N2O emissions. It also results in soil that has more water retention capacity due to organic matter. Organic cotton farming is in some ways synonymous with farming sustainability.
Although production of organic cotton has dramatically increased over the past 15 years and annual growth is now in double digits, it is still less than 1% of overall worldwide cotton production.
Non-organic Cotton Production
Cotton is the dirtiest crop on the planet. Non-organic cotton farming uses more than 15% of pesticides that are used worldwide. Each year up to 77 million cotton workers suffer from poisoning due to the pesticides that are used in non-organic cotton farming. Monsanto, a company that genetically modifies seeds, owns 95% of the cotton seed market in India.
Cotton makes up 50% of the world’s fiber needs, but the majority is grown using toxic chemicals. Chemicals seep into the ground which then contaminates the water. During the conversion of non-organic cotton to fabrics and clothing, many hazardous chemicals are used and added, including petroleum scours, silicone waxes, ammonia, formaldehyde, flame retardants, softeners, heavy metals, bleaches and dyes – to name but a few.
20% of freshwater pollution comes from the treatment and dying of textiles. Polluted water means that there is less oxygen in the water which leads to killing of aquatic animals and harming our aquatic ecosystem.
Exposure to pesticides can lead to birth defects, reproductive disorders and a weaker immune system. It has been found that in some areas farmers will store pesticides in their bedroom or sleeping area.
In many countries cotton is hand-picked, which exposes the workers to harmful toxins if it is non-organic cotton.
The Benefits of Organic Cotton
- By buying and wearing organic cotton clothing you can reduce the carbon footprint – because no harmful and toxic chemicals are used in the growing and production, there is no damage to the soil.
- Organic cotton clothing is made from a natural fiber that is soothing and harmless to your skin.
- The quality of organic cotton is better than non-organic or conventional cotton.
- Organic cotton growing uses 71% less water and 62% less energy than non-organic cotton.
- It is a safer environment for farmers and their families growing organic cotton as they are not exposed to toxins in the field or through food and water.
- Growing organic cotton prevents water contamination and conserves biodiversity.
- The air is cleaner as there is less pollution caused by pesticides
- Organic cotton seed oil is a byproduct that is widely used in snacks and animal feed.
The only negative side is that organic cotton clothing is normally more expensive than non-organic cotton. Organic cotton is more expensive to produce because it is more labour-intensive and the yield is lower than conventional cotton.
What does Naturally Bleached mean?
During the processing of cotton, chlorine bleaches and optical whiteners are often used. Chlorine is quite toxic and has a long half-life, taking a very long time to degrade, and optical whiteners do not degrade at all! On the other hand, hydrogen peroxide degrades easily and safely into oxygen and water and even helps to neutralise the effluent in water from dyeing factories.
Naturally Bleached means that hydrogen peroxide, instead of chlorine, is used to treat the organic cotton and no optical whiteners are added. The end result of Natural Bleaching is a softer white than other because it leaves an attractive amount of the cotton’s natural hue.
Look for certification labels when buying organic cotton clothing. There are currently 2 independent organic certifications for organic cotton: the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and Organic Content Standards (OCS). Certification tracks the identity and use of organic cotton through a series of certificates.
- A Farm certificate ensures that the cotton was produced using organic farming methods
- A Transaction certificates tracks the organic cotton when it is passed from one hand to another. For instance if the organic cotton is moved from the spinning company to the weaving company, a transaction certificate will be issued. Soit tracks the organic cottton through all the stages of production.
- A Scope certificate ensures that the company is qualified to produce organic cotton.
So certification can be done on a local, region or global basis.
If you have allergies or suffer from skin diseases, wearing organic cotton clothing will greatly improve those conditions as you would not be exposing your skin to toxins.
Organic cotton clothing might cost more, but it has substantial benefits for ourselves and our planet over the long term.