Cotton Explained

When trying to understand the shift towards sustainable fashion and get a grasp on it all, it can be a whirlwind. But we can start simple, and get to know the production process behind our clothes and their impact, and understand why these practices are not sustainable.

Let’s take a stab and talk cotton - a staple fiber that is found in our shirts, socks, sheets, towels, to tents and fishing nets! Cotton does it all. It is versatile, reliable, and has been grown as a crop for centuries. It’s plentiful in its production, both economically and in its quantity. But the impact of cotton production is severe and has harmful repercussions on the environment and people. Why? Let’s break it down:  

Water. Cotton is a thirsty crop. Your typical cotton T requires 2,700 liters of water to be grown, that’s around 30 bathtubs of H20!  A lot of baths for just one shirt, and sadly, the typical cotton T rarely lives out a lengthy lifespan. Made for quantity over quality, many cotton garments will quickly be abandoned and find themselves in landfills. This is very much the cycle of fast fashion. A lot of wasted resources for little longevity. 

Pesticides. Conventional cotton uses more pesticides than any crop in the entire world. Chemical compounds that are manufactured to kill - pesticides are toxic, seeping into the land, surrounding resources, and our bodies. This dismantles ecosystems, habitats, and overall biodiversity. Ending up in water and food supplies, humans are also suffering from pesticide exposure. It has been linked to brain development disorders, cancer, birth defects, and some recent studies have tied exposed pregnant women at higher risks of birthing autistic children. 

Labor ethics. Who stitches the clothes we wear together? Cotton will often be exported from India, the world’s largest grower of the crop, into countries like China, Turkey, and Bangladesh for mass factory production. The quantity over quality structure creates opportunity for unethical human labor practices. Exploited for their age and gender, workers are often children and women, underpaid, and subject to dangerous working conditions. The average garment factory worker in Bangladesh makes an average living wage of $68 per month. This system capitalizes on the poor in order to fuel the highly profitable fast fashion industry.

The production of conventional cotton is generating much more harm than good, and we can conclude that this system is not sustainable. So, what are the cotton alternatives? What can we look out for in order to be a more conscious cotton consumer? 

Organic cotton. A much happier and healthier alternative for all. Organic cotton means zero pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and uses 88% less water than conventional cotton. The organic agriculture of cotton promotes the longevity of healthy soil, habitats, and people. Organic farming also facilitates biodiversity conservation rather than destruction, a pressing component of climate change. Make sure your cotton is truly organic by checking labels for a certified cotton stamp. There are two types to look for: OCS (Organic Content Standards) and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) - both guarantee ethical and responsible conditions in their cultivation and harvesting process.

Recycled cotton. Another happy alternative that in theory leaves little impact. Cotton is given a new breadth of life that was otherwise destined for the landfill. Through mechanical factory techniques, fabrics are broken down into fibers, and respun into new materials. Although the new fiber will never possess the same texture of original cotton, it is often combined with other fibers to extend its use. Recycled cotton is indeed a resourceful option - it works with what is already there! However the recycling process can be quite extensive, expensive, and cotton can only be recycled once. So let’s make our T-shirts and choices count.  

Recycled cotton denim

To wrap it up, it is crucial that we slow our clothing consumption and become more mindful in our choices. Choosing quality over quantity, let's pick materials and pieces that will nourish the earth, people, and sustain our wardrobes for the long haul. Thank you for joining me in this evolving journey of becoming a more conscious human!

Stay tuned 🔅

P.S. Looking for some stylish and sustainable cotton recs? Our groovy organic cotton indigo tie-dye leggings and matching vege v-bra make quite the fit, or check out these lovely 100% recycled cotton masks.


November 02, 2020 — Isabel Owen

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