We read it everywhere: Cotton is the fabric of our lives. And the truth is that followed by man made fibers, cotton makes up most of our wardrobe. Just count how many t-shirts you have hanging in your closet! Sadly, this very common fabric carries a big environmental footprint. Most cotton now a days comes from India (75%). Only 1.1% comes from the US, and the truth is, with clothes becoming cheaper every day, its nearly impossible and in some cases financially risky for farmers to grow cotton.
The issue with cotton:
1. To start with, when the soil is not treated properly cotton harvesting causes erosion of the soil, which makes farmers vulnerable, and big cotton companies responsible for big patches of deforestation.
2. Conventionally grown cotton carries unimaginable quantities of pesticides, which in turn cause even more soil erosion, water contamination and awful health concerns for farmers (brain cancer being among the main health concerns for cotton farmers in India, Turkey, China, and Tanzania).
3. Genetically Modified Cotton - Although GM Cotton is fairly new and we don't yet understand it's effects fully, we can say that GM cotton in some cases of extremely humid climates has shown significant pesticide reduction (good for the water, the farmers, the soil and us). On the other hand the herbicide tolerant variety known as "roundup ready" which was created by Monsanto has led to a sharp increase in herbicide use. Not only that seed is destroying the soil, and ends up becoming a fiber full of herbicides, Monsanto only allows the seed to be planted once, making the farmers dependent on Monsanto's prices and policies. There have been reports of farmers loosing their lands, and committing massive suicides because the seed destroyed their soil and in turn their lives. The worst part is that even though the seed is more expensive for the farmers, the cotton is sold at the same price to us, the consumers... making them unecesary victims of a coorporation thinking only of profits.
4. Certified Organic Cotton or Transitional Organic Cotton: It's definitely harder to cultivate since it takes more time and creativity to keep the fields in good shape. The certification prevents the use of GM seeds, and promotes the stabilization of eco-systems through natural biological means, sadly organic cotton only makes up for 0.7% of the global cotton production.
Sustainable benefits of cotton:
Cotton is a renewable fabric source, its available and inexpensive. If your label reads 100% cotton, that means the fibers are 100% biodegradable and compostable. The most important thing to do when shopping is to make sure we buy from organic cotton farmers or transitional cotton. We should be encouraged to experiment with blends and with colored cotton, which reduces the overall volume of dyes, in turn reduces water contamination and waste. But if you truly want to be eco friendly when using cotton keep in mind the most important factor is how we wash our fabrics, use eco friendly detergents, don't tumble dry, and wash with cold water. The most carbon emissions released come from washing our clothes, and we should start to make changes to have a healthier and better planet.
Here are some of my favorite designers working with organic cotton:
- Hannah Anderson: her kids clothes are so soft and fun! I simply love her stuff
- Mara Hoffman: I mean, if only I had the money to literally buy ALL her pieces, I would.
- Theory: So expensive, but hey, you'll keep it for ages.
- Check out our cotton pieces, made from sustainable fabrics: HERE