Comfortable, breathable, and classic, it’s no wonder that cotton is a staple of nearly every closet and makes up around 25% of global textiles, according to the USDA. When it comes to organic versus conventional cotton (i.e. chemicals and pesticides in the farming process), is one more sustainable than the other? Because of cotton’s popularity, it’s especially important to consider conventionally grown cotton’s costs to the environment as well as the direct impacts it has on local animal and human life. But when done right, the cotton used to make your clothes can be very sustainable!
The Challenge of Conventional Cotton
You might be wondering - if we know organic is better, why are we using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and insecticides in conventional cotton farming? The short answer is that these conventional farming methods increase cotton crop yields which can lower overall costs; however, these methods come at a high cost to people and the planet. Chemical fertilizers can enter the groundwater or wash into streams and other sources of clean water. Pesticides seep into local water supplies, are ingested by bees, butterflies, and other creatures, and remain in the cotton itself throughout the textile production process.
The Wonders of Organic Cotton
Organic farming focuses on the health of ecosystems, soils and people, and growing without the use of synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Instead of chemical fertilizers, organic farmers use a method of crop rotation, alternating cotton and other nutrient-rich crops so that nutrients can return to the soil without harming the environment.
This centuries-old crop rotation practice makes for longer-producing and healthier soil which acts as a sponge, retaining water in times of abundant rains and releasing it in times of drought. Overall, this reduces the amount of irrigation water needed to grow an organic cotton crop, which will only continue to become more important as temperatures rise and water supply grows more scarce.
Avoiding synthetic pesticides means organic farming results in a healthier ecosystem as well as a healthier working environment for the farming staff. According to Pesticide Action Network UK, consistent inhalation of harmful pesticides is linked to cancer, neurological disease, and reproductive complications.
Show that you’re team Organic Cotton with the Cotton Print Tee!
Certifications that Cut Through the Noise
While “organic” is a term that’s prominent on many types of products, it is not officially regulated and standardized in textiles. This means a brand can claim that their fibers are organic without needing to back it up. Hello, greenwashing!
So, how do we know organic cotton is truly that? Check for a certification. There are a variety of third-party organizations that certify organic textile practices. Some even go above and beyond to also certify non-toxic treatment of organically grown fibers and verify safe and fair working conditions throughout a supply chain.
Wear head-to-toe GOTS Certified organic cotton in the Remy Jumpsuit.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS is one of the most thorough certifications out there. The GOTS label means that the fabric labeled “organic” must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibers. Along with this, GOTS certifies that production beyond the farm, from processing to labeling, meets strict ecological and social standards.
Organic Content Standard (OCS 100): Another certification you’ll often see is the OCS 100, which focuses on auditing documented organic practices in raw materials and verifying organic material is present in the final textile product.
The Billy Jeans contain OCS Certified organic cotton!
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI): You may also encounter the BCI certification when browsing organic cotton styles. This certification doesn’t audit organic content, instead it focuses on production and agricultural improvements, encouraging farmers to use fewer pesticides and less water in their cotton production.
When shopping with wearwell, keep an eye out for these certification icons whenever you spot your next sustainable find: