Although sustainability has long been a buzzword, more and more fashion connoisseurs have been actively trying to take the eco-conscious route during the last decade. Amidst the many beloved fabrics, organic cotton has been hailed for its softness, strength, and flexibility. The answer as to why lies in the benefits of organic cotton clothing.
So, what makes this fiber reign supreme despite its seemingly high cost? Ahead is all the information you’ll need to understand why organic cotton is the most splurge-worthy option when it comes down to all-year-round fashion staples.
Organic cotton vs. regular cotton
Most people are indeed wondering what the difference is between organic cotton and cotton. To start things off, both are organic fibers. The main difference is that organic cotton clothing is made without toxic chemicals. The life cycle of regular cotton begins with genetically modified seeds, whereas organic cotton grows naturally, without GMOs.
Regular cotton is extremely bad for the environment
When considering the difference between organic cotton and cotton, we have to look at the stats. Global cotton production requires over 250 billion tons of water annually. Additionally, 43 million tons of pesticide-laden dust coming from regular cotton is blown into the air every year. Now on to the outstandingly lousy part.
Did you know that It takes 10,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of cotton? That’s equivalent to 2,700 liters to make one cotton t-shirt. Now, let’s take into consideration that 27 million tons of cotton are produced globally in a year with more than US$2 billion’s worth of chemicals sprayed on the world’s cotton crop yearly.
What’s even more terrifying? A study of rainwater in a Brazilian cotton region discovered that rainwater contained 19 different pesticides (12 of which were used in cotton production).
By now, you’ve probably heard all about the ongoing environmental disaster that is currently happening in Uzbekistan but just in case you haven’t heard the news yet, let’s explain it. Every year, the country’s billion-dollar cotton industry was responsible for enormous environmental destruction, including the draining of the Aral Sea.
How? We hear you asking. Almost 20,000 liters of water are withdrawn from the Aral Sea for every kilogram of cotton harvested. What was then known as a 66,000 km2 water body 50 years ago has shrunk to 10% of its former volume.
Regular cotton impacts farmers’ health
Regular cotton’s impact on the environment is directly linked to the array of health issues cotton farmers and those who live around the regions suffer from. As Pesticide Action Network mentioned, “Nearly 1,000 people die every day from acute pesticide poisoning, and many more suffer from chronic ill health.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t even scratch the surface. The corrupt nature of the cotton industry goes far more profound. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) conducted an investigation of Uzbekistan’s cotton fields in 2005.
They discovered unremitting exploitation, multiple cases of rights abuses, including the forced labor of tens of thousands of children, as well as the suppression of free media combined with the use of an array of intimidation and torture tactics by police.
By now, you might be shaking your head in disbelief, but unfortunately, the humanitarian impact of regular cotton comes with a hefty price.
So, what can we do to change that? Opting for organic cotton is a great start. Unlike regular cotton, it comes with an array of eco-conscious benefits that don’t compromise on quality, softness, nor durability: enter organic cotton farming.
Where is organic cotton grown?
According to the Organic Cotton Farm and Fiber Report released by the Organic Exchange, 22 countries grow organic cotton, with the fiber accounting for approximately 0.6% of all cotton in the world.
You can find crops in Syria, Turkey, China, Tanzania, the United States, Uganda, Peru, Egypt, Burkina Faso, just to name a few of the top leading organic farmers worldwide. As for the U.S. alone, the Organic Trade Association reported that U.S. grown organic cotton makes up 2.1% of global organic cotton.
Cotton requires a warm climate with enough sunshine and moderate humidity. Once seeds turn into adult plants, they start to flower, and cotton bolls begin to form. The collection process begins approximately 180 days after sowing and can then be plucked by hand and stored in sacks or by utilizing air circulating containers.
The best part? Since organic cotton production is chemical-free, it replenishes and maintains soil fertility to keep the circle of life.
Environmental and humanitarian benefits of organic cotton
Do you remember that global cotton production requires over 250 billion tons of water annually? One of the most notable ecological benefits of organic cotton is that the farming process utilized approximately 71% less water than regular cotton to produce an organic cotton crop. It relies on rainwater for about 80% of its needs.
The significant differences in the farming process result in less energy consumption.
Organic cotton production saves energy as it does not require all the additional fertilizers that regular cotton requires to grow. Additionally, it also reduces tractor use. So, what’s the outcome? Organic cotton uses 62% less energy than regular cotton, and if you consider the water mentioned above, the resource usage is minimal.
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Furthermore, organic cotton yields tend to be a lot smaller. Still, because the farming and production costs are far lower than regular cotton, the average profit margins are higher (between 4% and 30%, according to a recent field trial in India).
Benefits of organic cotton clothing
Arguably, the organic cotton benefits are many; everything starts with farming. The basic idea behind organic cotton farming is that crops are grown naturally without using fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals.
Unlike regular cotton, the plants are not sprayed or treated with any chemical. Organic cotton clothing is made with ethical organic farming methods that result in more sustainable living.
Here are some key benefits of wearing organic cotton clothing.
Improving farmers’ health
Organic clothing products are way safer for the farmers and for those who wear them daily. Since manufacturers adhere to rigorous standards, cotton’s negative impact on the environment is minimized significantly.
Studies presented by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, India, have proven that growing organic cotton is cheaper than growing Bt Cotton since Bt Cotton is more prone to pest attacks.
Organic cotton clothing eliminates allergies and rashes.
With synthetic fabrics comes the significant issue of allergies and skin irritations. You don’t need to have sensitive skin to understand that some fibers might cause anything from minor inconvenience to full-on allergy symptoms.
Another one of the many benefits of wearing organic cotton clothing is that it eliminates chemical retentions; hence, those who suffer from allergies or have some specific sensitivities to certain fabrics will not get affected.
Suppose you ask any cotton clothing enthusiast out there. In that case, you will most likely also get the answer that organic cotton clothes simply smell a bit better than their regular cotton rivals.
Organic cotton is the safest fiber for babies.
It’s no coincidence that organic cotton clothing is one of the most recommended clothing materials for babies. After all, no one has more delicate skin which is prone to rashes than them.
While we are all familiar with the benefits of opting for organic food, the same thought doesn’t always apply to organic cotton clothing. Benzothiazole and many of its derivatives are often used in regular cotton clothing that undergoes cyanine dyes, herbicides, insecticides, biocides, and fungicides spraying. It’s a well-known skin allergen. And this is probably the biggest reason why parents should take advantage of organic cotton clothing’s benefits.
And if a particular fiber is suitable for their health, it’s equally harmless for ours.
Is organic cotton softer than regular cotton?
The short answer is YES, and there is a pretty straightforward explanation that organic cotton is softer than regular cotton.
To understand how cotton fibers, we need to look at how they were picked. While regular cotton is either hand-picked or, most of the time, machine-picked, organic cotton is entirely hand-picked.
What does that mean exactly? By opting for this eco-friendly fiber, you will be sure that the purity of every fiber is up to part since the hand-picking process ensures that no fiber is damaged in the harvest.
Regular cotton, on the other hand, like we previously established, is in very high demand. The fiber is usually machine-picked to cope with the needs of every company. Hence it interferes with the purity of the fibers and also damages them during the picking process.
So, yes, organic cotton is way softer than regular cotton clothing because of the longer fibers. That’s genuinely the most significant part of the hand-picking process; it ensures these fibers don’t get weakened or broken, which furthermore proves organic cotton’s softness and durability promises.
Is organic cotton more expensive?
Granted, organic cotton is expensive – at least a bit more costly than regular cotton. The answer as to why is, again, relatively simple. Even though the farming and production costs are far lower, which greatly helps the local farmers, consumers might come across a heftier price tag.
Moreover, the price of organic cotton is higher due to the intensive labor. Since no herbicides and pesticides are used, farmers hand hoe every cotton crop to get rid of weed growth during the growing process.
It’s a well-known fact that organically grown plants typically produce less yield, which dramatically affects the supply and demand as there is way less organic cotton available than regular cotton. Contrary to regular cotton, there’s also a lack of organic cotton supply in the market, which drives up the price.
On top of everything, there are always the certification costs of organic cotton clothing. Testing for compliance and certification is expensive, especially if you consider that those certifications should be renewed every year.
GOTS certified organic cotton, for example, is often 20-30% more expensive than regular cotton. If you genuinely want your newly-purchased items to be not only safe for your health but also help protect the environment along with the ethical garment products industry, investing in organic cotton clothing might be the best option for you.
Last but not least, even though this natural fiber is tooted for its quality and ethical nature, everything, including organic cotton, comes with a few disadvantages.
Disadvantages of organic cotton clothing
Organic cotton farming requires more land. According to WWF, some of the world’s biggest cotton producer countries already use 2.4% of the farmable land to grow regular cotton.
The lack of chemicals used in organic cotton farming often requires more seeds as they are prone to pest attacks with no way of defending the land without toxins. So, organic cotton farming in the countries mentioned above would require 25% more land. Frankly, sometimes there is simply not enough space for it.
Another disadvantage of organic cotton clothing is arguably the price difference we mentioned earlier. While having strong, durable, and long-lasting staples in your wardrobe arsenal is the easiest way to create an all-year-round capsule wardrobe that is simply timeless, some consumers don’t have the means to regularly invest in organic cotton clothing.
One of the main disadvantages of organic cotton clothing is also the intensive manual labor input required. However, despite the hard work that goes into organic cotton farming, it has tremendously improved the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.
Lastly, due to the non-toxic dyes, organic cotton clothing doesn’t provide multiple shades of colors that can be found in regular cotton. There are many hue options to choose from. However, there is undoubtedly a lack of options for extra bright shades resulting from formaldehyde.
Admittedly, no fiber is 100% sustainable. Nonetheless, organic cotton clothing is a better eco-friendly solution than regular cotton and synthetic fabrics. The advantages of organic cotton include chemical-free, ethical production environments and significantly lower energy consumption.
Unlike traditional cotton, organic fibers are safe for the skin. Even though the price is higher, organic cotton is arguably the best option if you consider the tremendous environmental and humanitarian costs of regular cotton farming and manufacturing.