When shopping for clothing, we tend to focus on style, color, and fit while posing away in the dressing room mirror. But the how and where – and from what materials – are also things to consider. This is especially true for cotton…
While more and more brands are making the switch to organic cotton, a majority of clothing is still made from conventionally grown GMO cotton. What’s scary is that conventional cotton is one of the most toxic crops in the world. Each year, it’s estimated that cotton producers use as much as 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the world’s pesticides. These include toxic chemicals like aldicarb, paraquat, glyphosate (classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans”) and others that can be harmful to the health of farmers and workers, us as consumers, and our planet.
Organic cotton (or natural cotton), on the other hand, is grown without the use of toxic chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, so they have a much lower impact to the environment. Keep reading to find out how choosing organic cotton products over conventional cotton – even if you’re just swapping a few pieces a year – can make an impact and improve the quality of life for humans and wildlife around the world.
1. Organic cotton helps protect the environment & wildlife.
Environmentally, conventional cotton farming takes a huge toll on our planet. Chemicals and pesticides used in conventional cotton can seep into run-off water, poisoning lakes, rivers, and waterways. And when the water becomes contaminated, this creates a ripple effect, poisoning fish, birds, and other animals. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that around 67 million birds die from pesticide poisoning each year and more than 600 million are exposed. (1)
Organic cotton farmers, on the other hand, use only organic-approved fertilizers to prevent pests and diseases. These include herbicides and pesticides produced/derived from plants, animals and minerals, and since they’re all-natural, they tend to be much easier on the environment.
2. Organic cotton conserves global water.
Cotton production accounts for 2.6% of the global water footprint. While organic cotton doesn’t completely reduce the need for water, it definitely helps. According to About Organic Cotton, the production of organic cotton takes 71% less water than production of conventional GMO cotton.
3. Organic cotton provides safer working environments for farmers & workers.
Buying products made of organic cotton promotes safer work conditions for cotton farmers by eliminating their exposure to dangerous chemicals, which can lead to all sorts of medical issues. There have also been reported cases of mishandled chemicals and fertilizers, which leads to injuries and even fatalities among farmers and workers. According to the World Health Organization up to 20,000 deaths each year are caused by pesticide poisoning in developing countries. Here in the US alone, more than 10,000 farmers die each year from cancers related to such chemicals.
Organic cotton farmers, on the other hand, use organic-approved fertilizers. As a result, their working environments are much cleaner and safer, and they also have a reduced risk of illness and injury since they’re not handling, touching, or breathing in toxic chemicals.
4. Organic cotton reduces your exposure to harsh chemicals & feels better on your skin.
In addition to toxic fertilizers, conventional cotton producers and manufacturers use a variety of other chemicals to clean, dye, and treat cotton fabrics. Chlorine bleach, ammonia, heavy metals and phthalates are some of the most common chemicals used, along with azo-aniline dyes which can cause mild to severe skin irritations.
Organic cotton products, however, don’t use any of these chemicals. And when it comes to dry, they only use fiber-reactive, low-impact dyes that meet the requirements of the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, an international textile certification program. To meet this standard, low-impact dyes cannot contain toxic substances, must have an absorption rate in which 70% or more of the dye is absorbed by the fabric, and require relatively little rinse water (2).
An extra bonus? Since organic cotton isn’t treated with harsh chemicals like anti-wrinkle agents, dyes, and bleaches, they tend to be extremely soft and much more comfortable to wear than conventional cotton.
5. Organic cotton helps support ongoing sustainability & regenerative agriculture.
When you buy products made with organic cotton, you’re investing in things like water conservation, cleaner air and water, and healthier soil, as well as a better livelihood for farmers and workers.
By choosing organic often conventional cotton – even if it’s just through a couple of purchases a year – you’ll also be influencing other brands, manufacturers, and conventional farmers to consider switching to a more regenerative supply chain. And as the demand increases, gradually more choices will become available – at lower prices too!
Organic cotton dress from prAna (also comes in grey & black; additional sizes are available at Zappos)
Know What to Look for on the Labels
One thing to be aware of is that just because a garment is labeled as “green,” “sustainable” or “eco-friendly”, it does not make it organic. Cotton clothing is only organic if it is certified to an organic cotton standard, set by the OCS (Organic Content Standard) and the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). The OCS and GOTS are voluntary supply chain standards that track organic fiber/material content as it moves through production and into a final product. (3)
One brand that I’ve come to trust and love over the years when it comes to organic cotton clothing is prAna. They’ve been using organic cotton since the early 2000s, and in 2014, they defined an initiative to have all cotton usage at prAna be certified organic by 2019 (currently they’re at ~84%). So look forward to an all-organic line from them next year! In the meantime, you can shop their current line of organic cotton clothing here on Amazon as well as on prAna.com!
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*The dress featured in this post was sent to me by prAna for review consideration.