What are you wearing today?
The racks of cute shirts and pants at the local store may be impressive but there’s a side of the textiles and fabrics industry you don’t see and maybe you are not aware of.
When picking out that new fancy top, the style and fit are the obvious attributes we focus on. But how and where and from what materials that clothing is made is important, too.
We know about the health benefits of buying organic food and using organic cleaning products, but what about organic materials in fashion?
What makes organic materials, like cotton, so much better than the conventional ones?
Cotton is often referred to as “the fabric of our lives” and for good reason. We come in contact with items made from cotton every day. The clothes we wear, the sheets we sleep on, the diapers we put on our baby and even some of the food we eat have been made with cotton.
The question is why choosing organic cotton is so important?
Did you know that cotton alone uses 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides?
Odds are you’re wearing a T-shirt grown with a cocktail of toxic substances.
Organic cotton’s growing avoids the use of Genetically Modified (GM) and harmful substances.
Organic agriculture also avoids GM, which is banned in organic systems. An estimated 30% of all cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified.
The end garments are better for the environment and for health.
Growing conventional cotton requires the use of enormous amounts of pesticides, which has a huge environmental impact and presents health risks for those working around it.
We feel the harmful effects of non-organic cottons and fabrics in our daily lives. With so many products made from cotton, we are all exposed to the chemicals used in making them at some point. These chemicals seep into run-off water after heavy rains, poisoning lakes, rivers and waterways. Thus pesticide residue has been increasingly discovered in foods, farm animals and even breast milk. Even some baked goods, cookies and salad dressing contain cottonseed. Result: irritated skin, rashes and even headaches and dizziness can be caused by the chemical residue trapped in the threads. Even worse in case of long-term exposure: it may lead to cancer cases in adults and neurodevelopmental defects in children.
Organic fibers are grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers or toxic pesticides that, in non-organic systems, are responsible for poisoning wildlife and rivers, as well as killing an estimated 16,000 people each year.
Typically, for cotton to be classified as organic, it must be grown in soil that has been free of prohibited substances for at least the last 3 years prior to harvest.
There aredifferent organic trade associations that have global standards for organic sustainable textiles worldwide. Their standards ensure that the chemicals used in processing textiles meet strict requirements on toxicity and biodegradability, and textile manufacturers must also have a waste water treatment plant and a sound environmental policy. By prohibiting and restricting harmful chemicals in organic textile production and processing, final products don’t contain allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemical residues from them.
Water use is another issue with conventional cotton production. Crops use intensive irrigation and some estimates say cotton crops are the largest water user among agricultural crops. Organic cotton uses far less water.
Additionally and what’s better, organic cotton products are softer and easier on the skin. Since the cotton is not chemically stripped of its natural wax, the weave have a characteristic smoothness and weight which makes the fabric particularly flattering and exceptionally soft.
It’s better for workers in the developing world. In many countries, cotton is still hand picked; therefore anyone working in those fields is exposed to extreme amounts of toxic chemicals from the pesticides used. Factory workers too have to breathe in their fumes during the manufacturing process. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 20,000 deaths each year are caused by pesticide poisoning in developing countries. By avoiding toxic pesticides cotton workers benefit by avoiding the associated health problems and deaths common in non-organic cotton production.
Factory conditions are higher as well. Poor working conditions and rights in the garments industry are common place and well documented. Manufacturers of Soil Association certified organic textiles must meet social criteria based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. These cover minimum wages, working hours, child labour, freedom of association, discrimination, harsh or inhumane treatment and more.
Farmers benefit too by lowering the production costs and debts on pesticides.
And yet, less than 1% of all cotton grown is organic. Recent awareness of these benefits has increased demand of organic cotton and thus, lowered its cost. But we can and must do better.
If our choices literally kill our farmers, destroy our rivers and streams and endanger our youth, we have an obligation to consider organic along with style and fit. It’s that important.
If you are an animal lover, care about what goes on your body or are concerned with the welfare of others, take note: wearing organic fabrics has a major positive impact on your health and the health of our planet.