Around half what we wear contains cotton, dubbed the “world’s dirtiest crop”. When it comes to sustainability claims for people and the planet you can trust and trace, organic cotton is hard to beat.
But retailers aren’t doing enough to demand and stock it. Only 1% of cotton produced worldwide is organic, and only 14% of 3,000 people surveyed by Soil Association and Hubbub regularly see organic available when clothes shopping.
So what can you do to help? This article puts you in know about organic cotton and where to buy it. Then, please join us in backing Soil Association’s #OrganicForThePlanet campaign by encouraging your favourite brands and retailers to stock organic cotton!
Thirsty for fashion?
Worldwide, 2.5% of all cultivated land is used to grow cotton, which is one of the world’s thirstiest crops. Growing cotton actually uses around 3% of the world’s freshwater!
To make a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, 1kg of cotton fibre is needed. 10 000-20 000 litres of water goes into growing it and diluting the large amounts of pesticides and fertilisers it uses which are washed into waterways, and a staggering 16% of all insecticides sold are used on this crop alone.
This is a problem because cotton is grown in some of the most water-scarce countries on earth. And in the face of a changing climate, water scarcity is considered amongst the top ten risks to society over the next 10 years.
Organic cotton is different
Organic cotton works with rather than against nature. By using natural techniques, organic farmers are saving precious water, combating climate change, feeding families, and eliminating GMOs and toxic hazardous pesticides. Here are the top six reasons organic cotton is the better option for people and the planet.
Help combat climate change
Organic farmers use natural techniques, not fossil-fuel based fertilisers to grow their cotton. By building better soils and not relying on artificial inputs, growing organic cotton has been shown to have a 46% reduced global warming potential compared to conventionally grown cotton.
Save precious water
Growing organic cotton uses less water than conventionally produced cotton – by up to 91%! Because hazardous synthetic pesticides and fertilisers are banned, rivers, lakes, and drinking water are protected too. Organic farming techniques protect the soil, making it more like a sponge which also means organic crops are more resilient in the face of floods and droughts. This is key in the face of a rapidly changing climate.
Help farmers feed their families
Organic farmers always grow other crops alongside their cotton. These crops can provide farming families and their communities with a more stable, accessible, abundant, and diverse food supply, and an additional source of income.
Give control to farmers not GM companies
Organic farmers have sovereignty over their seeds and avoid the deadly treadmill of genetically modified cotton. GM is a technology plagued by problems and failed promises whose introduction has led to mounting debts and thousands of suicides across India. GM is banned in organic farming: instead, farmers can save their seeds year after year and work with the environment in a long-term sustainable way. Organic puts choices in the farmers’ hands, not a handful of GM companies’.
Eliminate hazardous synthetic pesticides
Organic farmers use natural techniques and don’t rely on chemical cocktails to control pests and diseases. Instead, they use crop rotation and other methods to help build healthy soils and grow healthy plants. By contrast, conventional cotton alone is responsible for 16% of all insecticides sold worldwide. Toxic hazardous pesticides can damage ecosystems, poison waterways, and endanger workers who can’t always afford the safety equipment needed to protect them. If all farming was organic, research suggests that pesticide use would drop by 98%!
For the gold standard, go for GOTS
The story of organic cotton doesn’t stop at the farm for textiles carrying the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) logo. These have been made with organic fibres in factories that have met strict social and environmental criteria. This means that working conditions are safe, and workers’ rights are protected. 20% of global water pollution results from the dyeing and finishing of textiles. With GOTS organic, only low impact chemicals are allowed, water and energy is monitored, and wastewater must be treated properly before being released. This means that chemicals responsible for causing cancer, birth defects, and other serious illnesses are banned.
Organic certification: proof brands are cut from a different cloth
Lots of fashion and textile companies place value on transparency, but sadly many brands spin yarns that hide the truth about their production and working conditions. Look for the logo(s) on the label and you can trust the garment has met a strict set of third party-checked standards:
Ensuring strict environmental and social criteria are met throughout the supply chain, GOTS certification is the best way of guaranteeing a garment is organic from field to finished product.
The Organic Content Standard confirms your garment contains organically grown fibre. It does not address the use of chemicals or any social or environmental aspects of production; it only covers the traceability of the organic material.
Tell brands you want more organic
If brands know that organic is important to you, they’ll reconsider how they source their cotton and other textiles. Join us in shouting about the benefits of organic cotton, and tell brands and retailers that you want them to go organic!
What else can I do?
More information on organic fashion is available on the Soil Association website here: https://www.soilassociation.org/organicfashion
To download Soil Association’s brand-new report Thirsty for Fashion, visit: https://www.soilassociation.org/thirsty-for-fashion/
If you need to buy new, shop from Soil Association certified organic brands and discover other brands and retailers stocking organic on the Good On You website or app. When you are out shopping, look for the GOTS or OCS certification logos to be sure of the organic claim!
Soil Association Certification is the leading organic certification body in the UK, certifying 70% of organic products. Its organic symbol is the best recognised organic logo of any in the UK. Uniquely to any Certification Body, it works closely with its sibling charity, The Soil Association, who are quarter founders and owners of GOTS and campaign for better policy around organic textiles. SAC monitors the UK market’s performance through its annual Organic Market Report and has just released its first UK Organic Textile Market Report.
About the Author:
Sarah is the Business Development Manager for Organic Fashion & Textiles at Soil Association Certification. Sarah’s role is to grow the organic textile market by raising awareness of its benefits to and through consumers, retailers, influencers, press and strategic partners.
Social media: @SoilAssociation
LinkedIn: Sarah Jupp