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Organic cotton, a deep dive

Posted by Alex Artiga on

Fast fashion has fallen out of vogue for eco-conscious shoppers. With self-awareness on the rise, consumers are no longer accepting the 70 million barrels of oil used yearly in creating the world’s wardrobe. Eco-friendly materials that require fewer resources are climbing to the top of many shopping lists, and organic cotton is vying for the number one spot.

 

While polyester and similar materials garner the most eco shaming, seemingly innocent cotton does its share of unchecked damage to the planet. The widespread lack of understanding surrounding cotton’s issues could lead it to soon cause more harm than some of the materials we more commonly avoid.

 

Let’s look at the facts:

 

  • Around 35 million hectares are currently allocated to cotton cultivation
  • Growing enough cotton for one pair of shorts requires 2,000 liters of water
  • 73% of cotton crops require extreme irrigation which leads to harmful runoff
  • Cotton production uses 24% of the world’s pesticides

 

Cotton production finds itself at the root of other global monstrosities including chemical exposure and poor working conditions for cotton pickers across the globe. All of this has many asking, is fast fashion really worth the price tag?

 

Thankfully, eco-friendly apparel is finding its place in closets across the globe. Organic cotton production could bring the revolution mainstream. In addition to drastically improved working conditions, organic cotton is emerging as a favorable option for global and environmental health.

 

The pressing question is, why exactly is organic cotton a more environmentally-friendly choice?

Eliminating the use of pesticides

 

The World Health Organization estimates thousands of human deaths each year due to pesticide poisoning, but the chemicals also wreak terror on plants and animals. Roughly 67 million birds and other creatures are killed by pesticides annually. As organic cotton is produced without pesticides, it guarantees safer garments to wear while reducing human induced deaths.

Reduced water use

 

There are unfounded rumours that organic cotton requires more water to create. According to Textile Exchange, organic cotton production uses as much as 91% less water for growth than standard cotton. Their findings revealed that only 186 gallons of water were necessary in instances where 2,168 gallons would be used for conventional cotton.

 

No more machinery during the picking process

 

Organic cotton is handpicked, which drastically reduces the amount of pollution production creates. Hand-picking also goes a long way towards protecting the crops, therefore improving the finished products in question.

 

 

What classifies as organic cotton?

 

Many of us are confused about what classifies as organic cotton on the broader market - mostly because the greenwashing done by corporations creates that confusion. The last thing you want to do is get trapped into making non-environmentally sound purchases despite your best efforts.

 

According to Wikipedia, organic cotton is defined as cotton that’s grown without the use of pesticides or GMO. Even still, chemical runoff from harmful irrigation could leave supposedly ‘organic’ cotton crops susceptible to issues. Producers need to consider their entire growing environments as well as their unique practices. Production can turn an organic crop into a modified material, which many corporations “forget”.

 

The best thing for consumers to do to make sure they’re investing in genuine organic cotton is read up about the companies they’re buying it from. Businesses with ethical practices have no qualms detailing the journey of every single piece of organic cotton they use, and will typically do so on their website or labelling.

 

Certifications can also be a real help with classification. The most notable organic cotton certifications to look out for when buying sustainable apparel include:

 

  1. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards)
  2. Organic Content Standards
  3. NOP (National Organic Program)

 

Each country also has its specific certifications, such as the Japanese Agricultural Standard. These certifications should be clearly labelled both on a company’s website and on their labels.

Does organic cotton really feel better?

 

Good feelings about your investment aside, organic cotton famously feels a great deal better than traditional options. It’s because organic cotton is handpicked. This more careful production process ensures that cotton fibres can avoid damage, thus resulting in much better quality and softer garments.

 

Often harmed during the production process, and chalk full of chemicals, standard options tend to irritate skin, and lead to severe reactions in some cases. The lack of pesticides in organic cotton means that consumers can enjoy a more comfortable wearing experience. Even those with sensitive skin should find any organic cotton garment soft and enjoyable for extended wear.

 

Other advantages of note include -

 

  • Peace of mind about purchase choices
  • Production processes you can track
  • Overall improved health

 

Organic cotton at home

 

Improper care can also drastically shorten lifespan of your organic clothes. Checking the care labels on each of your organic cotton garments when they arrive will extend it. So will this simple guide to the correct care.

Washing your organic cotton

 

100% organic cotton garments shrink if not properly washed. Organic cotton typically works best when you -

 

  • Wash on a 30 ° C before wearing
  • Turn patterned organic cotton inside out before washing
  • Use a mild detergent
  • Wash with similar colours
  • Reshape while wet
  • Always hang to dry or use an Air Cycle with no heat on your dryer

 

These, together with the instructions on a garment’s label, will help you to wash your apparel without mishap. Also, limit the number of washes you subject your organic materials to.

Removing stains from organic clothing

 

Checking specific instructions for spot cleaning helps to retain the soft feel you fell in love with.

 

According to Green Earth Cleaning, cold water applied with a small trace of laundry detergent is best for removing stains. Overnight soaking before a wash also helps. Bear in mind that many stain removal products can lead to color loss and damage, so they’re best avoided. Instead, stick to hand methods that can’t do any lasting damage.

Ironing organic clothing

 

This fabric has a habit of creasing during the drying process. Hang drying can help to address this issue, but there’s no reason to not iron organic cotton. Use low or medium heat settings to avoid damage. Reducing heat exposure is crucial to keeping organic cotton long as possible. Heat control is especially important for patterned organic cotton pieces made with eco-friendly dies. Be sure to iron such pieces inside out to avoid color fading or damage.

A final word on care instructions

 

The lack of pesticides in organic cotton serves for a longer-lasting garment as long as it’s paired with the correct care. Keep these care instructions and those on clothing labels in mind, and you should find that your organic cotton pieces remain staples in your wardrobe for years to come.

 

 

Norte Organic cotton pieces

 

At Norte we pride ourselves on offering sustainable clothing from a range of fantastic ethical fabrics, including organic cotton.

 

To guarantee the quality of every single one of our pieces, we consider the source, process, and life cycle of our organic cotton so you can trust it every time.

 

Click to see Norte’s organic cotton tops and bottoms.

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