Why Organic Cotton?

Cotton is a unique fibre
Creamy cotton bolls

Cotton is a unique fibre in our world. Do you know your cotton comes from the fine fibre hairs on the cotton seed? These  are the only seed hairs on our planet, that when dried, have the  right combination of length, strength, and structure  to enable them to be spun into yarn or thread[1].

Being natural, it is breathable, durable and can readily be coloured and woven in many ways.

Cotton is a high demand crop, which greatly affects the trade and industry of many countries.


So why is there such a fuss about ORGANIC cotton?  

Formerly thought to be outdated with low yields, traditional organic farming and fabric weaving is now offering a way forward in cotton production. Organic processes:

  • Help mitigate climate change.
  • Use 91% less water than conventional cotton farming and manufacture.
  • Use 62% less energy than conventional methods.
  • Protect people, economies and the environment, by reducing exposure to toxic chemicals and synthetic pesticides that can end up in the ground, air, water, and food supply, and that are associated with health consequences from disease, such as cancer and asthma.
  • Promote social justice, enabling workers to be treated fairly.
  • Hold a viewpoint of long-term sustainability.
  • Provide certifications for accountability, such as GOTS ( Global Organic Textile Standard), BCI (better cotton initiative), Fairtrade, OCS (organic cotton standard) and OKEO-TEX.

Organic cotton and sustainability of water resources

  • Managing our global water resources is one of the biggest sustainability challenges of our time. 2] Organic cotton production uses 91% less water than conventional cotton[3].  For example: - Organic production of the cotton for an average size T-shirt results in savings of 9000L of water compared to chemically grown cotton!
  • Organic fabric production not only uses less water, but also allows wastewater to be reused for the land, plants, animals, and humans.
  • Organic farming methods build living soil and eliminates toxic and harmful chemicals from the production system[4].

     Organic cotton and climate change - astounding facts:

    Soils rich in organic matter are proven to hold 10 to 1000 times more water and nutrients, than soil without, allowing sustainable water management on organic farms and reducing flood risks  [5]- the soil absorbs water and holds it. 

    • Organic agricultural practices reduce the most frequent climate risks to households, (flooding and drought) building economic resilience. For example, rotational cropping allows farmers multiple sources of income, & in drought years, organic trial soil yields were 28 to 34% higher than conventional crops[6].
    • We have all heard the terms carbon sequestering and emissions now – right? Carbon sequestering is when carbon is pulled out of the air and stored; carbon emission is when carbon is released into the air- and adds to planet warming.   Natural fertilisers used in organic cotton farming such as compost and manure, recycle the nitrogen already in the soil, reducing pollution, sequestering carbon and reducing carbon emissions[3]

    Organic cotton pest management and yields:

    • Organic farming manages pests using natural materials derived from plant, mineral or animal matter such as garlic, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar.[3]  Crops are grown without the use of persistent pesticides or fertilisers and processed into yarn and fabric without toxic chemicals, whilst conventional chemical-based cotton is dependent on both
    • Once the soil has reached the state of optimal productivity, its yields are comparable with those achieved through synthetic fertilisers[9] .

    Conventional chemical based cotton farming and weaving - why it is now an unsustainable choice.   

    With conventional chemical based cotton manufacture, horticultural & fibre processing techniques were developed to create continuous high yields. These techniques included:

    • monoculture (1 crop continuously planted).
    • Heavy use of genetically modified seed, that responds to the chemical pesticides – sometimes developed by the same companies.
    • Development of chemical pesticides.
    • Use of chemically synthesised fertilisers.
    • Chemical processing of the cotton fibres into yarn, and throughout the cleaning, dyeing and weaving stages.

    We now know chemical cotton production methods:

    • Pollute soil and waterways with persistent toxins and chemicals. Chemical residues have also been found in plants and in fabrics.
    • Reduce biodiversity, affecting the ecosystem, including killing or harming beneficial insects such as bees and pollinators.
    • Create pesticide resistance- requiring ever stronger or more pesticides /fertiliser to achieve a continuous yield value [10]. This increases costs for farmers and the environment, whilst increasing the political power of the chemical companies involved.
    • Conventional cotton farming is now one of the most chemically intensive crops in the world – using over 6% of the world’s persistent pesticides
    • Create soils that are poorly equipped to deal with climate change, or adverse weather events.
    • Exposes workers and communities in proximity to chemical-based farming communities, to serious disease and development problems. One study [8]of over 89,000 people from farming communities, showed higher incidence of cancer, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and asthma.

    What is hindering change?

    •  Officials are happy to use established methods, rather than seek change. They avoid risking change in established regional income sources. 
    • Large wealthy companies are involved in the industry – with very effective lobbyists who are successful in achieving funding allocations from government bodies, for farmers to use their persistent pesticides, GM seeds that respond to their chemicals and synthetic fertiliser products. 
    • Organic horticulture relies on crop rotation and natural pest solutions. If soils have been stripped by conventional farming, it can take up to 4 years to rebuild soil quality, meaning the farmers need assistance and funding to plant a variety of crops and get them to market.
    • Chemical fertilisers have been cheaper.   Swezey et al. (2007) found that costs of production averaged 37% higher for organic when compared to conventional cotton production, primarily due to costs associated with handweeding[9]. However, the development of resistance and reducing soil quality, requiring ever increasing amounts of chemical inputs to maintain the yield values is now reversing this trend.
    • Farmers may have  perceptions of barriers such as complex compliance paper work, and difficulty in organic seed access, but research of actual organic farms has shown that difficulties lie more in weed management & spray drift (contamination)[10] and that recognition of the benefits of organic practices was high. 

    Are there any down-sides to organic cotton?

    Chemical methods of horticulture can produce longer staple cotton and smoother yarn, with increased durability.  

    Your organic cotton may wear out slightly earlier, but the benefits of no harmful chemicals can last a lifetime - for you and your planet. 

    Sources - for details of our source references click here





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