Without qualms, clothing ourselves both ethically and ecologically has become a real challenge in the modern world. Sure, there is the ugly world of animal-based fabrics, the leathers, silks and furs of today, which produces not just the brutality but also a whole new slurry of manufacturing chemicals. Then, there are all of the petroleum products, the acrylic, polyester and nylon that have crept into just about everything, rendering it a detriment to the environment. Fashion has become an environmental faux pas.
But, what’s the issue with the supposed good guys, the natural materials? When it comes to natural clothing, despite whatever excitement there is about bamboo, soy and hemp fibers, cotton is still the leading material. But, within the world of cotton, there are a couple of rather important distinctions to be made. The first of these issues is how the cotton — a widespread, inedible cash crop — is grown. After that, it’s important to consider how the crop is manufactured. Only then can we be sure that our effort to be natural clothing is worthwhile.
The Importance of Organic
We all know that buying organic produce is important to keep pesticide chemicals out of our bodies, but what about when it comes to cotton? Why does our cotton need to be organic? Today, the answer is two-fold.
Cotton that isn’t organic has come to be one of the most chemical-dependent crops on the planet, using up nearly ten percent of all agricultural chemicals period, especially insecticide, of which it uses 25 percent for all crops worldwide. All of these chemicals are a detriment to the natural environment, as well as the workers who are out there harvesting cotton for our t-shirts.
Two: Water Use
Cotton is also considered to be a water intensive crop. While some sources have claimed organic cotton to require more even more water, after a two or three year transition period, this isn’t case. In actuality, the chemicals used for non-organic cotton strip the soil of all its nutrients which lowers its ability to hold water. This means that in non-organic cotton cultivation, water evaporates more quickly meaning more is needed for these plants. Additionally, if the soil can’t absorb the water, more runs off into the local water system, transferring harmful chemicals into the water stream. In the case of organic, there’s no worry that chemicals will wind up in the mix.
What About the Dyes?
As well, we should not forget the fact that the majority of what we buy doesn’t come in cotton-colored fabrics, but rather we are an eclectic mix of people who enjoy wacky colors, clever captions, stripes and polka dots on our clothing. It would be rather silly to go through all the motions of growing organic cotton only to then pollute the earth and it water sources, as well as our clothing, with chemical dyes.
Avoiding chemical dyes has its advantages. For one, we are quickly learning that most chemicals we put on our bodies seem to have negative effect. Two, chemicals get leached into the ecosystem, especially water sources. There’s more: once again, if we think of the workers, now the ones taking cotton and manufacturing our t-shirts, then it seems fairly relevant not to unduly expose them to potential harmful chemicals. Perhaps the most quickly recognizable, however, is that we have sustainable natural ways of getting this job done.
Shopping for Organic Cotton
Finally, once all the growing, harvesting and manufacturing is done, we have a range of t-shirts (pants, underwear, and so on) from which to choose. Organic cotton may be more expensive, but remember that what we are paying for is a cleaner environment and a safer world. This price is not arbitrary or greedy marketing. It counts for something.
And, who knows, should the demand prove big enough, perhaps those prices will plummet as organic cotton returns to simply being the standard, as it once was. Even so, remember to go for fair trade options as well so that we are also looking out for our fellow humans, without which we wouldn’t be donning those “Save the Planet” t-shirts on Earth Day.
The great news is that there are already loads of people who care about this stuff. Look for fair trade and organic cotton on clothing labels. Shop responsibly and feel great about it. Wear these high-quality, responsible clothes as long as they last rather than constantly jumping to new trends. Here are 150 companies on the organic cotton bandwagon. Now, we can climb aboard with them.
Lead image source: Gerry Dincher/Flickr