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The truth about cotton

What consumers need to know about non-organic and organic cotton

Cotton plant flower


There is a sense in the ethical fashion community that mainstream awareness is just around the corner, but it is important to note that the process of educating fashion consumers is lengthy and time-consuming. Hence we must never take a break, we must work as hard as the wicked – the one who never rest. Despite our enthusiasm, fashion consumer awareness is still a crawling baby. We understand that most fashion consumers don’t want to know the truth because a mindless purchase when we are having a bad day can be just what we need to get by. It is important to make it clear that ethical fashion labels are not against shopping therapy. We are not here to judge, we are here to help. The goal of ethical fashion labels is to promote the most optimal solution to make use of natural resources in ways that allow us to use less and not more. It is perfectly fine to buy something that makes you happy, but before you hand over your credit card to the friendly shop assistant, we would like you to take into consideration a few things about organic and non-organic cotton.

What we often see today is only a few bursts of misunderstood propaganda information that, at times, causes more confusion than it brings clarity. That happens to be the case when it comes to organic cotton. It sure sounds promising, but when investigated closely, we arrive at the conclusion that organic cotton, although being a better and cleaner option, surely is not an immediate sustainable solution. Because sustainability is about finding the least harmless and the most optimal solution that brings the least amount of stress to nature and humankind. True sustainability looks for an answer in science and not on what is trending on Pinterest.

Traditional ways of cultivating cotton accounts for 2.6% of the world’s yearly water usage. A simple tee made from traditional cotton takes up to 2700 litres of water in the manufacturing process, plus high amounts of harmful chemical and pesticides, which often contaminate water supplies. The damages to the environment is obviously not a choice for cotton farmers, in fact, in many cases, it is often their only means of survival. The global demand for cheap cotton has had devastating consequences not only for the environment but also in the lives of rural farmers in India. Farmer’s suicide is a phenomenon that killed 5,650 people in India in 2014 alone. There are many possible reasons for such a phenomenon including natural climate conditions such as flood and drought, but also socio-economic and even political reasons such as debt and the growth of microfinance in the region. In addition to the use of genetically modified seeds that cause farmers to become dependent on Monsanto products that they cannot afford. But for the sake of finishing my point on cotton, let’s not even get started on Monsanto.

Right now, the most pressing issue that our environment is facing is the fact that in some of the world poorest countries, traditional methods of cotton cultivation have caused land exhaustion, a condition in which the soil becomes contaminated, eroded and infertile. The socio-economic and environmental impact of cotton cultivation is a serious matter in the fashion industry in much need of consumer education and awareness.

On the other hand, organic cotton is trending and it sure sounds like a better alternative. But most organic cotton enthusiasts fail to take into consideration the fact that organic cotton requires even more water. To those of us who are blessed to live in developed countries, maybe our desire to buy organic cotton is a luxurious choice. But we ought to think more compassionately about the lives of those who needs clean water before we embark in another green fashion trend. Take into consideration that the water consumption to grow India’s cotton exports in 2013 would be enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year. Meanwhile, more than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water.

Our hope is that soon enough people will realise that the issue is not so much what material your clothes are made of, but humanity needs to come to the realisation that what matters most is that we have already depleted earth of its natural resources by saying we have nothing to wear – with a closet full of clothes.

Don’t wait for your government to make the right decisions. Because we might not live to see the executives of Monsanto being held responsible for the damages they have caused to the environment and to the lives of the most vulnerable and poverty-stricken farmers in the name of corporate greed. If you can’t afford to buy a new tee for a fair price, just don’t buy it at all. Learn how to love and appreciate the things you already have. If you must buy it, take responsibility for your actions and learn how to shop better. Choose companies that are transparent with regards to their sourcing philosophy, prices and materials. It also important to keep in mind that if a tee shirt price looks too good to be true, you can bet that it is too good to be ethical.

1 Comment
  • Bablofil

    May 2, 2017 at 4:46 am Reply

    Thanks, great article.

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