What is Cotton?
Cotton is a soft fibre that grows around the seeds of the Cotton plant (Gossypium sp.), a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, India, and Africa. However, virtually all of the commercial Cotton grown today worldwide is grown from varieties of the native American species Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense. The fibre is most often spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile, which is the most widely used natural-fibre cloth in clothing today.
Cotton fibre, once it has been processed to remove seeds and traces of honey, protein, vegetable matter, and other impurities, consists of nearly pure cellulose, a natural polymer. Cotton production is very efficient, in the sense that ten percent or less of the weight is lost in subsequent processing to convert the raw Cotton bolls (seed cases) into pure fibre. The cellulose is arranged in a way that gives Cotton fibres a high degree of strength, durability, and absorbency. Each fibre is made up of twenty to thirty layers of cellulose coiled in a neat series of natural springs. When the Cotton boll is opened, the fibres dry into flat, twisted, ribbon-like shapes and become kinked together and interlocked. This interlocked form is ideal for spinning into a fine yarn.
What is Organic Cotton?
Organic Cotton, by definition, is Cotton that is grown, harvested and processed without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. In addition, Certified Organic Cotton is free from genetically modified organisms (GMO) material, radiation or other artificial intervention.
The role of Organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings.
IFOAM, International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements
Organic Cotton farming principles also encourage the use of sustainable planting, harvesting and processing practices. These practices are designed to encourage a balance in natural system including the soil, water and crops for the benefit of the environment and reduction in long term farming impact to our Earth.
Why is the use of Organic Cotton important?
Cotton is the largest natural fibre supplying the global demand for textile products. In 2005, the world’s demand for textile fibres was 59 billion Kilograms. In 2006 and beyond, world income and population growth will stimulate a 1.92 billion Kilogram increase in global fibre demand each year. That means enough fibre will be needed for nearly 9 billion T-shirts or 2.3 billion pairs of denim jeans. The main alternatives to Cotton are non-renewable chemical fibres.
Conventional Cotton is one of the most chemically-dependent crops, sucking up 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides on 3% of our arable land; that’s more than any other crop per unit. That adds up to 0.165 Kilograms of chemicals to produce enough Cotton for a t-shirt, and 0.375 Kg of chemicals for a pair of jeans. And that’s just not bad for the planet; 20,000 deaths occur each year from pesticide poisoning in developing countries, many of these from Cotton farming, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Organic Cotton provides the same or higher quality fibres for textile use, in a way that respects our Earth, and ourselves. Eliminating harmful chemicals from the process, Organic Cotton has both immediate and long-term health and environmental benefits for human life and the life of our environment.
How is Organic Cotton grown?
Organic Cotton farming starts with the soil. Using natural compost, frequent crop rotations and crop cover strategies, the soil is kept healthy and productive full of natural nutrients and vital minerals.
Weeds are controlled by innovative farm machinery, hand labor or flame devices rather than herbicide applications. Rather than attempting to eradicate all insects with chemicals, Organic farmers cultivate a diversity of natural enemies that prey on insect pests, and lure pests away from Cotton by planting trap crops. Insect pests can be effectively kept in balance with well-timed introduction of beneficial insects to fields.
How is Organic Cotton harvested?
The majority of Organic Cotton is harvested by hand. Thus, it follows then that Organic Cotton is also much safer for those who pick it thanks to the Organic growing process. Workers aren’t exposed to breathing or otherwise ingesting toxic chemicals while active in the field, and don’t have to worry about the same nasty chemicals getting into their water supply if they live nearby.
Why does Organic Cotton cost more?
Organic Cotton typically costs about 30% more than conventional Cotton in part, because the processes involved are more labor intensive. As well, conventional Cotton farming is focused on speed and quantity whereas Organic farming principles are driven by quality and ethics. Thus, Organic crop yields are often slightly lower than on conventional farms.
It is important to consider however, that these additional costs are mostly association with pure labor costs and value, and in fact, in many cases Organic Cotton actually involves less cost for the individual farmer in terms of chemicals and soil treatment. In Peru, for example, Cotton farmers have saved over $100 per acre in pesticide and fertilizer costs by switching over to Organic production.
In some European countries, water utilities now pay farmers to switch to Organic operations because such conversion costs less than removing farm chemicals used in conventional agriculture from water supplies.
We believe, however that the extra cost to use Organic Cotton is well worth it in the value and benefit for our environment and health.
Is Organic Cotton as durable as conventional Cotton?
Yes. Because it is less processed, Organic Cotton is often more durable than conventional Cotton. Organic Cotton is not treated with harsh chemicals that can wear down its fibres.
Does Organic Cotton feel the same as conventional Cotton?
Most consumers actually find that Organic Cotton may feel even softer than conventional Cotton. Free from chemical treatment and over-processing Organic Cotton is also often recommend to those who may have allergies to the chemicals often found in conventional Cotton or synthetic fabrics.
Is Organic Cotton an environmentally friendly material?
Absolutely. Cotton is sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable, making it an excellent choice as an environmentally friendly fibre throughout its entire product life cycle. Most chemical fibres are petroleum based, which means they come from nonrenewable resources.