The cotton used in all of our clothes is 100% organic, certified by Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, among others. Organic Cotton is stronger and softer than conventional cotton. It is purer and less likely to trigger a skin reaction (such as eczema). It is grown using methods which impact the environment less. These methods maintain the fertility of the soil and replenish it. Chemicals are used in the growing and processing of organic cotton but GOTS monitors the process in order to make sure that these chemicals are not persistently toxic or synthetic and don’t produce toxic by-products. Over 8,000 chemicals are used to process conventional cotton, versus less than 200 to process organic cotton. GM cotton is not allowed to be certified as organic.
We think of cotton as the most natural of fabrics; cloth that you would swaddle your baby in. The truth is that cotton is nicknamed the ‘dirtiest crop’ because of the heavy reliance on insecticides used to grow it. These cause illness to the farmers, their families, their communities and affect the environment. 99% of the world’s cotton is grown in developing areas, where the farmers don’t have access to safety equipment and training or proper storage facilities for the hazardous insecticides. Most items labelled 100% cotton contain almost 30% of the chemicals and resins that went in to the production of the cotton. When your child is wearing clothes that contain these pollutants, it can contribute to skin and respiratory disorders. The chemicals can be absorbed by the skin and cause further harm to the wearer.
In addition to the harm the pesticides used to grow non-organic cotton can cause to the wearer, the farmers and the food chain, there are other sinister forces at play in the cotton growing industry. Fast fashion is always looking for cost and corner-cutting methods to mass produce items and pass them on to consumers at the cheapest price. As a result, the wages paid to garment workers and the prices of cotton are constantly being beaten down. The industrialisation of the livelihoods of Indian cotton farmers results in less than fair prices for their output and has left them in a cycle of debt from which they cannot get out. Nearly 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide to escape debt – over 17,000 in 2009 alone. Some kill themselves by drinking the pesticides they use in farming.
Farmers who grow organic cotton stand a much better chance of receiving a fair price for their cotton. The rigorous certification process means that they can charge extra and that their output is monitored by an NGO, for whom profits are not a consideration in the process. Their cotton is bought by companies for whom sustainability is more important than the cheapest price. The end consumer can feel glad that they have supported the change that must happen in the world of fast fashion.