Getting into shopping consciously isn’t the easiest game in town, we get it, you like things. You like to buy things, doing a shit ton of research when you spot that cute top in the store, well, you just don’t have the data plan for that. But what if the first step to shopping consciously just meant you having a quick glance at a label inside the top, there and then? That’s easier right? With that in mind we’ve tapped sustainable resource expert Jennifer Krischer to teach us all about fibers, fabrics and the resources that go into making your clothes, which ones to look for and what makes them better. Get conscious folks.
First and foremost, I’d like to use this post to share my outrage over what we call “conventional” when referring to farmed goods. Conventional refers to practices that are not organic or sustainable, but instead most likely mono-crops, potentially genetically modified, and/or using toxic pesticides to protect the crop. These practices are less than 100 years old while organic farming, as we refer to it now, was relied on for THOUSANDS of years. I feel like “conventional” is a word that should align with organic practices and not toxic chemical practices that were only recently introduced.
Just had to get that off my chest.
Why do we like cotton so much?
We rely on it significantly in our daily lives, and for good reason. On the surface, it’s nearly a perfect fiber. It’s soft, breathable, dries quickly, washes easily and without harsh chemicals, doesn’t wrinkle excessively, AND its biodegradable. But that fiber that makes us feel comfy and casual has a rough history as well some environmental issues.
To start, cotton is an incredibly thirsty crop. Treehugger estimates it takes 400 gallons of water for a single t-shirt and 1,800 gallons of water for a single pair of blue jeans! Are you thinking about every pair of jeans in your closet right now? Because I am – that’s an awful lot of water dedicated fashion choices. (For perspective, hemp requires less than 10% of the water used to grow cotton for a similar yield in materials.)
Sadly, organic cotton requires MORE water than conventional cotton! But don’t ditch your organic passion just yet, that is the only part of the process where conventional cotton comes out ahead (Ed Note: and we’ll have more on that later in Cotton Part 2 : Organic Cotton, Revenge of the Weevils…j/k on the Weevils)
Conventional cotton has more than a few dirty little secrets, like the fact that it uses incredibly toxic pesticides to fight off predatory insects, like the boll weevil. I can’t say it any better than this excerpt from a National Wildlife Federation article:
Most people think of cotton as a “natural” product. The reality: Cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops in the world. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 84 million pounds of pesticides were applied to the nation’s 14.4 million acres of cotton in the year 2000, and more than two billion pounds of fertilizers were spread on those same fields. Seven of the 15 pesticides commonly used on cotton in the United States are listed as “possible,” “likely,” “probable” or “known” human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency. And cotton defoliants are “the most toxic farm chemicals currently on the market,” says Fawn Pattison, executive director of the Agricultural Resources Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the use of harmful pesticides.
But wait! There’s more! Conventional cotton includes GMO cotton (GMO isn’t inherently bad, and I’m certainly not going to go into the depths of that in this article, but in this case it’s not great) or Bt Cotton, the brand of GMO cotton produced by Monsanto. Bt Cotton has pesticide genetically coded into it’s makeup to repel bollworms, and while this ultimately lowers the use of toxic insecticides and results in higher yield of usable cotton, it’s not without it’s problems. The biggest of which being the high cost of those proprietary seeds which have put farmers in third world countries, namely India, at a disadvantage. Not only are these seeds more expensive, but they are harder to grow, and they produce lower yields with each passing year. It’s so difficult to stay above water that frequently they find the only way out of their debt is suicide.
So now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you and you’re cursing all of the cotton in your home, let’s talk about what we can do about it!
- You can buy organic cotton, which has fewer socio-economic ramifications (more on those coming in part two along with a shopping guide!)
- You can buy recycled cotton goods.
- You can treat the cotton you currently own with all the love and care you feel a piece of clothing can get. Check out this guide that will tell you how.
- You can look into other fibers (I know, every time you think you’ve found an eco-ethical fiber I break your heart and tell you it’s evil).
- You can pay attention to the companies that share all of their cotton information with you – like Levi’s and Zady.
We’ll be following up with Cotton Part Two soon and diving into the world of Organic Cotton!