January 09, 2009

Cotton, Clothing, & the Environment

What is organic cotton?

Certified Organic Cotton is grown and harvested according to strict standards without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or defoliants. It must be grown on land that has been free of such chemicals for at least three years. Independent state or private certification agencies inspect these farms and processing facilities each year.

What's so bad about conventional cotton?
According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, a nonprofit group, it takes
roughly 1/3 pound of chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) to
grow enough
conventional cotton for a single T-shirt. Then, ammonia, formaldehyde,
and other chemicals are used to process and finish it. Many of these
chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens.
Cotton is the most widely used clothing fiber in the world and it accounts
for 22% of all insecticides used. Eighty-four million pounds of pesticides
were sprayed on the 14.4 million acres of conventional cotton grown in
the U.S. in 2000 (5.85 lbs/ acre), ranking cotton 2nd behind corn in total
amount of pesticides sprayed (USDA).
There are approximately 300,000
pesticide related illnesses
among farm workers in the USA each year.

Organic cotton production is important to
the health of the farm workers
who harvest it and
the long-term health of the planet.

What obstacles stand in the way of organic cotton?
Converting a clothing line to organic cotton isn't easy.  Lack of supply is
just one barrier that prevents the wider adoption of environmentally-friendly
clothing. In many cases, companies have to develop their own material
from scratch.

Price is another issue. Generally, organic cotton costs more to grow than
conventional cotton, but the economics differ depending on variables like
quality and location. Organic cotton from India, for example, can be cost
competitive with conventional cotton. This is because
labor costs are lower
and organic farms have been operating for more than a few years.

Hesitancy to Convert
Many companies and growers are still doubtful of organic cotton, in part because of past failures. In the mid-1990's, companies including Gap and Levi Strauss experimented with organic cotton, but stopped after finding it costly and consumers uninterested in the styles. The number of acres planted with organic cotton, most of it in the U.S., plunged as a result.
The amount of organic cotton produced worldwide each year, 24 million
pounds, is less than 1 percent of conventionally grown cotton.

Who is taking part in the organic cotton movement?
The number of brands using organic cotton is accelerating - to more than 250
in the United States today from fewer than 100 in 2002, according to the
Organic Exchange, an industry-sponsoredorganization in Berkeley, CA.

The most powerful nudge has been from big companies like Nike, whose
long-term commitments to organic cotton have given suppliers a measure
of comfort. It has set a goal of using organic fibers for at least 5% of its
cotton-based garments by 2010. That means more than five million pounds
of organic cotton a year.

Other companies working towards greater organic cotton use:
  • Patagonia, an outdoor apparel maker, converted its entire cotton line to organic in 1994.
  • Rogan Jeans' Loomstate line is made of 100% organic cotton
  • Dov Charney, American Apparel senior partner, plans that in four years, 80 percent of American Apparel's products will consist of organic cotton.
  • Timberland began using organic cotton in 2003 when they converted their promotional T-shirt to 100% organic cotton. Since then they have introduced a collection of 100% organic cotton products as well as blending organic cotton in all of their T-shirts.


Anonymous said...

I found this brand "arne & carlos", I read somewhere that they try to be more and more organic, but it is difficult for winter colections. They have a blog: http:/arne-carlos.blogspot.com

Jess said...

Thanks for the suggestion Lina! Will most definitely check it out!