You’d be forgiven if when you originally heard of ‘organic cotton’ your first thought was that organic cotton was merely a more expensive, unjustified version of normal cotton. This isn’t far from a large proportion of other people’s opinions on organic cotton too.
In fact, when you put the word ‘organic’ in front of anything, even my own first instinct is ‘must be more expensive’. But organic cotton production is much more than that. Organic cotton goes far beyond the t-shirt on your back, or the bedsheets you sleep in. Organic cotton is part of a complete lifestyle that isn’t reflective of how much you earn, but rather how much you value your own health, other people’s (think cotton farmers) and the environment that it is farmed in.
As ever-growing conscious consumers, the onus is on us to further educate ourselves on the importance of organic cotton production has on our everyday lives.
The difference between organic and GMO cotton farming
A little bit of research into GMO (genetically manufactured organism) cotton is enough to send shivers down your spine. During my research into the cotton industry, I chatted with Ben Franklin, the owner of organic cotton bedding company Square Flower.
Ben highlights that organic cotton only contributes to around one percent of all cotton production in total, which isn’t even a dent within the industry. Probably not a big deal right? Think again…
Eighty percent of the cotton industry is farmed from India and China. Farmers of cotton are extremely poor and uneducated. This allows manufacturers to take advantage of their lack of education, forcing the farmers to buy GMO seeds. Additionally, the farmers are directed to not re-use the seeds and buy new each season. The problem here is climate change – with reductions in rainfall and increases in temperature, GMO cotton field failure has increased, causing farmer debt and contributing to what The Guardian reports, as an increase in farmer suicides of up to 60,000 over the last 30 years.
Additionally, GMO cotton seeds are chemically induced and still need fertilizer, along with insecticides and pesticides. During production and farming into cotton, these chemicals leak into the soil and water and poison the surrounding environment, which impacts the local agriculture as well as farmer health. Why? Because non-organic and non-fairtrade farmers cannot afford the required safety equipment Personal Protective Equipment to avoid contact with these harmful chemicals.
Where organic cotton goes beyond GMO cotton is pretty much with regards to all of the above. Organic cotton, combined with fairtrade cotton improves farmer livelihood, health and safety, education and the environment. For example, Chetna Organic, an India-based agricultural producer organisation affiliated with such ethical companies such as PACT Clothing, Thought Clothing and Rapanui, works with traditional farmers to assist them in converting their methods to organic and encourages a focus on sustainable farming practices.
This emphasis on education and training and the building of education centres to train farmers in sustainable farming has improved worker health, soil health, improved organic cotton seed growth and plot success rating. It has provided farmers with a more sustainable and financially secure income. Furthermore, farmers can grow different crops other than cotton outside of the cotton season due to the soil remaining fertile by following organic practices.
Additionally, Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) is the world’s leading standard with regards to limiting the use of synthetic chemicals in farming and production. Being part of GOTS also includes criteria for social and work condition standards.
Some brands will even sign up to Fair Trade standards. This globally recognised certification promotes fair trade with local farmers and farms within the supply chain. Being accredited by Fair Trade encourages brands to be involved in helping fund social projects of the farmers choosing – these can include improving standard manufacturing tools farming standards for these cotton farms.
Choosing organic is better for people and planet
We as customers are more conscious buyers than ever before. According to a Nielsen survey, 70% of consumers will pay more for products from trusted brands that are contributing to positive social and environmental impacts.
Consciously, we have become far more aware as consumers about our own impact on the environment. This has resulted in subtext and culture contributing to wider environmental issues. The advances in technology, social media and the internet have allowed us to access as much information and opinions as we want, when we want. The beast that this creates is a well-versed, emotionally engaged and active community, with individuals promoting messages relative to their social values and beliefs.
Furthermore, having these communication channels and reach at our disposal, we have been able to push our messages across social media platforms, forums such as Reddit, Q&A sites and comment threads to promote the importance of what are now trendy topics.
In fact, in 2018 survey of over 1,000 people in the US and UK shows that respondents want brands to help them make a difference. The survey also found that they believe actions such as recycling or buying ethically will make a difference in the world.
This is relevant to organic cotton production – if five new people decide to make ethical purchasing choices by buying five organic cotton t-shirts, they have contributed to conserving the 13,500 litres of water it would have taken to produce five ordinary cotton t-shirts by 86%. Furthermore, these consumers have helped to reduce insecticides and pesticides pollution and reduced agricultural contamination.
What’s more is that social economics prove that 92% of us trust peer-to-peer recommendations. That’s why it’s incredibly important to keep spreading your cause, advocating for organic and sustainable production and sharing social and environmental messages in the right channels, in the right way. Not forceful, but in an educational manner; allowing people to come to their own decisions and conclusions. It shouldn’t be too hard to encourage people to make better choices. After all, when it comes to organic cotton; it’s people’s livelihoods, safety and homes that are being positively affected and protected.
Lewis Young has been writing for over seven years covering topics around sustainability, veganism, fashion consumption, music technology and entertainment. He has featured on Peaceful Dumpling, Thomson Local, WTVOX and Thrive Global. He is currently studying for an MA degree in Advertising Strategy and Planning and in his spare time hunts for the best coffee shops he can find.
Feature image via Unsplash.