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Soft and comfortable, it's used for almost every type of clothing. Socks, shirts, sweaters, dresses, jackets, sleepwear, sportswear and more: all begin in lush green fields of cotton. Traditional cotton farming, however, is hard on the environment.

Popular demand for cotton textiles, and competition among producers, has seen a big change in the last two generations: the increased use of pesticide. Cotton is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world, accounting for 25% of all pesticide use.

These chemicals are taking a toll on our environment and human health as a whole. Every T-shirt made of conventional cotton requires 1/4 pound of harmful chemicals.

Every T-shirt made of conventional cotton requires 1/4 pound of harmful chemicals.

According to the USDA, in one year alone over 50 million pounds of pesticides were used on U.S. cotton fields. Pesticide and fertilizer use on cotton has been linked to ground and surface water contamination, and the pollution of drinking water. In California, cotton ranks third in the state for total number of pesticide-related illness. Fish and wildlife and also impacted, with pesticides causing migration die-offs and diminished reproductive capacity.

Benefits of Organic Cotton

Organically raised cotton is gradually winning over new ground both on the farm and in the marketplace. No toxins or synthetic fertilizers are used. Organic cotton is produced without the use of harsh chemical bleaches or dyes, and is allergy free. Natural fertilizers, compost and soil amendments are used, and advances in natural pest control, such as ladybugs which destroy harmful insects, have helped make raising organic cotton a viable enterprise. Organic cotton clothing, unheard of a few years ago, is now available in many stores and online businesses.

A wide variety of products made from organically grown cotton is now available: shirts and pants, socks, underwear, skirts and blouses, sheets and pillowcases, towels and bathrobes. The range of styles can be somewhat limited, but new styles are being developed to keep pace with the growing demand for organic cotton clothing.

The Problem of Dyes

Colored dyes are still a problem, even with organically grown cotton. Dyes are toxic chemicals, and their use and disposal have harmful effects on the environment. Manufacturers are aware of these concerns and are developing new methods of coloring cotton are being developed to address this problem.

Organically colored cotton is being developed to address this problem, and earthtones are now available which use no dyes whatsoever. Today, colored cotton is grown “on the stem” in shades of brown, reddish brown, green and yellow.

Color-Grown Cotton:

  • Reduces the use of synthetic dyes
  • Costs less: estimates put naturally colored cotton 20 to 40% lower than chemically dyed cotton
  • Is suitable for people with chemically sensitivities
  • Has a noticeably soft texture
  • Doesn’t fade; the color will actually deepen when you wash it.

Recycled Cotton

Recycled Cotton is another, more earth-friendly choice in cotton clothing. Recycled cotton is cotton fabric that has been made from recovered cotton that would otherwise be cast off during the spinning, weaving or cutting process. Eartheasy’s recycled cotton socks are one example of this approach. A trade name for recycled cotton is Eco Fibre; there are no harsh chemicals used in the processing of this fabric.

The clothing business is big business, and there is big resistance to change from chemically-dependent processes to organic processes of clothing manufacture. The bottom line is demand. Manufacturers will do what the consumer dictates, and so the change to environmentally responsible, organic cotton clothing begins with you the consumer.

Sources

Online Sources for Organic Cotton Clothing: