Sustainability is one of the major challenges that the fashion industry is facing today. Gigantic clothing labels are betting on organic cotton to appeal to conscious consumers and regain their trust.
Increasing environmental awareness drives fashion companies to sustainably sourced raw materials and ethically produce their new collections.
Certified organic cotton has been in the center of sustainable practice in the global textile and apparel industry for a while. And giant fashion retailers are the largest buyers of organic cotton worldwide.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, organic cotton has been trending more than ever before. People are aware of its numerous benefits for their health and the environment.
The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown increased the time spent at home with family. And consumers are searching for organic cotton face masks, shirts, sweatpants, shorts, sheets, and clothing for kids.
Sustainability is gaining importance in the fashion industry. To answer consumers' demand, manufacturers and retailers turn to organic cotton for the production of clothing, shoes, undergarments, and accessories.
Cotton is a very popular and widely used fabric for clothing. But conventional cotton is very harmful to the environment and to the farmers that grow it.
Cotton farming requires an enormous amount of water, fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides.
30.3 million tons of cotton are produced each year globally, according to the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The largest producer of cotton worldwide is China with 6.1 million tons of cotton produced in 2018, followed by India (4.69 million tons), and the United States (4 million tons).
Conventional cotton production destroys biodiversity and soil fertility. It creates health problems and kills wildlife because it uses toxic chemicals.
Cotton farming consumes 4% of worldwide of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides, according to the Global Fashion Agenda. But it accounts for only 2.5% of the total agricultural area on Earth.
Many pollutants are controlled and limited by international usage restrictions. But agricultural use continues in many East-Asian countries.
Organic cotton is much better than conventional cotton because it's non-GMO and grown organically, without the use of hazardous herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
By growing organic instead of conventional cotton, farmers can potentially save 218 billion liters of water and 92.5 million kg of carbon dioxide, according to the Textile Exchange.
About 80% of all organic cotton is grown with water form rainfalls, which reduces pressure on local water sources.
Unfortunately, the annual global production of organic cotton only reached 107,980 tons in 2016, according to the Textile Exchange.
Organic cotton isn't the perfect solution. Not everything about it is great. There are many reasons why organic cotton is bad.
It's simply not possible to keep up with the growing textile demand of the Earth's population with organic cotton alone.
And to switch to organic farming, many costly certifications are necessary. Field conversion to organic and subsequent certification processes are very slow.
Organic cotton is more expensive to produce and sell and lacks subsidies and protection.
There is also a lot of greenwash going on around organic cotton. Many fashion brands make misleading claims about the environmental benefits of their products.
Without proper certification standards from independent third-party organizations, organic simply means non-GMO and no man-made chemicals.
Cotton simply labeled organic by clothing brands doesn't consider the resources needed during production or the labor conditions of farmers and garment factory workers.
Large retail chains such as H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, and Gap process the largest proportion of organic cotton worldwide. But they are also the world's largest buyers of polluting regular cotton.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.