What is Organic Cotton and Why Should we Use it?
Sustainable is better for the planet, but organic cotton products are also gentle to people. Let's take a look at this 'green' product in detail, to find out why it's a great sustainable choice.
With the focus on sustainability and not harming the planet, we are all drawn in to a world of organic, but you might wonder, "Is organic cotton better in any way?". Let's take a look at organic cotton production, how to identify this type of cotton fabric and the reasons this material is the sustainable choice.
Cotton cloth has always been synonymous with good quality. And we consider 100% cotton a safe choice. But these days, being of good quality is not enough reason for people to shop for cotton material. It's the same problem, whether you are looking for a garment like a shirt to wear, accessories for the home, bed and table linen or upholstered pieces of furniture.
These days, we are all surrounded by terms like ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’, and as much as it is about being 'on trend', it is also our responsibility as designers and as humans to protect our planet. Take the term ‘organic food’, which we use to describe produce that we have grown sustainably. In the same way, we also produce ‘organic cotton’ in a sustainable way. And we use fewer chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers, and less water for this type of cotton production.
What is organic cotton?
So, exactly what is this type of cotton? According to GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standards, which is the green (eco) standard according to which Organic Cotton Textiles is produced, organic cotton is yarn that is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. GOTS goes on to say that farmers who produce this type of cotton use natural methods and natural water to grow it. They use methods to naturally cultivate cotton without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides. In addition, these plants require less water to grow. And the farming keeps the quality of the soil high, while also limiting soil erosion.
Also, GOTS tells us, they grow this type of cotton without pesticides from seeds that have not been genetically modified. Farming methods like these started in the 1980s in the United States, to create more sustainable agricultural methods that would not be harmful to the planet. And this method became very popular, creating a form of fabric that has become extremely covetable and environmentally friendly.
Although we discuss this in more detail later, it’s important to mention here that producing this type of material is more expensive, because it organic fabric production costs more as methods use less water and no harmful chemicals. Also, these plants don’t yield as much cotton than regular ones.
There are plenty of advantages to choosing this type of cotton. For instance, these cotton materials have proved to be softer than regular cotton materials. Also, because this type of cotton material production involves not using harmful chemicals, it’s often used for clothing for babies and young children.
5 Reasons to choose this sustainable textile
1. Production is sustainable and ethical
All the production systems for this type of cotton yarn are natural, sustainable and free of chemicals.
To grow this cotton plant, one has to fertilise the soil in a particular way and use a specific type of seeds in the soil. We cannot use genetically engineered seeds for production of this type of cotton fibre. This agricultural method also uses chemical-free pesticides and an irrigation system that requires less water.
For certified organic cotton, farms have to be sustainable organic farms, so they use no harmful chemicals. Farmers have had to find natural methods that produce the same results without harming the environment. This includes using less water to grow the plants.
Typical methods include introducing insects that control pests instead of using synthetic pesticides and natural methods to enhance soil rather than fossil fuel based fertilisers. These farmers have managed to find ways to use less drinking water when they grow the plants, making the method a lot more environmentally friendly and saving drinking water in the process.
There is another very important sustainable aspect. Not only do organisations like GOTS make sure that the conditions for growing this type of cotton are met, they also make sure that those people working on farms work in a tolerable and humane environment.
2. This global organic textile is gentler on the skin
It happens that you might have bought a 100% cotton product at some point in your life. Perhaps some clothing, towels or linen. Then, when you use the item for the first time, you find out you're allergic to it. The reason is simple – it’s directly related to how we produce the material and how we possibly exposed it to toxic substances and chemical intensive treatments such as pesticides during production.
Most cotton material production involves using harmful chemicals; sometimes even the dye used to colour the material has chemicals in it.
Organic material production is done without using any such chemicals, so products such as bed linen, a shirt, sleepwear and other garments made from this particular cotton are natural and hypoallergenic and don’t affect sensitive skin.
You can rest assured that when you shop for any of maake's fabrics, we have vetted them for chemical safety and supplier responsibility. And we make sure that when we print on a material, we use less water in the printing process, too.
3. The organic fabric is softer, stronger and lasts longer
As we mentioned earlier, because they are so comfortable and durable, we often use organic cotton textiles to make clothes and other items for babies and young children.
The reason is simple: these textiles are natural, gentler on the skin and feel soft to the touch. They may cost more, but this is not always the case. However, even when they do cost more, many people are happy to pay extra for the luxurious feel.
The material is soft because it has longer fibres than standard cotton. As we hand pick this type of cotton, the fibre doesn’t break like a conventional cotton fibre does. Instead they feel quite extravagant.
4. It's a more sustainable, biodiverse brand
Because cotton needs so much water, organic farmers have found various ways to gather rainwater and use it instead of drinking water. These days, to water 81% of this type of cotton, we mostly use rainwater instead of drinking water.
Farmers are saving a massive 91% on irrigation, too. In fact, soil nourished without harmful chemicals don’t need as much water.
These are some of the ways that this type of cotton is produced and how this is helping to create a more sustainable ecosystem. If you'd like more information on the subject, see maake’s take on sustainability. What’s more, we save water in our digital fabric printing process; in fact, this process uses no water at all.
5. It helps prevent global warming by reducing carbon emissions
Climate change is negatively affecting people and the planet. It has caused several weather shifts such as temperature changes and extreme weather patterns.
Unfortunately our society and habits are to blame for these situations. Since the 19th century, we’ve used plenty of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) to modernise our world.
We didn’t intend to harm the environment, but we have. We're now releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.
Producing organic cotton emits 50% less carbon dioxide than standard cotton growing. That's just another reason you should shop for sustainable material!
Certified organic materials
A number of worthy global organisations have created standards to measure whether cotton is organic or not, and whether it has been produced sustainably, without chemicals and by using less water. These organisations include Fairtrade UK and the Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, which we talked about earlier. They operate all over the world, including in the United States, Europe and the UK.
Their standards measure the ways in which manufacturers create the material, the colourants they utilise to dye the cloth and the supply chains involved in the cotton trade. These methods are all carried out sustainably and transparently. And we then rated these methods accordingly.
Terms such as ‘GOTS standards on crops’ certify that the crops are grown organically. They also focus on the environment, saving water and farmers’ livelihoods. Learn more about certification here.
There’s another side to the story
As in life, nothing in this type of cotton production is perfect. Let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of organic cotton, which we touched on a little earlier in this blog…
We already know that this type of cotton produces less than regular cotton from the same amount of land. In fact, we need 25% more land to yield the same amount of organic cotton as the regular variety.
The world doesn’t have the space, so farmers have had to look for other solutions, like deforestation, which would cause even more global warming.
Sometimes producing this type of cotton involves using natural pesticides. There are chemicals in these pesticides that can also harm the environment. In fact, some natural pesticides use even more toxic chemicals than the synthetic pesticides and insecticides people use when they grow conventional cotton.
Let's talk about genetically modified plants
It's a fact: during organic cotton production, we don't genetically modify the material. That's despite manufacturers producing this cotton sustainably. And this can cause problems.
However, genetically modified cotton is resistant to pests, so we don’t need pesticides. This kind of cotton also produces healthy soil that doesn’t need fertiliser.
As we mentioned earlier, this cotton is far more expensive to produce than conventional cotton, as the cultivation process is more complicated and the crop yield is less.
There are environmental and social issues, too. The social aspect is a global issue; it involves low wages and bad working conditions for labourers.
Is selecting sustainable cotton a must for your printing?
At maake we don’t just provide sustainable material to print on, although we do offer more than 15 types of organic cotton. Our collections include both organic and natural items such as linen and hemp.
Although some materials have a more sustainable profile these days, stock availability and prices are erratic, so it’s important for your business to keep an open mind when choosing the material you’re going to print a design on.
Whatever natural material you choose, you can be safe in the knowledge that the digital printing methods we use at maake utilise no water, less energy than a bathroom radiator ( and that energy is 100% renewable energy), and these methods create no more than a thimble of waste ink per 1km of printing.
We print using inks that meet GOTS 6.0 and Oeketex Class 1 standards, meaning that your materials meet the stringent standards you expect for your sustainable and infant-safe natural products.
Shop our top 6 organic cotton fabrics
Add some of these when you shop…