By Cora Hilts
Originally from the Maine countryside, Cora spent five years in Paris and New York City intermittently working in luxury fashion and studying Politics before ending up in London.
We know it is all too easy to ascribe labels to words or materials that mean we should feel better about our choices when we select them over other products. That being said, we don’t necessarily always understand why something may be better than another option. We wanted to explore the difference between organic cotton and regular cotton, ahead of this month’s climate change summit in Paris to discuss the environment and changes we can all be a part of to make this better.
Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic pesticides or fertilizers. Methods such as beneficial insect releases, strip cutting of alfalfa and new weeding machinery help reduce the environmental impact of cotton crops. Third-party organizations certify that organic cotton farms use only these approved methods and do not spray toxic chemicals on their crops. Furthermore, by building soil fertility naturally through the use of compost and manure organic farmers help lock CO2 into the soil, helping to mitigate climate change, and they also avoid the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy-intensive fossil-fuel based fertilizers used on conventional cotton.
GM (genetic modification) is banned in organic systems – whereas an estimated 30% of all conventional cotton grown worldwide is now grown genetically modified. GM cotton poses a potential risk to the natural environment and eco-systems of farms, but also to local wildlife and human health. It also imposes upon farmers unnecessary expense – recent Greenpeace research in South India showed that genetically modified cotton did not result in significantly higher yields than organic cotton, but cost farmers twice as much to produce as organic materials.
Poor working conditions and rights in the garments industry are commonplace and well documented. Manufacturers of Soil Association certified organic textiles must meet social criteria based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. These cover minimum wages, working hours, child labor, freedom of association, discrimination, harsh or inhumane treatment and more.
Finally, organic cotton ends up being residue-free, which benefits not only the environment when they finally do end up in a landfill but also human health in wearing them. By prohibiting and restricting harmful chemicals within organic textile production and processing, final products don’t contain allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemical residues. Tests on conventional clothing have revealed traces of all these from pesticide use. These residues can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and may cause allergies, skin rashes or respiratory problems. Certified organic allows materials to be safely worn and disposed of.