Written by Ivory King
When you look in your child’s clothing drawers, you’ll probably see an abundance of soft, colorful cotton clothes. Whether you chose them purposefully or not, there are great reasons why most non-synthetic clothing is made from cotton. And if you want to live healthfully and naturally, you might find yourself choosing organic cotton clothing. You may or may not be aware of the benefits of cotton clothes, but there are also many advantages of organic cotton as well.
The benefits of cotton clothing
Cotton is popular for many reasons, many of which come from it being a natural, breathable fiber that doesn’t cause allergies. Because it is breathable, we can wear it in warm weather and still be comfortable, since it doesn’t trap heat and allows moisture to evaporate. These qualities also mean that it retains odor less than synthetics and other materials, so we can wash it less often - saving water, energy costs, and wear and tear on our clothes so they last longer. Strong, yet soft, cotton can be made into fabric of varying weights, most of which are washable and durable. Denim, gingham, corduroy, poplin, seersucker, terry, even velour and velvet, all made from the same plant!
Using less synthetic fabric
When we wear cotton, we are wearing less polyester, nylon or microfleece. These materials are made with petrochemicals, and are unhealthy when worn against the skin. Additionally, synthetic fleece sheds plastic fragments called microfibers when we wash them at home, and have been shown to impact water quality and aquatic life. These contaminants are found in animals like crabs and fish, and can even find their way into sea salt!
Benefits of organic clothing: avoiding chemicals
Organic clothing is grown safely and processed without toxic dyes and finishing materials, and it isn’t treated with chemicals. The use of chemicals and synthetic materials has effects all the way to the end of the supply chain. Pesticides, dyes and other residues can be found in the finished product, and these substances may be having nasty effects on everyone living in the home - parents, kids, and even pets. A recent Rodale Wellness article refers to studies linking agricultural pesticide and plastic usage as potential triggers for food allergies, obesity, and even Alzheimer’s.
Chemicals used to treat non-organic cotton like flame retardants are specifically marketed as beneficial for children. Chlorinated and brominated flame retardants have been linked to “contaminating the environment, accumulating in the human body... and have been linked to damage of the nervous and reproductive systems,” and “impairing thyroid function.”
Not only do families become exposed to toxins, they are even more present and hazardous for retail workers who are around large amounts of these products all day long. One factor of note is the prevalence of poly-fluorinated chemicals in clothing. PFCs, like GoreTex and Teflon, were developed in the 1950s to make fabrics grease- and water-resistant, but were later shown to accumulate in organ tissue, and have been linked to “cancer, organ damage, endocrine disruption and reproductive harm.” Greenpeace studied the difference in air quality of outdoor apparel brands and found that storefronts had 20 to 60 times the amount of PFCs as in Greenpeace’s office rooms, and 1000 times higher than urban outdoor air.
Conservation of natural resources
Better treatment of farmland means less new farmland must be created. Crop rotation,
water usage and pollution are all minimized when farming organically. Cotton is a thirsty crop, accounting for 2.6 percent of the global water footprint, but organic and sustainable practices are more efficient and pollute much less. Organic cotton farmers working as a part of the Better Cotton Fast Track Program use 20 percent less water than their traditional peers. 20 percent of industrial water pollution is due to textile dyeing and treatments, a figure that can greatly be reduced when factories adhere to textile standards such as GOTS.
Better lives for cotton farmers
Farm owners and their families all benefit from wide adoption of organic cotton - they are not exposed to chemical toxins and create more profits for their crops. Farmers also are able to grow food on their land when they use organic cotton growing methods - crop diversity is an important part of organic farming.
Fairer treatment of workers
GOTS-certified workplaces mean that workers have their human rights respected. People are hired to steady jobs with fair pay, and work in safe, hygienic conditions. These standards also prohibit coercion, discrimination, excessive hours, child labor and inhumane treatment.
Higher quality products
Because of the social criteria that GOTS-certified organizations observe, workers are fairly treated and not overworked. This value placed on individual’s leads to higher quality output from these workers. Additionally, a quality assurance system must be put in place, so processing, manufacturing and trading stages are all auditing.
Less corporate control of farms with GMOs
Most of the cotton from the main grower countries - China, India and the US - is from GMO seed. These crops are developed by huge agricultural corporations and marketed as pest- and herbicide-resistant. The Monsanto GMO strains are built to withstand their proprietary herbicide Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate, a potential carcinogen with connections to birth defects, genetic damage and other negative health effects. Monsanto’s Bt-cotton has a built-in toxin for the common cotton pest bollworm, which became resistant after several seasons, which led to crop failure and devastating crop loss for farmers.
Most modified seeds also are manipulated so that when they are planted, they do not produce their own viable seeds, also known as terminator technology. In traditional farming, when farmers buy seeds, it’s an initial investment, but when they grow modified plants, farmers must go back to the corporation every time they need to grow a new crop. This creates a power dynamic that gives agri-corporations enormous control and increases profits at the expense of farmers.
Of course, there are way more than 8 benefits of organic cotton clothing - there’s one for every person that grows, makes or wears cotton. Since that’s pretty much everybody, we can say that’s about 7.4 billion benefits - and counting!