Most of love our clothes made of cotton, but more and more of us also realize that cotton grown by conventional agricultural practices is a pretty dirty crop: massive amounts of pesticides and water are used in its growth. Organic practices dramatically reduce the pollution and waste associated with cotton growing; they also make use of seed that isn’t genetically modified (if that’s a concern you have).
So, organic cotton clothes are a good thing then… right? Well, not necessarily: keep in mind that USDA organic certification only applies to the fibers themselves. The finished fabric and garments will have been through a number of other processes that could use chemicals and other ingredients that undermine the spirit of the word “organic.”
How Organic Cotton Fabric Can Still be “Dirty”
Like other manufacturing processes, the production of textiles generally involves chemical compounds… some of which you probably wouldn’t want next to your skin. The folks at Organic Cotton Plus (who are an offshoot of one the US’ oldest organic cotton farms) note five processes involved in the creation of fabric beyond harvesting the cotton, and all of them can involve toxic materials. Production of threads and the initial fabric can involve toxic waxes; dyeing can involve heavy metals and sulfur; printing may involve petroleum-based inks. No organic certifications focused only on the agricultural product (the fiber) will account for these inputs.
So, How Do I Know if a Garment Made from Organic Cotton is Produced Responsibly?
In a word, GOTS. The Global Organic Textile Standard certifies textiles according to handling and processes at every step of the lifecycle. According to the organization’s description of the standard, GOTS-certified fabrics contain at least 70% organic cotton, plus
All chemical inputs such as dyestuffs and auxiliaries used must meet certain environmental and toxicological criteria. The choice of accessories is limited in accordance with ecological aspects as well. A functional waste water treatment plant is mandatory for any wet-processing unit involved and all processors must comply with minimum social criteria.
Obviously, this is pretty general; if you’re interested in the specifics of the criteria outlined above, dig into the latest version of the standard – GOTS 4.0 – for details on environmental and social requirements.
Spent time in the organic textile industry? Feel free to jump in and provide more detail on how consumers can know that their clothing is completely green…
This post was generously sponsored by Organic Cotton Plus