Organic cotton is produced according to organic agricultural standards. The most important fact is that organic practices prohibit the use of ‘agrichemicals’ (artificial pesticides and fertilizers) and genetically modified (GM) seed.
Organic cotton is produced in such a way that it sustains the health of ecosystems, soils, and people. This type of cotton relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and locally adapted inputs in place of chemical inputs, which can harm both the farmer involved and our environment.
The production of organic cotton involves tradition, innovation, and science. And all of this to benefit the environment and promote good quality of life.
No such concrete health benefits can be associated with wearing clothes crafted with organic cotton.
However, there are significant dissimilarities between organic and conventional cotton when it comes to how the cotton is grown (without toxic or persistent chemicals). This definitely has a better impact on you in the long run.
Brands and retailers who market organic cotton products should be willing to provide proof of any product claims. Standards, verified by an independent third-party, are often the best way to provide such evidence.
Several standards can support your claim of organic cotton from farm to finished garments like Organic Content Standard (OCS) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
Organic cotton is grown using techniques and materials that are environment-friendly. A significant effort in the organic movement is to use growing systems that replenish and maintain soil fertility, all the while promoting biologically diverse agriculture.
Organic cotton uses far less water too. The primary benefit of organic cotton is that the seeds used are natural and not GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms). The crops aren’t treated with harmful insecticides and pesticides either.
Organic cotton helps in the preservation of the environment.
There are several other sustainable cotton initiatives. Each of these has a different approach, geography, and focus area.
A more detailed description of some of the other cotton sustainability initiatives can be found in the Textile Exchange’s Annual Organic Cotton Market Report.
Cotton is relatively drought-tolerant; however, it requires a lot of water. Furthermore, cotton is highly vulnerable to pest attack in specific geographies and climates.
Under the conventional process, cotton is treated with large quantities of chemical pesticides and irrigation water.
A Life Cycle Assessment showed that by producing cotton organically, negative impacts on the environment can be drastically reduced, including preserving soil nutrients, and saving water.
Therefore, organic cotton is exceptionally sustainable compared to other types of fibers.
In conventional cotton production, synthetic inputs (such as pesticides and fertilizers) are used to maximize yields and manage pests, weeds, and diseases.
The addition of these synthetic inputs are prohibited in organic production. Instead, farmers use a variety of natural techniques. These most commonly include, but are not limited to; crop rotation, intercropping, minimum tillage, animal and green manures, composting, and biodynamic herbal or mineral powders.
Studies conducted for the years 2014/15 revealed that over 92.16% of global organic cotton production could be credited to just five countries.
India leads the global organic cotton production with 66.90%. China follows next with 11.69% annual cotton production. Turkey comes third with a cotton production of 6.49%. Kyrgyzstan has an annual cotton production of 4.93%, with 2.16% of global organic cotton coming from the USA.
After seeing a 10% rise in production of organic cotton in 2013/14, 2014/15 saw a slight downturn of 3.8 %.
However, the production increased again in 2017/18 when a number of in-conversion programs in India reached certification.
Demand for organic cotton is, without a doubt growing. More and more brands are making commitments to use 100% organic cotton. The growing demand is creating opportunities for improving organic cotton supply chains and further better incentives to the farmers.
Yes, organic cotton is definitely better for your skin compared to conventional cotton.
The heavy use of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers when growing conventional cotton leaves residue behind. The waste stays in the fabric fibers, which can lead to skin irritation.
However, no such chemicals are used when growing organic cotton. This instantly makes it better on your skin.
Independent inspection and certification legitimately back up organic claims. All farms and factories that undergo inspection and certification are independently checked against strict criteria.
Shoppers can rely on organic cotton products that carry the GOTS and/or Soil Association logos.
This is a common misconception. It’s not that organic cotton “costs more,” it’s that conventional cotton “costs too little.” The latter does not cover all its actual costs. Health and environmental costs are often externalized. Neither the consumer nor the retailer ‘pays’ the true price. It is always the farmer and the environment that ends up paying.
If a fair price is paid for conventional cotton, the producer will end up paying much more.
The farmer prepares the land and sows the seeds. It takes almost 60-70 days for the seedlings to bloom into first flowers. The farmers dedicate a lot of time managing the soil to ensure that it is healthy.
The flowers go from white, yellow, pink to dark red. The first cotton bolls appear 50-60 days after the flower. The farmer has to continuously manage soil, control the amount of water, remove weeds, and deal with pests.
After the bolls appear, it takes almost 45 days for the ripening stage to begin. The last stage lasts for 15-20 days, and the color of the boll changes from green to brown.
The entire growth cycle of organic cotton takes 5 to 6 months.
Organic cotton consumes 91% less water compared to conventional cotton. Since organic cotton relies majorly on natural rainfall, it uses less water from other sources for irrigation.
Also, farmers focus on building higher levels of organic matter in the soil when producing organic cotton. This further increases the crop's water-consuming efficiency. According to various studies, soil with high organic matter can hold up to 30% more water.