When I was young I used to go shopping with my mum.

While I was just looking at the style, colours and shape of a garment she was also looking at the material.
I didn’t like that, she wouldn’t buy me anything that wasn’t made out of a natural material – She was looking for 100% cotton or a high percentage of it. 

Was that enough? Was she selecting a good garment? Difficult to say, it’s not as straight forward as we think, when we buy a cotton T-shirt we don’t necessarily purchase a good quality garment.

So why cotton is not always just cotton?

There are different things to take in consideration while buying cotton; what quality cotton has been used, where the garment was made and especially what other material is mixed with. 

Cotton is one of the most used fibres in the textile industry and the most popular natural fabric for clothing: 

The cotton fibre is obtained from the cotton plant, spun into yarn and then woven or knitted into fabric.
Cotton weaving originates in prehistoric times and has developed and spread over the years. The main characteristics of cotton are the low cost of production and the high quality of the fabric. (Read more here: “Cotton – What you need to know about the most non-food crop grown in the world

So, even if the fabric it’s 100% natural the process to make it is not as pure as we could think and create many environmental, social and economical negative impacts.

Have you ever thought where the cotton comes from and what’s the process to make it?

Conventional Cotton

Conventional cotton is mostly grown in monoculture of GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds and it’s a very pesticide-intensive culture. These pesticides are washed out into soils, they pollute rivers and groundwater and also contribute to biodiversity loss.  
If cotton is cultivated intensively, it requires large amounts of water for irrigation and the management of the natural resources and the use of chemical products are at the free choice of each farmer, even if they could land in an environmental disaster and serious diseases among them.

It is common to wonder what’s the difference between organic cotton and conventional cotton, many are the steps to adopt to consider this product organic. Not all kinds of cotton are therefore equal and as users and consumers, we should know and understand the difference between them.

BCI cotton

The BCI cotton it’s also made out GMO seeds and imply the use of chemicals but at least there is a control over the quantity used, the same is done for water usage. 

Organic cotton in transition

Organic cotton in transition it’s another kind of cotton with is grown using 100% organic farming principles. It’s called in transition because it’s grown on soils that are regenerating and detoxing from previous cultures. The soil takes few years to clean up and the certification can be taken after 2/3 years of organic farming. 

Organic cotton OCS

Organic cotton OCS labelled means that the cotton is grown with GMO seeds and without chemicals and traceability from the production to final client.

Organic cotton GOTS

Organic cotton GOTS labelled means controlled water management, respect for social working conditions, fabric manufactured without toxic products and also guarantees that laboratory tests are made to assure the transparency of the product qualities.
Another important difference is in land usage. By rotating crops, organic farms prevent the depletion of nutrients in the soil and maintain it fertile. This also helps to reduce the quantity of water used to grow crops within it. Going with organic cotton has a less aggressive impact on global warming, reduces soil erosion, and saves our natural resources. 

Another important thing to know is about the Fairtrade label. When you find it on a garment you also have a guarantee that the people involved in the process is fairly paid according to the minimum wage.

That is what Organic Cotton is and why we should choose this one over the conventional cotton.

Note: There are also different types of cotton

Different species of cotton determine the quality of the final fabric.

The main difference is about the length of the samples.
“Pima cotton” is the most durable cotton. It also produces smooth fabric soft to the touch and wrinkle-resistant.
Other times of cotton in order of quality (length of fibre) are Short-staple (SS), Long-staple (LS) cotton and Extra-long staple (ELS) cotton

Finally the most important thing to remember when buying is that if the fabric is mixed with synthetic fibers it implies that it’s not natural anymore, therefore not really good for our skin and definitely not sustainable.

When we purchase anything we make a choice and take an economical and ethical position.
We can’t forget that, as consumers, we influence the market and help to direct it in a more responsible way of production.

Both environment and farmers deserve consideration in the industrial processes, let’s try to make better choices! We have to demand a more transparent industry and support the brand who show it.

Irene Fedrigo is an Italian Print and Textile Designer who worked in the fashion industry for the past 5 years. She has deeply been immersed in the fast fashion industry and she became increasingly aware of the environmental problems the world faces and the need for actions to be taken to find key solutions for a more sustainable future. She felt the responsibility to act immediately and she created an Instagram page where she shares ideas and tips to adopt for a more sustainable lifestyle. "It's really easy to avoid the issues at stake and continue living the same way we are used to" she says " but it's important to ensure we make an effort, abandon our comforts and try to discover different ways of living in harmony with our planet".

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