Cotton is a plant fibre that comes from cotton plant seeds. This plant doesn't just grow anywhere, it needs a specific climate: sun, water, and dry weather for the plant to dry before getting picked.
In 2019, the three first producing countries were China, India, and the USA. Some African countries are also big cotton producers. Because of the climate, it is near impossible for cotton to grow in Europe, only Greece is the exception to the rule.
Once spun and woven, or knitted, cotton has excellent qualities. It is very absorbent and therefore often used for household linen. It can take many different forms making it very diverse: spun for sewing, woven for fabric, jersey for clothing, lace for delicate textiles, wadding for plasters, these are only a few examples.
Thanks to its many qualities placing it number one within our homes, cotton is today the most used textile fibre in the world.
This seemingly perfect fabric is yet subject to many controversies due to its exploitation.
Today, we can distinguish three types of cotton: conventional, recycled, and organic.
Conventional cotton is the most used, but also the most problematic. In the past few years, many reports have brought light to the ecological and social impact of this massive production. Cotton fields make up around 2% of the Earth's arable land. But our clothing, linen, and all the other products made from this fabric conceal a tragic reality leading to serious consequences.
To improve crop yield, producers resort to using pesticides, sometimes excessively. Although they manage to increase yield, these harmful products disrupt biodiversity and endanger the health of people working in cotton fields.
Cotton requires sun but also a lot of water to grow. These huge amounts of water used to irrigate the fields weaken and disfigure surrounding landscapes. The most famous example is the Aral sea of which a huge number of rivers have been diverted to meet the needs of surrounding cultivations.
Last but not least, the working conditions don't often comply with human rights. Accusations of forced labour or child labour are on the rise in some producing countries.
These serious social and environmental consequences challenge the ecological and sustainable legitimacy of this fabric. It is nonetheless a high-quality fibre, but its exploitation needs to improve. This is why in recent years many alternatives have emerged.
Conventional cotton => NO
Recyclable cotton is among the candidates to replace conventional cotton. It avoids growing cotton plants as well as throwing away used fabric and clothing. Resource-saving and no waste!
The idea is good but in practice, this is less exciting. According to some studies, the resource savings are less significant than we would have hoped for: 4% water saving and 5% energy saving. Furthermore, recycled cotton will always contain new fibre to reinforce the existing fibre which has been weakened in the recycling process.
However, the recycling process replaces cotton fields and therefore the use of pesticides. An improvement still worth acknowledging.
Recycled fabrics may also contain heavy metals and many other harmful fibres. It has been recycled, yes, but this prevents us from actually knowing the initial product.
Recycled cotton => THERE'S ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
For our cotton t-shirt, we have of course chosen organic cotton, but also GOTS-certified to ensure a high-quality product. This choice allows us to offer a t-shirt made from a clean plant fibre, respecting both the environment and the people growing it. You won't find any heavy metals in this garment.
However, this is still a rather new producing method and organic cotton is therefore still rather rare. But today, more and more cotton producers are changing their farming methods and are turning towards organic farming (and even better GOTS-certified fibres). Less water, fewer pesticides, resulting in a more responsible textile fibre.
Organic cotton => A GOOD COMPROMISE
Once again, the perfect solution doesn't exist. On the one hand, recycling helps to avoid waste but doesn't resolve the issue of dangerous chemical products. On the other hand, organic agriculture respects biodiversity but is still resource exploitation.
What about organic recycled cotton? Probably the best method but not enough organic productions exist at the moment... So we are no way near ready to find organic recycled cotton.
We often finish off our blog articles by saying that nothing is perfect but small steps and even trying to change our habits are still worthwhile! 😉