For Christmas, I splurged and bought my boys organic cotton PJ's from Hanna Andersson. They are SO soft and SO cute and I felt good about supporting a more sustainable side of the clothing industry. But like I said, it was a splurge. I can't afford to buy pricey organic clothes all the time.
On the flip side, there's been a lot of press lately about the growing trend toward disposable clothing - mostly fashion-forward duds that don't hold up in the wash. Apparently people don't mind throwing clothes out - as long as they didn't pay much for them. That's something I don't want to be part of. So where's the middle ground?
I started diving into this whole topic of sustainable clothing and realized it will take me a few posts to cover all the good stuff there is to learn. This first one is a basic primer if you will on cotton - conventional vs. organic and the tricky politics that drive it. Look for an upcoming post on other sustainable fabrics and another one on buying used & refashioning old clothes (my favorite!).
You don't need me to tell you that the cotton industry is HUGE business. In fact, it accounts for 50% of the world's textile market. America is second (next to China) in world cotton production. Our beloved cotton shirts may be nice and soft but it takes a boat load of chemicals to grow them. Here are a few reasons why conventional cotton production is not so good for the planet:
- It takes 1/3 pound of agricultural chemicals to produce one cotton t-shirt.
- 25% of the world's insecticides are used in cotton production.
- Many of the pesticides used are known human carcinogens.
- Toxic runoff pollutes water and kills wildlife.
- Over 60% of American grown cotton is genetically engineered. It is developed to survive huge amounts of toxic herbicides and some even exudes its own insecticides.
Organic cotton (I'll call it OC for short) production, on the other hand, greatly reduces the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Instead, pest and weed control methods are used that replenish soil fertility and have a minimal impact on the environment. The market is growing, but OC still makes up less than 1% of the cotton market. Government subsidies play a big role in the way cotton is produced: more pesticides = higher yields = more money. That helps explain why OC products are still so expensive. But as demand increases, hopefully the prices will start to drop.
Should we feel guilty for every non-organic cotton shirt that we buy? Of course not! But having the awareness helps us to make better choices when we can. My strategy? I hit the sale rack at stores that carry the good stuff and look for online deals at my favorite sites:
- REI clearance sales and online outlet: I scored a some awesome OC shirts by Water Girl and Patagonia recently. They have a big sale in February and another one sometime in the fall??
- Hanna Andersson: They had a 20% off sale right before Xmas this year.
- Lotus Organics: 20% off everything now until Earth Day!!
- Maggie's Organics: 20% off women's T's, 15% off socks right now!
- Blue Canoe: check out their sale section - 20% off some nice stuff.
- Kate Quinn Organics: Not on sale, but I just had to share...their OC hoodies & track pants for kids are adorable!
You'll see more OC as the big chains get in on the action. Target is selling some organic baby items and will be expanding, Walmart's into shirts and apparently Victoria's Secret has little organic somethings in the works. Even Levi's makes OC jeans now - pricier than their standard jeans of course.
If you're the activist type, you'll want to know about The Organic Consumers Association's campaign called Clothes for A Change. Their goal is to raise awareness about the negative environmental and social effects of conventional cotton and clothing production. They are pressuring major clothing manufacturers to wean themselves off traditional cotton and polyesters made from petroleum and start incorporating organic fibers into their mix. You can help! Use this link to send an email to Gap chairman Donald Fisher asking him to transition to organic cotton in their clothes. It only takes 30 seconds!