There has certainly been a move towards organic food production and consumption in recent years, but what about organic textiles? Does it matter if your t-shirt was made with conventional or organic cotton? What's the difference anyway? In this blog post, we're going to focus on cotton to demonstrate some of the differences between organic and conventional growing practices.
Generally speaking, the term 'organic' means that a crop has not been genetically modified, and was grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or other additives. Organic growing practices tend to be gentler on the environment as well as the people responsible for growing, maintaining, harvesting, and processing the crops, who can often be made sick from exposure to harmful chemicals in conventional growing environments.
A recent study by The Textile Exchange found that organic farming was “significantly more environmentally friendly” than conventional farming. The study also found that organic cotton farming is less likely to contribute to global warming, acidification, and eutrophication (excess nutrients in bodies of water that can contribute to algal bloom) than conventional cotton farming.
All that said, things are not quite as cut & dry as they may seem.
Although organic cotton farming is kinder to the environment than conventional growing in many ways, there is a notable difference in water usage and overall yields. It takes more organic cotton plants to produce the same amount of fibre as fewer plants grown conventionally, which means more land, water, and other resources. While you would need roughly 1,098 litres of water to grow enough conventional cotton to make one t-shirt, you would need more than double that (nearly 2,500 litres!) of water to produce the same amount of organic cotton fibre.
(image borrowed from our friends at Frank & Oak)
Overall, organically-grown cotton is much gentler on the environment than its conventional counterpart in many ways, though it is important to remember that growing any type of cotton requires huge amounts of water and other inputs that can be scarce in this time of ecological need.
So does this mean we should choose organic over conventional clothing from now on? When possible, sure, but simply being mindful and informed about our textile choices is a great place to start. Shopping second-hand and learning to mend clothing items is another great step.
(For anyone living on or near Manitoulin Island who wants to learn more about basic clothing repairs, our friends at The Island Jar will soon be hosting a Repair-a-thon & Clothing Swap in partnership with Chemistry + Craft. You can find more info on the event page here).
And if you're interested in trying out some organic textiles for yourself, why not take a look at our Spring 2020 Box? We've partnered with the fabulous folks at Stray & Wander to include one of their 100% organic cotton Marin Towels in each box. It's a great little piece that's super versatile, and sure to become one of your new favourites. If we do say so ourselves, it's pretty good stuff.