Sustainable fashion: all you have to know about organic cotton
18 Jun 2022
A study in Germany reveals that this material is not enough to define a sustainable garment: you have to see the entire production process
The fact that microplastics pollute the planet is no longer a secret to anyone, and it is precisely for this reason that many opt for cotton and avoid pullovers, T-shirts and blouses made of synthetic material.
However, conventionally grown cotton also harms the environment. What does represent a solution for people who want to wear sustainable fashion are organic cotton products. But, stopping to think… Are synthetic garments really that bad?
There are two main reasons not to use synthetic fibers: while cotton is a renewable resource, synthetic clothing is produced using petroleum. This releases CO2, which further fuels climate change.
Synthetic fibers are not biodegradable. “Synthetics don’t rot and end up becoming microplastics,” says Heike Hess of the International Federation of the Natural Textile Industry (IVN).
Are artificial fibers better than cotton?
Naturally, the industry association for the man-made fiber sector of Germany, Austria and Switzerland sees things differently. Taking all the ecological aspects into account, man-made fibers are even more favorable than cotton, the association maintains in response to a query.
And he argues, for example, that synthetic fibers alleviate the situation of scarcity of agricultural surfaces, where food can be grown. It also highlights the lower water consumption that these fibers represent.
Heike Hess is well aware of these arguments and replies: “We are very critical of synthetics.” He points out that it is often claimed that the CO2 balance of synthetic clothing is better overall. “But the extraction of the raw material oil is completely ignored,” he warns.
What’s wrong with regular cotton?
One of the problems is, indeed, the high consumption of water due to the overexploitation of the soil. In conventional cotton cultivation, the soil is often chemically overfertilized and weakened, Hess explains.
Nicole Pälicke, head of People Wear Organic, a company that markets certified biocotton clothing for babies and children, also adheres to this foundation. “Conventional cotton cultivation implies the deterioration of the soil,” he points out.
Why is organic cotton different?
“Because of the better soil quality, organic cotton saves water in any case,” says Heike Hess. This is because the soil can better retain water. “There are companion plants that are planted to keep insects out, there is more shade, and erosion is not as severe. The soil is healthier, it harbors more life”, he asserts.
Crop rotation is also typical there. In addition, no genetic engineering is used in the seeds, nor fertilizer products, nor pesticides. Sounds convincing… but how do you find organic cotton clothing?
Consumers can tell if a garment is organic cotton by looking at the different labels:
The EU organic logo (Leaf made up of stars, on a green background): “This still doesn’t say much,” says Hess, because for textiles, the prescribed minimum percentage is not clearly defined. “If a small percentage is used, it can already be called organic cotton.”
Textil Exchange Organic Content Standard: This label confirms that a certain percentage of organic cotton is identifiable from its origin in the field until the garment reaches the hanger. “But here, too, it is not defined how high the ratio has to be,” says Hess. “There are products with 100 percent organic cotton, but the label is also awarded from a percentage of 5 percent with the addition ‘blend’.”
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): here the entire production chain is certified, and not just the raw material. According to Hess, at least 70 percent organic fibers are required to be certified. Products with “organic” added on the label are even made up of 95 percent organic fibers.
Naturtextil BEST: This IVN label is only awarded to garments that are made from 100 percent organic cotton. “But the label is still not very present in the market,” says Hess. In addition, this certification also evaluates the production chain of the product as a whole.
And how sustainable is organic cotton clothing really?
From the point of view of Heike Hess, it is the most sustainable possibility to dress, if only the raw material is considered. But there is a big caveat: “In production, of course, many environmental sins can still occur in spinning, weaving, dyeing and sewing. The raw material also does not say anything about whether the workers receive a fair wage or not.
Hess concludes, therefore: “Establishing organic cotton as a benchmark is a good start, but it is still not enough to define a sustainable garment.” This means that you have to pay attention and look for seals that certify the entire production process as sustainable as much as possible.
OIA offers certifications for Organic textiles: GOTS, IVN Best and Argentine Organic Standard.
It is important to note that OIA is accredited to certify GOTS, IVN Best, two main organic textile standards in the world, the Argentine Organic Standard, and in terms of producing responsibly, it works with the Responsible Wool, Alpaca and Moair Standard standards. In addition, OIA has expertise in wool and guanaco certification, fibers valued in the textile sector. The wool is certified in the Argentine Patagonia through the monitoring of sheep production to obtain wool and has an increasingly demanded market. The controls not only seek that the wool does not contain chemical residues, but also audit the conditions in which the staff work, transport, water and energy consumption and sheep rearing. Therefore, being organic means working without the use of chemical synthesis products but also in a sustainable way with the environment and through the rational management of resources. OIA has a team of professionals with experience in certifications of this type and has collaborated in the development of the only official textile standard currently in the world that corresponds to the Organic Argentine Standard. Your team is available to continue collaborating with the development of new projects. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org