TL;DR There are numerous social and environmental benefits of organic cotton vs. conventional cotton. This post breaks down why organic cotton is important, delves into what the GOTS and USDA certifications for organic cotton mean, and includes a few brands using this earth-conscious fiber.
Cotton is one of the most widely grown crops in the world, with production reaching over 120 million 480-pound bales in 2018. It is also among the most chemical-intensive — accounting for 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land but using 16% of the globe’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides.
Organically grown cotton, on the other hand, is free of genetically modified seeds and synthetic insecticides, pesticides, or fertilizers. This is not only better for the soil and earth, but protects the farmers who work on these cotton fields. Studies have proven the links of consistent occupational exposure to pesticides and deteriorating health conditions. Additionally, many farmers in developing countries lack access to the proper education and resources to take preventative measures against these potential health hazards (such as long pants, gloves, and glasses) which exacerbates the problem.
While organic cotton is still a minority of the overall cotton industry, global production has been increasing. From 2016 to 2017, worldwide organic cotton production increased 10% to over 530,000 bales coming from 18 different countries.
The majority of organic cotton is grown in just a few countries though, with 51% of organic cotton grown in India, 19% grown in China, and 7% grown in both Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. The United States is responsible for 4% of production, the majority of which is grown by farmers in Texas.
Organic cotton is grown with minimal environmental impact and must meet organic agricultural standards similar to organic food crops. To achieve organic certification, the cotton must come from non–genetically modified plants and be grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
Organic agriculture also helps maintain and improve soil fertility and enhance biological diversity by using farming practices such as crop rotation, intercropping, and composting.
Organic cotton has benefits for the consumer as well. Wearing chemical-free organic cotton clothing reduces an individual’s exposure to toxic chemicals, and is especially beneficial for those with chemical sensitivities and allergies.
Organic Cotton Certifications
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification requires that the cotton crop itself must be grown with organic practices (no GMOs and no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides). If the textile is made with a mix of organic and non-organic fibers, that product can be labeled “made with organic cotton.” The USDA Organic certification only guarantees that the crop itself is organic but does not consider the manufacturing process, such as the dyes or treatment of the fabric.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS is the leading global standard for organic textiles. This certification is recognized as the most difficult standard to achieve as producers must meet requirements throughout the manufacturing process, beyond the crops.
Global Organic Textile Standard products must have at least 95% organic fiber, not use any toxic dyes or substances like bleach or formaldehyde, and be produced in mills with high standards for both social and environmental practices.
Brands Using Organic Cotton
Organic cotton is now being used wherever cotton is utilized — from personal care items to bedding and towels to clothing and accessories. We are proud to have numerous brand partners that source organic cotton for all (or a portion) of their collection.
Anchal Project creates gorgeous accessories and home goods using traditional Kantha quilting techniques dating back hundreds of years. The ethical brand also uses organic cotton and eco-friendly dyes for their unique, colorful pieces.
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit and Fair Trade Federation member, Anchal not only ensures fair living wages for the artisans, but they go above and beyond to provide artisans with healthcare benefits, trainings, and educational workshops on topics ranging from financial planning to goal setting.
Coyuchi — the first brand to bring organic cotton bedding to the U.S. market — sources top-notch-quality organic fabrics that have achieved certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Fair Trade USA. Beyond organic materials, Coyuchi incorporates innovative sustainable practices, such as a zero-waste water recycling method.
The mindful bedding company partners with mills and production workshops who share the same environmental and social responsibility values. When choosing vendors, Coyuchi looks for certifications such as GOTS, as well as sustainable practices including waste reduction and renewable energy.
Committed to reducing its impact on the environment, Ichcha uses natural fabrics and vegetable dyes for their home products. Ichcha uses chemical-free, hand-spun cotton that’s been handwoven by artisans. The brand sources plant-based dyes from flowers, leaves, trees, minerals, and bark.
Ichcha’s artisan makers are able to set their own wages for their unique heritage crafts. These artisans also receive Hindi classes, English classes, and medical checkups through Ichcha’s partnerships with nonprofits.
Thunderpants’s super comfy, stretchy undergarments are made from 90% Fair Trade Certified organic cotton — grown in New Zealand — and 10% spandex. The organic cotton they source is free of all synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and chemicals.
Thunderpants has bras, underwear, and camisoles that come in vibrant prints and solid neutrals. The fabric is milled and dyed in Australia, before being cut and sewn in a women-owned factory in Oregon
Passion Lilie uses 100% cotton and eco-friendly dyes for their pieces, and utilizes GOTS–certified organic cotton as much as possible. Dedicated to providing sustainable opportunities for artisans, the Fair Trade Federation member pays living wages to all artisans, enabling them to support themselves and their families.
The ethical label is also passionate about keeping traditional crafts alive, designing modern silhouettes that are crafted using heritage art forms such as block printing and hand-weaving.