We all know about the health benefits of buying organic food and using organic cleaning products, but what about organic materials in fashion?
Not only do organic fabrics feel better, they also have a major positive impact on both your health and the health of our planet.
What makes organic cotton so much better than cotton grown by conventional methods?
First of all, compared to regular cotton, organic cotton is extremely soft, due to the lack of harsh chemicals, dyes and bleaches added to the fabric during processing. Organic fabrics do not have anti-wrinkle chemicals applied to them, making them not only softer but much more comfortable to wear.
Most importantly, in much the same way that organic food is grown without the use of pesticides, organic crops used in the textile industry are grown in a way that use methods and materials that lessen their impact on our environment.
Consider these facts: conventional cotton farming uses approximately 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides. Shockingly, it takes roughly a third of a pound of chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) to grow enough cotton for just one T-shirt. In fact, conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop in the world.
These pesticides have significant damaging effects and are harmful for everyone involved in the life cycle of the fashion industry — from farmers to factory workers to consumers to entire wildlife eco-systems. According to the World Health Organization, sadly up to 20,000 deaths each year are caused by pesticide poisoning in developing countries. Here in North America, more than 10,000 farmers die each year from cancers related to such chemicals. Wildlife is equally impacted and environmental groups have found that pesticides unintentionally kill at least 67 million birds annually in the U.S.
After crops are sprayed with the chemicals, the run-off seeps into water after heavy rains, poisoning lakes, rivers and waterways. Pesticide residue has been increasingly discovered in foods, farm animals and even breast milk. Not only are these carcinogens responsible for thousands of cases cancer in adults, they are particularly harmful to young children who can develop debilitating neurodevelopmental effects.
Still, despite these alarming facts, less than 1% of all cotton grown is organic.
As consumers become more informed and demand better choices, more and more brands and fashion houses are committing to organic materials. For example, H&M recently became the world’s largest buyer of organic cotton. Dozens of smaller brands have also championed organic materials, but we as consumers can do more. If our choices literally kill our farmers, destroy our rivers and streams and endanger our youth, we have an obligation to consider organic along with style and fit. It’s that important.
Fortunately, organic cotton isn’t the only ethical fiber available to the fashion industry, and more choices become available as the demand grows. The following materials are becoming more popular as consumers demand better choices:
Hemp: Hemp plants grow quickly and densely with no need for herbicides or pesticides, and further enable sustainability by leaving the soil in excellent condition for succeeding crops. The long fibers of the hemp plant require only minimal processing to be spun into fabrics, which are known for their durability. Hemp is also highly breathable, hypoallergenic, and improves over time with washing and wear.
Linen: Derived from the flax plant, linen is the strongest of all natural fibers. It has very little need for chemical fertilizers, and all parts of the plant can be used after harvesting to create multiple byproducts so nothing is wasted. Linen is also very cool and breathable, making it an excellent choice for summer fashion.
Lyocell: Made from the pulp of eucalyptus trees grown in sustainable forests, Lyocell, uses 100 times less water in its production process than does conventional cotton. It is also naturally anti-bacterial and 100% biodegradable.
When it comes to clothing, the movement towards ethical production and sustainability has only just begun. With continued persistence on the part of designers, eco-responsible retailers, and consumers, more and more sustainable fabric choices continue to appear each year.