When we started Tuckerman & Co. we had a lot of questions about organic cotton. In our process to learn more about the topic we came across a lot of information we thought our customers would be interested in too, which is why we put together this short guide on organic cotton.
What is Organic Cotton
If you walk into any supermarket in the US you'll see lots of organic items, from fresh produce to grains and dairy products. To many people organic means healthier, better for the environment, and more ethical. But what does it actually mean to be organic? Generally speaking, a product is organic if it is produced without using genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, ionizing radiation, sewage sludge, and most other synthetic substances. And, while the term organic is often associated with food, it actually extends well beyond food products.
Now, let’s dive into organic cotton. Organic cotton is an environmentally friendly cotton produced without using synthetic pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers. Only 1% of cotton grown worldwide is organic! This is an incredibly small percentage given that 20 million tons of cotton is produced each year worldwide. Another way to think of this is all of the cotton grown in the world would cover the area of the entire state of Arizona, while organic cotton would only cover the size of Rhode Island.
Environmental Benefits of Organic Cotton
While cotton accounts for about 2.5% of the world’s total crop land, conventional cotton accounts for a whopping 11% of the insecticides and 24% of the pesticides used worldwide. These chemicals are highly toxic and are some of the largest contributors to pollution. One of the greatest dangers posed by these toxins is their leakage into local water sources, causing massive water contamination which is very harmful to both people and aquatic life.
3% of the total water used for agriculture worldwide is used to grow cotton. In fact, it takes an incredible 5,000 bottles of water to produce the cotton in a t-shirt. Unlike conventional cotton, though, organic cotton requires 71% less water to produce--that only about 1,500 bottles of water to produce the same cotton t-shirt. By some accounts, by growing organic cotton, farmers saved over 50 billion gallons of water.
Benefits of organic cotton to cotton growers and their communities
At Tuckerman, we feel that it is important to pay attention not only to the environmental impact of our clothing, but also to the workers who make our clothes possible. The farmers who grow organic cotton are not exposed to the nasty chemicals used to produce conventional cotton, and neither are their families and local communities. Most pesticides and insecticides used to grow conventional cotton have been shown to endanger human health. For example, some insecticides have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and learning disabilities. Children face the highest risks from pesticides and insecticides since their bodies are still developing.
Growing organic crops has many additional benefits, including reducing the threat of drinking water contamination for farmers, their families and, their communities, that can be caused by toxins leaking into local water systems.
Organic cotton farmers and their communities also benefit from crop rotation. Since organic crops depend on the natural ecosystem in the soil, crop rotation is crucial for sustainable organic cotton farming. Crop rotation has the benefit of maintaining healthy soil, and allows farmers to grow food crops which can be used to feed farmers’ families and communities.
Organic cotton looks very similar to conventional cotton and it can be difficult to tell the difference so reliable third-party certification which traces cotton back to the farm is critical. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is considered the gold-standard when it comes to organic cotton. GOTS aim is to set a standard for organic cotton that focuses on all aspects of organic cotton production, from harvesting of the raw materials, to environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing. The GOTS certification sets very stringent requirements which cotton producers must adhere to in order to be certified. That is why GOTS has a very specific list of substances which are prohibited from use in the production of organic cotton. GOTS places a huge emphasis on environmental issues from wastewater treatment to the packaging used to transport the cotton. GOTS also addresses social criteria, including workers’ rights. For example, all employers certified by GOTS must adhere to the International Labour Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Tuckerman & Co. Environmental Commitment
Tuckerman was created for a simple but powerful reason: to create quality clothing that we can all feel good about. That is why we believe organic cotton is the way to go. All of the clothing made by Tuckerman uses GOTS-certified organic cotton. We have a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, and wherever possible use less harmful materials over their conventional counterparts. Together, we believe these all make for a better product.