Cotton is one of the most commonly used fabric fibres in the world. It’s a yarn that we have come to rely on, and we will see, wear or use it in some form every day – clothes, bed linen, dish cloths, it’s everywhere. But even though it’s woven through so much of our daily life, how much do we know about the thread and its journey from bud to farm to yarn?
The cotton plant, whether farmed conventionally or organically, takes several steps to become the fabric we use. The small seeds are separated from the wool in a process called ginning; the deseeded wool is cleaned, carded (fibres aligned), spun and then woven into a fabric. While the processes stay the same in all cotton farming, the practices can differ wildly. And the way these practices differ can have a huge impact.
In conventional cotton farming, the growing of the cotton involves the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The use of these chemicals has an impact on the farmers and planet in more ways than one: to name a few, farmers using non organic methods of farming spend more on seeds, insecticides and pesticides and it leads to indebtedness and chronic ill-health.
The impacts of these chemicals can often go undocumented when we don’t know where companies source their cotton, or how it got to their factories. Transparency and traceability is key to disrupting these damaging cycles of production.
One of the ways you can combat the negative impacts of cotton farming is, of course, by choosing organic cotton, which can often counteract the impacts of conventional farming methods. Studies show that organic methods are 38% cheaper for farmers; it is said to have 91% reduced blue water consumption (fresh water extracted from ground water through irrigation); and producing up to 94% less greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides, and reducing nitrogen inputs.
Organic and Fairtrade cotton farming provides an alternative where we know exactly where our cotton came from and how it got there. At People Tree we feel it’s exceedingly important to support farmers in our supply chain as best as we can – we buy Fair Trade cotton as it offers support to farmers. Fairtrade gives training and support to farmers so that they are best equipped for crop failure. They have also started training on handling climate change. Buying Fairtrade and organic cotton to ensure farmers get the fair price for their yield while protecting local biodiversity and farmers’ health. While organic cotton farming is pesticide and insecticide free, farmers do use natural repellents such as garlic, chilli or neem to protect their plants from pests.
Fashion Revolution Week calls to attention to the fact that our clothes are not just clothes – they are a huge agricultural process and a part of people’s livelihoods. The ways that our clothes are made and who makes them are still questions that remain to be answered by too many fashion brands. By using organic cotton and bringing the traceability of cotton into conversations about fashion, we are encouraged to have more respect for, and work together with the planet and all the people who live on it.
 Soil Association Report (Oct 2015)
 Soil Association Report ‘Cool Cotton’ (Oct 2015)
 Soil Association
 The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Organic Cotton Fiber, Textile Exchange, (2014)