To celebrate National Organic Week we asked our Sustainability Coordinator, Jyoti - why organic cotton? We use sustainable and organic cotton frequently throughout our collections, but apart from top level considerations like having a reduced environmental impact, we wanted to dig deeper into the truths behind farming conventional cotton.
Below our sustainability guru Jyoti lets us in on the harsh truths that are so frequently overlooked...
Modern day agriculture has become dependent on chemical inputs. The scale of farming has increased, and as more mono, single species crops are grown, the ecosystem has become imbalanced.
In a diverse and natural environment there is no need for pesticides as beneficial insects, birds and amphibians eat and manage insect populations. Pesticides are not only harmful to fauna, but they also damage microorganisms in the soil. If the soil is unhealthy plants do not get the nutrients they need to thrive and their natural defences and resilience are compromised.
Plants are sophisticated, producing phytochemicals that act as natural herbicides and insecticides. There are also plants that fix nitrogen in the soil through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. When these natural defence systems are damaged there is a need for more chemical fertilisers and pesticides, forming a perpetuating cycle of toxic dependence. Not only this, but these harmful chemicals are derived from fossil fuels contributing to environmental destruction.
Conventional cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops globally accounting for 16% of pesticide release. Not all cotton is destined for textiles. The seed is used for oil found in processed foods and the meal is fed to cattle as a protein source laced with pesticides.
Many of the commonly used pesticides are listed as “possible” or “probable” human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency. These chemicals are in fact so toxic that they are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation.
Pesticide chemicals are designed to impair the nervous and reproductive systems of targeted species, unfortunately affecting other non-targeted species including humans.
As the majority of the world's cotton is grown in developing countries where agricultural workers do not have access to protective equipment, poor labelling and illiteracy further compound the risk. The impact on these vulnerable communities is disproportionate.
Pesticide exposure can also occur through contaminated water. In India pesticides used for cotton farming have been found in commercial bottled water.
In Brazil, the worlds 4th biggest consumer of agricultural chemicals, researchers have found 19 chemicals present in rainwater. 12 of which are used in cotton farming.
Another chemical used in cotton farming is glyphosate, a herbicide used to control weeds. It is estimated that less than one tenth of one percent of glyphosate used actually comes into contact with the target weed. The remaining 99.99% enters the soil, aquifers and waterways.
A water-soluble chemical, glyphosate evaporates contaminating the air and rainwater. Glyphosate destroys the microbiome of the soil and subsequently the human microbiome, which is essential for healthy immune function. There is a very clear correlation to the introduction and increased dependence on glyphosate and neurological and autoimmune conditions.
Methodologies are being developed to minimise the use of hazardous herbicides and pesticides in cotton farming, for example technological innovations are being used to target individual weeds.
Genetically modified cotton is used throughout the world. Genes are modified to become resistant to insects and herbicides, reducing the need for pesticide spraying and minimising the use of herbicides. However GM crops generate very mixed views.
We have chosen to repeatedly work with organic cotton as it does not use synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides or defoliants, and offers an environmentally and socially sustainable alternative. Organic cotton is predominantly rainfed, reducing the need for irrigation.
Organic farming of cotton is a method that helps mitigate the impacts of climate change through the planting of cover crops. This method promotes healthy, fertile soils that retaining more moisture and sequestering more carbon. Trough crop rotation and felling (resting) of the soil nature is afforded the opportunity to thrive, regenerate and create abundance.
Our community of farmers use natural methods to mature the cotton, such as decreasing water in place of using harmful synthetic defoliants. Holding on to traditional farming methods of integrating natural systems such as intercropping with native species to attract beneficial insects and birds, supports biodiversity and the health of the surrounding environment. Adopting methods used by our ancestors means that we might just have a chance when it comes to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
To ensure complete transparency in our supply chain we seek GOTS certification that ensures strict environmental and social criteria to protect human health and wellbeing, and the delicate balance of natural ecosystems, conserving biodiversity.
We're proud of what we have achieved to date through our conscious, sustainable fibre choices. As part of our sustainability roadmap we're digging deeper into supply chain transparency as we believe that like the ingredients and nutrient facts on the labels of food you consume, the ingredients of your clothes should be that transparent too. From the moment that the seeds is sown, we want you to have confidence in what you put on your skin, because it's the largest porous organ of your body that absorbs whatever you put on it.
There are truly so many reasons that what you buy makes a difference.
For more information head on over to our Sustainability Zine where we talk about our first sourcing pilot for Australian cotton.