Why choose certified organic cotton?

Why choose certified organic cotton?

This Organic September, we've teamed up with the Soil Association, the body that spearheads organic produce and ensures compliance with organic standards.

The term 'organic' most frequently refers to food, but there are many of the same benefits to be gained from farming and processing fabrics and other produce organically too.

Soil Association Certification is the UK’s leading organic certifier, offering a huge range of organic and sustainable certification schemes across food, farming, catering, health and beauty, textiles and forestry.

In this guest post, the Soil Association's Georgia Barnes explains what they look for - and why - when certifying organic textiles...

Why Does Organic Matter?

A brown sack of cotton balls against a white background.

It is so easy to forget that the clothes we choose are intrinsically linked to the world around us.

Although there are many fibres that can be grown on organic farms, like hemp, flax (linen), jute, silk and wool, cotton is one of the most commonly used materials in fashion and textiles. 

Latest figures suggest that around a third (31%) more cotton was produced in 2018/19 than previous years.

Soil Association Organic Market Report 2021

Cotton is grown in a field, the fluffy fibre is picked and then spun into thread. Once woven into material it is light, breathable, easy to work with and easy to wear.

Non-organic cotton has been dubbed the ‘world’s dirtiest crop’. The joint report from the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Soil Association (SA), Have you Cottoned On Yet, tells us that “the majority of cotton production is still toxic, thirsty, and energy intensive. The rise of GM cotton is putting farmers’ livelihoods and choices at risk.” 

We also know from our Thirsty for Fashion report that “one kilogram of non-organic cotton takes as much as 20,000 litres of water to produce”. 

There are various sustainable cottons available, but, if you want to be sure what you are buying is grown in a truly sustainable way, certified organic cotton is the best option. 

Organic is the only system which eliminates highly toxic substances from the environment and instead works holistically, for the long-term benefit of people and the planet.

Going organic can make a significant difference that saves precious water and combats climate change in so many ways.

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5 Reasons Organic Cotton is a Sustainable Choice:

Close-up of a hand holding a tag attached to a white top on a hanger. The tag reads 100% Organic Cotton.

1. Combats climate change

Organic farmers use natural methods to grow cotton, not fossil-fuel based fertilisers. By working with nature, farmers build healthy soils which store carbon and help to combat climate change. Organic cotton emits 46% less greenhouse gas than non-organic.

2. Saves precious water

Organic cotton uses less water than conventionally produced cotton. Hazardous synthetic pesticides and fertilisers are banned in organic farming, so rivers, lakes and drinking water are not contaminated with toxic chemicals. Organic farming creates healthy soils, which act like a sponge, soaking up water during floods and holding it for longer in times of drought.

3. Helps farmers feed their families

Organic farmers always grow other crops alongside their cotton. These crops can provide farming families and their communities with a more stable, accessible, abundant and diverse food supply and another source of income.

4. Gives control to farmers not GM companies

Genetically modified (GM) seeds are banned in organic farming, so farmers are not reliant on a handful of GM companies. Instead, they save their seeds year after year, and work with the environment in a long-term, sustainable way.

5. Eliminates hazardous synthetic pesticides

Organic farmers use natural methods like crop rotation to control pests and diseases, not chemical cocktails. Hazardous synthetic pesticides used in non-organic farming can damage ecosystems, poison waterways and endanger workers who can’t always afford safety equipment needed to protect them. Conventional cotton alone is responsible for 16% of all insecticides sold worldwide.

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Organic cotton is better for the planet than conventional cotton, but it can be so hard to know if the company you are buying from is really using it, how much of it they are using, and what other processes the product has been through.

The Role of Certification

Garment worker inspecting a stack of dark blue denim jeans

Knowing how to find products that meet organic standards, can be a challenge, especially in an industry that has real transparency issues in the supply chain. 

That’s why the Soil Association offers certification to the two independent organic standards in the UK, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Organic Content Standard (OCS). 

There isn’t a legal requirement for textile businesses to certify their products in the same way there is in the organic food and drink sector, so it’s even more important to focus on where and how organic cotton has been produced.

More than a quarter (26%) of millennials are willing to pay more for products that have a lower impact on the environment.

SA Organic Market Report 2021

Certifying with the Soil Association offers shoppers the assurance from a trusted third-party about the authenticity of products. 

With people increasingly looking for transparency in what they buy, certification is becoming essential for textile businesses that want to show the veracity of their claims. The organic market’s growth reflects this demand. 

What Does Certification Cover?

Little boy with magnifying glass against parkland backdrop

When buying a product that is certified to GOTS with the Soil Association Certification team, you know that the business has chosen to certify voluntarily – there are currently no legal requirements to certify or independently verify claims around organic cotton use. 

The entire process is reviewed and goes way above a simple 'does it contain organic cotton' question.

The raw materials (textile composition and fibres) are reviewed, as are the chemicals used in processing, with only approved inputs allowed. 

From there, the chain of custody is fully transparent and traceable with several types of transaction certificates.

Our team also reviews and controls chemical use, water treatment and the environmental policy during the processing of the cotton. 

Segregation, storage, packaging and transport are also considered during the on-site audit. 

A man and a woman stood in a factory in hi-vis jackets and hard hats looking at clipboards

Social issues are addressed during the processing stages by reviewing policy as well as physical inspections and interviews on site, before the final sign off is given, to support consumers in making ethical decisions.

This rigorous process helps GOTS work towards their vision that organic textiles will become a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people’s lives and the environment.

GOTS organic cotton is better for wildlife, soil and combating climate change. 

If you’d like to know more about our certified textiles brands, please visit the Soil Association website.

Todd Fox icon Head of Wardrobe Final Thought:

Less than 1% of cotton worldwide is grown using organic methods - and within that small sector not all organic cotton is created the same. Not all organic supply chains ensure fair conditions and pay for workers, for example.

When buying organic it's worth looking out for official certifications, eg. GOTS, so you can be sure of both the organic content of a garment, along with additional stringent criteria throughout the whole supply chain are being met.

At My Little Green Wardrobe, we only work with brands that ensure a better deal for the planet and the people on it - we're here to make it easy for you to make great choices.

With love,

Lucy
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