How Clean Is Your Cotton?

Here’s your eco guide to cleaner cotton


A cotton farm. Picture / Wikimedia Commons.

Cotton seems spotless. It grows as a fluffy white plant and is processed into towels and flannels – clean stuff.

Upsettingly, it has a lengthy ecological rap sheet that means it is the filthiest of all fibres. While it covers just 2.5 per cent of the planet’s total agricultural area, the cotton crop uses 7 per cent of all pesticides and 16 per cent of all insecticides.

There are entire chemical companies making neurotoxic formulas just to support this crop. And it takes nearly 4,000 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans.

It’s almost enough to make us yearn for the entirely polyester wardrobes of the 1970s or even drive us to hemp – a fibre often touted as the solution, though in reality it is blended with cotton.

Luckily, organic cotton, grown to stringent international standards where few agrichemicals are permitted, is readily available. A recent study on the long-term effects of growing it in India claimed big environmental savings and a boon for the farmers who converted.

But other reports suggest that organic cotton can’t keep up with demand. Alternative standards promising cleaner cotton have leapt into the gap: Fairtrade, Cleaner Cotton, e3 (GMO seed-free cotton), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).

With a stated aim of turning a third of all the world’s cotton sustainable by 2050, the latter seems the most ambitious. Brokered by WWF among retailers and the many middlemen and agents in the supply chain, BCI cotton is grown in Brazil, Mali, Kenya and Pakistan. There are six basic principles that include minimising chemicals and using water efficiently. BCI may not have organic’s rigour, but retailers like it: Ikea is now sourcing all of its cotton through the system.

Nothing screams ‘emergency on planet Earth’ like these pictures from Indonesia. For over two months thousands of fires have been raging as a consequence of the slash-and-burn farming techniques for palm oil plantations (palm oil is contained in 50% of supermarket products). The fires have produced more carbon emissions than Japan does in a year, sometimes surpassing the daily emissions output of the United States.

Using a blend of cotton and silk, the art of ikat weaving in south and southeast India is as fascinating as the finished designs it produces. Each yarn is coloured separately, marked in paint based on the design, then woven together to give the fabric a delicate look, with motifs appearing to fade at the edges.

It is impossible to mass produce the woven fabric and no two garments are exactly the same. That’s why it was important for Smita Kumar and Haseena Lathif to include ikat weave designs in their new sustainable fashion ecommerce site, DFYnorm.com. For anyone keen to find something new and unexpected for your next wardrobe hit, you will find it here. Kumar and Lathif tracked down ikat weavers in Pochampally, India, to make their tailored ikat jacket design. It’s a match made in heaven.

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New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

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