Since day one of running my business sourcing cotton that is organically and sustainably produced has never been up for compromise. Consequently, ‘organic cotton’ are two of the first words I use when describing Henri as a business – something that I’m openly proud of. The fruits of this significant commitment offers sustainable style to those looking for it, raises awareness for those who aren’t and gives an integral backbone to Henri which helps to shape my everyday decisions, hopefully for the better.
This headstrong approach made it difficult to find suppliers to work with; I am still astonished that when you add ‘GOTS certified organic cotton’ into your criteria on the quest for beautiful fabrics that it makes the task in hand 10 times harder. With only 1% of the worlds cotton industry producing organically it’s somewhat a rare commodity, but it’s something we should be demanding more of from the fashion industry for so many reasons.
It’s overwhelming when reading up on the issues surrounding farming of conventional cotton so I’ve broken it down into the three main points that really struck a chord with me.
- Vast (I mean VAST) water consumption
- Dangerous toxic pollution
- Alarming rate of farmer suicides
Cotton is produced in over 100 countries and supports the livelihoods of 350 million people. With the production of one t-shirt needing 2700 litres of water (4 years worth of drinking water for one adult) it doesn’t take long to tally up inconceivable water to clothing ratio for a crop that is mostly farmed in the poor rural areas of developing countries. With a shortage of clean drinking water in these areas the faming of conventional cotton first and foremost affects the poorest members of society.
In answer to these alarming statistics organic cotton is grown using 50% less water with the soil being able to retain water much better. Fields are also often watered on drip irrigation systems to minimise wasted water, something that the poorest farmers can receive support for when transitioning to organic.
It might surprise you to hear that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil and this is largely because of cotton. Although cotton is grown on just 2.5% of agricultural land, over 16% of all insecticides are used on this crop.
Pesticides sprayed over the fields are washed out of soils polluting clean groundwater which eventually makes its way into surrounding rivers. This is detrimental to local ecosystems and can infect drinking water, causing many deaths and severe illnesses. The chemicals are designed to destroy the nervous and reproductive systems of pests and have similar effects on humans, causing increased risk of some cancers and diseases too. With many women working in cotton fields the contamination causes a huge risk for pregnant women in particular, leading to many children being born with disabilities. No chemicals are permitted in organic farming, making it a much safer environment for the surrounding communities and wildlife.
In western India's cotton production belt, a farmer commits suicide every 8 hours. One of the most tragic effects of cotton farming is the lack of sustainable income for farmers which has led to a huge increase in the number of farmer suicides. Too many farmers become trapped in debt cycles caused by expensive pesticides and high seed costs from large multinationals such as Monsanto. Organic cotton farming helps to give farmers seed sovereignty as farmers are allowed to grow their own seed diversity and gain independence from giant cotton seed corporations.
Like I said, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the facts and figures but I think it’s important to recognize the issue and use it to inform our purchasing decisions. Collectively, we hold a lot of power in our spending and increased demand for organic cotton will result in a continued shift towards organic farming.