We all love cotton. It is, by far, the most common raw material in our wardrobes and for a lot of us, it has some kind of romantic vibe to it; softer by every wash, breathable, natural. Perhaps that’s the reason a vital question has been severely delayed: is cotton as good as we think?
The vast amounts of water, chemicals and energy required in conventional cotton production no doubt makes it an unsustainable practice, both environmentally and socially. And although progress is being made, only 1% of all produced cotton is organic cotton – all while the transition to organic is commonly agreed upon as one of the musts for us to achieve a fashion industry that stays within the planetary boundaries.
The other day we took part of an event hosted by Sandqvist and Nudie Jeans, together with Textile Exchange (global non-profit working to transform industry practices) and Dibella India (producing organic and Fair-trade certified fabrics and garments) and the question we asked ourselves was: what is the importance of organic cotton? The short answer is obvious – it’s a matter of life or death – but the road towards making it a reality on a broader scale is much more complex.
Sreeranga Rajan, a sustainable textile specialist, social entrepreneur and organic farmer – his company provides fabrics and garments made with organic cotton to the hosts of the evening – shared experiences from India. Coming from a family of cotton farmers and having spent time with the farmers, he saw deaths and despair from very close quarters. Spending the time with farmers was a turning point for Mr Rajan, and he decided to work towards a change, especially by promoting organic farming practices.
As we listened to the stories Mr Rajan shared, the sadness and injustice felt overwhelming. Farmers killing themselves with the toxic pesticides used on the fields; often forced to debt because of the high price of pesticides and always pressured by unpredictable weather conditions and volatility in the price of cotton globally. But the stories also gave us a feeling of determination: the conventional cotton production practices cannot continue the way they are. We all have to contribute to a change.
Liesl Truscott from Textile Exchange reminded us of the importance of aiming high: promoting sustainable methods in the textile supply chain and going beyond certification; seeing the potential positive effects of, for example, choosing organic cotton. Environmental, social, economic. It’s not just about doing “less bad” – it’s about doing good, aiming towards improvements beyond complying with standards. She called it Organic 3.0.
We brought a quote by Maya Angelou to the seminar: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
The importance of not just talking but also doing was stressed by our hosts for the night, Sandqvist and Nudie Jeans. And their experiences are interesting: When Nudie Jeans decided to change to organic cotton in 2006, it wasn’t possible to do quickly because there wasn’t enough interest among denim manufacturers. It took six years of work for them to be able to present a 100% organic cotton collection. When Sandqvist decided to make the transition in 2016, they did it overnight (well, over a season). Now, both brands represent a very small group of Swedish mid-size brands with 100% organic cotton, and we hope they will lead the way for others to join them.
Sandqvist apparently had a sit-down and discussed what the single most important change they could make as a company would be, to become a more sustainable, responsible one – a brand for the future. Transitioning to organic cotton was their answer.
The importance of making these kinds of active choices and keeping ourselves informed shine through brighter than ever. With knowledge, we will be able to make smarter choices, like choosing organic cotton instead of conventional cotton. With knowledge, we will steer development in the right direction. Let’s be smarter about the future of fashion than what we have been so far. Let’s choose certified organic, Fairtrade cotton.
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