What is Organic Cotton?

Cotton is a naturally occurring plant that has been farmed on an industrial scale for thousands of years. Organic cotton is cotton that has been cultivated to high organic agricultural standards. The production of organic cotton over conventional cotton ensure that it sustains soil and ecosystems health whilst by using natural processes rather than artificial inputs such as chemicals. The aim of organically produced cotton is to combine traditional agricultural methods, modern science and natural processes to reduce negative impacts.

Moving away from conventional cotton

Cotton has been a staple for clothing for years but as both brands and consumers become more environmentally aware, the issues around cotton have become difficult to ignore. The negative environmental impacts are wide ranging and have led to conventional cotton being called the dirtiest crop in the world.

For 1 tonne of conventional cotton to be produced over 10,000L of water have to be used and over 1.8 tonnes of CO2 is produced. This is not to mention the impacts on soil health and the immediate environment where cotton uses approximately 8% of the world's agrochemical pesticides, about 18% of the world's insecticides and 8% of the world's chemical fertilizers.

The importance of organic cotton

Organic cotton is widely accepted to result in:

Healthier soils - organic cotton results in healthier soils and water due to the removal of man-made fertiliser and a wide array of chemicals. Organic soil matter can build up through natural processes and improved farming techniques.

Removal of chemical pollutants - no man made toxic chemicals or GMO's are permitted in organic farming. From the dependence on pesticides, insecticides and herbicides in conventional cotton the move to organic is hugely important.

Reduction in water use - cotton is a water intensive crop but organic cotton promotes a move to rain-fed systems where farms are in naturally wet environments.

Sustainable farming practices - not only through the removal of chemicals and man made fertilisers but the increased focus on education and training. Improved in crop rotation, natural defoliation, intercropping and composting.  

With organic cotton removing the use of chemicals in the agricultural process it is an immediate positive outcome. Combine this with organic cotton using 88% less water and 62% less energy and you can instantly see why outdoor brands are moving more of their clothing to organic.

In 2015, 26 million metric tonnes of cotton was produced globally, much of it for the apparel industry. Organic cotton makes up less than 1% of this so there is still a long way to go but some brands have already made changes.

Brand involvement

A number of brands use orgnic cotton and some have gone a step further. Patagonia and Icebreaker are part of the '100% Club' using only organically produced cotton across their ranges. Below are some additional details from brands themselves on organic cotton.

All our virgin cotton is grown with organic practices that eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and GMO seeds.

When we scrutinized fabric fibers to determine their environmental impact, we thought that cotton was “pure” and “natural,” because it was made from a plant. We were right about the plant. However, very little is pure or natural about cotton when it is raised conventionally. We learned this in the early 1990s when we started looking more closely into our cotton supply chains. At that time, 10% of all agricultural chemicals in the United States were used to produce cotton that was grown on just 1% of all major agricultural land. Every year, conventional cotton crops in California alone were doused with 6.9 million pounds of chemicals. Research has shown that extensive and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers, soil additives, defoliants and other substances wreak havoc on soil, water, air and many, many living things. The alternative to this scenario is to eliminate synthetic chemical use and instead use organically grown cotton.

Patagonia first started using exclusively 100% organic cotton in 1996. Later, we also began using recycled cotton, cotton in conversion and Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) Pilot Cotton. Farmers who grow their cotton without harmful chemicals reduce their reliance on big agrochemical companies, like Bayer-Monsanto and Syngenta, and reduce the exposure of farmworkers to potentially toxic and carcinogenic compounds. Organically farmed cotton employs nature-based solutions to manage pests and build healthy soil, instead of the synthetic pesticides, herbicides, defoliants, fertilizers and GMO seeds used to grow conventional cotton. These methods support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, improve the quality of soil and often use less water. Compared to conventional cotton, there is a 45% reduction in CO2 emissions and an 87% reduction in water as a result of growing organic cotton.

Cotton has been used for thousands of years and is the world's most popular textile material. It’s not that odd really. It's soft and nice, stays cool in hot weather and can withstand both high temperatures and repeated wear. But cotton also has a dirty story featuring everything from slavery to environmental destruction. So much so that today cotton has become one of the world's most problematic raw materials due to its poison-intensive cultivation.

Cotton requires huge amounts of fresh water to grow. Sometimes as much as 29,000 liters is needed to produce one kilogram of cotton. Most conventional cotton is grown in dry warm areas, which necessitates the use of pesticides. Often these regions suffer from water scarcity leading to a difficult prioritization between earning a livelihood by growing cotton or saving water for drinking purposes. Conventional cultivation also requires significant use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. For example, as much as 25 percent of all insecticides used in agriculture globally is used in cotton farming. However, cotton cultivation accounts for only 2.5 percent of all cultivable soil globally. These chemicals do not stop at killing harmful pests in the cotton fields. They spread to other organisms in the food chain through water, air and soil interactions and may eventually destroy entire ecosystems if not addressed urgently. Exposure to these chemicals is also causing severe health problems for many farmers as well as their neigh-bors, from complaints of headaches, nausea, dizziness and severe allergies to serious illnesses and even deaths.

Organic cotton, on the other hand, is grown without chemical pesticides and manmade fertilizers. For us at Haglöfs, the choice of using only organic cotton for our products has always been an obvious one. We want our products to be the best they can be – for you, for the cotton producers’ workers and their communities as well as our environment. Unfortunately, organic cotton still only accounts for 0.1 percent of all the cotton grown in the world. New innovations

While the demand for cotton is growing, the current rate of cultivating conventional cotton cannot be sustained. With severe water constraints already straining cotton production globally, several organizations are now researching methods for recycling cotton. Despite the slow progress, we are keen to experiment with recycled cotton and see if it can become a viable alternative to even the organic cotton we use.

Although cotton is in itself a natural product, standard cotton is sadly far from being environmentally friendly. As part of its extensive WE CARE strategy, MAMMUT is focusing on the increased use of organic cotton to minimize the environmental footprint of its products. Life cycle analysis indicates that organic cotton consumes an incredible 91% less water compared to conventional cotton and causes 46% less greenhouse gas emissions (source: about organic cotton).

This is why MAMMUT uses bioRe cotton for its climbing shirts. It is organically grown without genetic modification and under fair conditions by 6,000 small farmers in India and Tanzania. Since 2012, MAMMUT has been working with the Swiss fair-trade focused company Remei for its procurement.

Remei assures small farmers a purchase guarantee and pays them a 15% organic premium on the regional market price. As well as this, Remei advocates the training of farmers in organic farming methods and the creation of communities wherever organic cotton is grown so that everyone is able to learn and benefit from each other.

Beyond the premium quality of bioRe fiber, MAMMUT places great importance on its sustainable production throughout the entire textile chain. The climbing t-shirts are produced in India. Remei-approved spinning mills are used to spin the yarn. The yarns and textiles are then dyed in strictly controlled dye works. For printing, embroidery and finishing, Remei has set up specific MAMMUT production lines with its long-standing production partner. Trained and motivated employees ensure that MAMMUT's high standards are met. All products marked as bioRe sustainable textiles are also CO2 neutral.

The bioRe cotton climbing t-shirts also offer you, as a consumer, the opportunity to trace the entire textile chain all the way back to the farmers. As well as offering maximum functionality and exceptional workmanship, the ethically and ecologically sound bioRe styles also add an extra level of quality to your outdoor activities by means of their fair-trade production.

No toxic chemicals and only natural pesticides

- Soft, tactile & comfortable

- Moisture-binding properties

- Natural material

Cotton is an incredibly versatile natural material that’s been used to make clothes for thousands of years. It’s soft and comfortable, perfect for t-shirts and easy-going activities.

At Fjällräven, we’ve always used long-fibre cotton of the highest quality. But cotton is a resource-intensive material. Under normal conditions, it requires lots of water, pesticides and fertilisers. This has negative effects on local biodiversity and the surrounding ecosystem. It even has knock-on effects on nearby communities.

So we’ve decided to phase out regular cotton and switch to organic cotton instead. The high-quality organic fibre is grown with less water (than regular cotton) and without the use of toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.

Our organic cotton producers are independently verified for their techniques and materials. Their methods support biodiversity and work towards improving soil quality.