Many of the clothes that we buy are plant-based. Take cotton, for example. Cotton plants bear fluffy white fibres, which are harvested in fields and then spun into the threads that we all wear. As a fabric, cotton is prized for its softness, breathability and how kind it is on the skin. These are the characteristics that make it the most popular natural fabric in the world today.
That said, cotton production is not an eco-friendly process. That’s why organisations like the WWF have said that ‘bringing cotton production in line with even minimally acceptable environmental standards is a challenging task’. It might sound surprising but from polluting the world’s waters, to poisoning rare wildlife and ecosystems, and even endangering workers, large-scale cotton production can be widely damaging. There are massive environmental and human impacts.
You could say better things about organic cotton though. Farming this kind of cotton is far kinder on the environment. The harmful inputs of large-scale cotton farming are replaced with gentler ones that have minimal environmental impact. Organic farming uses natural replacements for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, for example.
So what is organic cotton? It’s fair to say the ‘organic’ area’s a bit of a minefield with lots of dubious cottons claiming the coveted title of ‘organic’. And with so much greenwashing going about, you need to be certain of what you’re getting. So when it comes to fabrics it makes sense to look for reliable certifications. The ‘GOTS’ certification (which stands for ‘Global Organic Textile Standard’) is a globally respected cotton benchmark. It’s a label that people are increasingly aware of and looking for.
What is GOTS certified cotton?
Here are some key points on the criteria to meet the GOTS certification:
Cotton fibres must be at least 70% organically farmed
GM cotton seeds are prohibited
Wastewater treatment and chemicals are strictly monitored
Environmentally hazardous substances can’t be used
Child labour is prohibited and workers must be well treated
The certification is monitored and verified by independent inspectors
The production chain must be sustainable
Quality controls on product aspects like shrinkage and color fastness.
Keen to know more? Here’s the official guide from the organisation behind the GOTS certification.
5 key benefits of GOTS certified organic cotton
1. Reduced water pollution
One of the most damaging effects of large-scale cotton farming is water pollution. Toxic runoff from the chemicals used to cultivate crops, contaminates rivers, lakes, wetlands, and can end up in water supplies. On the other hand, organic farming uses less harmful natural chemicals and techniques to manage crops. Under the GOTS certification farms must adhere to strict controls on wastewater management.
2. Protecting ecosystems
Synthetic pesticides and insecticides can have a devastating effect on ecosystems.
It’s estimated that conventional cotton farming is responsible for up to 20% of insecticide use worldwide. This overuse of agricultural chemicals has led to a rapid decline in insects, like bees, as well as creatures higher up in the food chain, like birds. Organic cotton farmers use naturally occurring pesticides to control and manage crops - and under the GOTS certification, environmentally hazardous inputs are prohibited.
3. Kind on the environment - and people
Sustainability is about the environment but it’s also about people. Organic cotton produced under the GOTS certification has strict controls on the way workers are treated. This contrasts with the ‘fast fashion’ approach where workers in developing countries, like Bangladesh, work under appalling conditions to produce the low-cost clothing that must be produced in huge volumes.
4. CO2 ‘sequestration’
2021 was another year where heat records were broken. Reversing this process of global heating is a challenge but organic farms can make a small difference. This is because organic farming leads to healthier soils that can better ‘sequester’ (absorb) carbon emissions compared to intensively farmed soils. Another reason that organic farming helps is because fossil-fuel based fertilisers don’t have to be imported, as those kinds of chemicals aren’t used.
5. Higher quality = more sustainable
When it comes to clothing, quality also equals sustainability. If you wear clothes that are made from quality fabrics they’ll last longer. This means that you won’t have to send your item to landfill and buy a replacement, repeating the environmental impact. Lots of the cotton that bears the ‘organic’ label isn’t high quality but if you opt for GOTS-certified cotton, which includes quality controls on finished products, you can be assured your item’s going to last.
Sustainability: about cotton and beyond
Sustainability used to be a word you’d hear every so often. Now, it’s hard to go a day without hearing the s-word applied to something or other. Which is reassuring: sustainability is important and should be here to stay. And when it comes to applying sustainability to our day to day lives, sustainable clothing is one of the most practical changes we can make.
At POMP we aim to produce a wide variety of fun, functional and classic GOTS-certified cotton clothing that is better for the planet and people. But that kind of sustainability doesn’t start and end with organic cotton. We make sustainability happen at an operational level by printing our clothing in a factory that uses only sustainable energy, by producing on demand to avoid waste and delivering in plastic-free, plant-based packaging. Every one of our products also has instructions on the product label explaining how to return your clothes back to us to be remade.
Find out more about the cotton that we use here. And you can also take a look at some of our GOTS-certified items on the links below.