Cotton is the most widely used fiber on the planet. From the lint to the seeds, every single part of the cotton plant has a purpose. And there are hundreds of different ways to use it! You might be familiar with the most common ones, like clothing, but there is so much more.
In this blog, we’re doing a deep dive into all things cotton. We’re talking about the main differences between conventional cotton and organic cotton, its qualities, and the sustainable benefits of choosing organic cotton.
Let’s dive in!
What is Cotton?
Cotton is a plant that grows a white, fluffy fiber that’s widely used around the world. That fluffy ball of fiber is what’s commonly known as cotton. Humanity has been relying on it for thousands of years for many different purposes—food, textiles, and even fuel!
Currently, we’re growing over 27 million tons of cotton every year in many different countries around the world. Out of that number, 99% of it is conventional cotton. The other 1% is organic cotton. Let’s explore why this matters….
Is Cotton Sustainable?
About half of the textiles created worldwide are made using cotton. Jeans, t-shirts, underwear, and many other wardrobe essentials are primarily cotton. Its wide use often raises the question “is it sustainable?”. Well, the answer is yes and no.
As a fiber, cotton is natural, biodegradable, and compostable. It is a plant after all! But the high demand, water needs, use of pesticides, processing, and many other factors affect the sustainable qualities of cotton.
According to the WWF, cotton’s negative impact on the environment mostly comes from excessive water use and pollution, pesticides, and land use and clearing.
But not all cotton is grown the same way. There are better practices and environmentally-sustainable ways to grow, harvest, and process cotton. One of the main ones is relying on organic cotton, instead of conventional.
Let’s talk about the differences!
Organic Cotton vs Regular Cotton
There is a lack of sustainable fibers and fabrics for the fashion industry to use at scale. The only fiber with an established supply chain to meet demand is cotton, but only 1% of all cotton is organic! And there is a huge difference between conventional cotton and organic cotton—especially environmentally. Let’s talk about those differences.
Pesticides and Insecticides
Conventional cotton is very dirty! Not in the literal sense, but in many other ways. For starters, 16% of insecticide sales in the world come from non-organic cotton. And also for 5.7% of pesticide use worldwide. Plus, the conventional cotton industry consumes over $2 billion worth of pesticides annually.
That is a lot of pesticides. And they contribute to air and water pollution, global warming, and biodiversity loss. It is poison after all. Currently, cotton is used for many different purposes, and continuing to use so many pesticides is simply unsustainable.
Organic cotton, on the other hand, doesn’t use pesticides, which is not only better for the environment, but also for your skin!
Conventional cotton uses lots of pesticides, which causes leakage or ‘runoff’ from all these harmful chemicals into the surrounding waters and ecosystem. Because organic cotton doesn’t use pesticides, it lowers water pollution by 5x!
This highly toxic runoff of pesticides and fertilizers from conventional cotton fields pollutes groundwater, rivers, lakes, and wetlands. This causes major damage to local communities and eventually reaches our oceans.
Organic cotton is kinder to the environment, including wildlife, bugs, and insects. The use of pesticides is meant to reduce pests that harm cotton crops, but it does much more than that. Pesticides kill everything in their way, including essential microorganisms that thrive in healthy soil and pollinators. This is causing a huge crisis both in our soil and entire ecosystems.
Why is Organic Cotton Better?
Besides being better at keeping water clean and pollution-free, preserving healthy soil, and protecting microorganisms and insects, there are other reasons why organic cotton is a better choice.
Most organic cotton uses non-GMO seeds, low-impact methods for farming, and treats workers with fair conditions. It’s important to consider the whole picture in sustainability—including paying fair, livable wages to the people working at the farms.
Plus, both organic and conventional cotton need lots of water. But organic cotton farming usually recycles some of this water for other processes, since it’s not polluted with pesticides.
Qualities of Organic Cotton
As a fiber, cotton has many qualities that make it a staple in the fashion industry. These are some of the best characteristics of cotton
If you think of a cotton ball, it’s soft and fluffy, and these characteristics get passed on to the fabric too! Clothes made from organic cotton are naturally soft to the touch.
Cotton is a super-absorbent fabric and can hold 27x its weight in water. This gives the cotton extra absorbency, making it a great fabric for wicking moisture from your skin.
If you look closely at any cotton fabric, you’ll notice gaps between the fibers. This space makes cotton breathable and perfect for keeping you fresh in warm weather.
Strong and Durable
The most sustainable piece of clothing is the one you already have, right? Well, cotton is a strong fabric, and it gets stronger when it’s wet. This means you get long-lasting clothing that can easily be machine-washed.
Easy to Dye Naturally
Because cotton is a natural fiber and it’s so absorbent, dyeing it using natural dyes is easier. This is important since conventional dying processes usually involve toxic chemicals that pollute water.
How We’re Tapping into Organic Cotton
At Rustek, we’re all about embracing natural fibers that are sustainable, durable, and renewable. And organic cotton checks all the boxes!
Our beanie collection has some of the softest, coziest beanies ever—and they’re made with 100% organic cotton. No blends. No synthetic fabrics. And they come with a natural cork “leather” tag.
Also, we’re launching a new line of hats, one made of 100% organic cotton and the other one of 45% organic cotton and 55% hemp. The natural materials of our new hats make them the most sustainable hats ever. They’re plastic-free, way more comfortable, and ultra-soft.