Organic Cotton: what’s the fuss?

Like me, you’ll have noticed more and more businesses promoting ethically sourced products, sustainability, natural fibres and products, organic food etc.  It is easy to understand why eating organic food is good for us, but why bother with organic cotton?

janko-ferlic-150572.jpgPhoto by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The world’s largest producers of cotton in 2016/17 are 1. India 2. China and 3. the U.S.  It is estimated that around 99% of this is conventional cotton.

A few years ago I heard about the epidemic of cotton farmers’ suicides in India.  This is said to be heavily linked to the control large GM seed companies have over these farmers.  It is a controversial topic, but essentially cotton farmers were being locked into contracts and forced to buy new GM seeds every year.  These seeds became resistant to pests and weeds which required the farmers to buy more pesticide and insecticide from these same companies, creating a cycle of depedence.  Many, many farmers became caught in a debt trap with high interest loans.  In desperation, farmers were taking their own lives by drinking the pesiticide.  In 2014 it was reported that more than 270 000 Indian cotton farmers had killed themselves since 1995.  (Vandana Shiva is an environmental activist, trained physicist with a PhD in Physics, currently based in Delhi.  She speaks and writes regularly on this topic and you can easily find out more if interested.)

trisha-downing-337371Image by Trisha Downing on Unsplash

There are other issues inovolved with convential cotton farming:

  • extensive energy and water useage
  • a range of chemicals required to grow cotton, harming the people who work the land and those who live near the farms
  • these chemicals not only harm humans but wildlife and the environment too
  • soil quality diminshes over time
  • factories used to create conventional cotton fabric typically use toxic dyes and chemicals in processing, polluting waterways and being ingested by workers


IMG_8620 2Image my own

How is Organic Cotton better?

  • Farmers are free to save their seeds from year to year, and no GM seeds are used
  • Soil is nurtured and only natural pesticides and insecticides are used
  • Food is grown alongiside the cotton which feeds the farmers and is better for the soil
  • Less water and energy use
  • Less greenhouse emissions
  • Factories that produce organic cotton fabric are regularly inspected, meaning no forced labour and no child labour

You may have heard about GOTS certified organic cotton?  (Global Organic Textile Standard) This certification ensures that the fabric is truly organic from field to finished product.   There can be no blending with conventional cotton and no use of toxic dyes.  The Soil Association organic mark ensures these same practices have been upheld.

GOTS logo

Image result for the soil association logo






What about Fairtrade cotton?

cotton logo

Fairtrade NZ says “The price of cotton has slumped in the last 30 years, while the cost of producing the crop has risen.”  Small-scale farmers typically have little power to negotiate with buyers but when working with Fairtrade, they are organised into cooperatives which gives them a better bargaining position and they receive a fair and stable price for their cotton regardless of the state of the global market. Fairtrade also supports farmers through the Fairtrade Premium, an additional sum of money that the cooperative receives that enables them to democratically invest in business and community development projects (such as transitioning to organic).  For many smallholder farmers in developing nations cotton farming is their only source of income, and plunging prices result in poverty.

Fairtrade International / FLO-CERTImage from Fairtrade International, Cotton at Chetna Organic India

While not all Fairtrade farmers produce organic cotton, they are committed to environmental outcomes too; by reducing chemical use, by not using certain chemicals that are prohibited, and by never using GM seeds.  Crop diversity is encouraged to improve soil fertility and diversify their income.

Cotton which is both certified organic and Fairtrade (‘dual certified’) is considered the ‘gold standard’ for sustainable cotton.

Take a look at these clothing and bed linen brands who use fair trade cotton in their ranges here

La Rhea Pepper, Managing Director of the Textile Exchange, had this to say in the 2016 Organic Cotton Market Report; “In the past year, we’ve seen increased understanding that, with the proper foundations of transparency and integrity, organic cotton programs deliver real benefits to the least prosperous parts of the supply chain, especially smallholder farmers.”  Read more here 

If you’d like to see the harvesting of organic cotton from seed to garment, click here to see Kowtow’s short video clip shot in black and white last year.  This is worth a look!


You may know that I’ve opened an online store selling everyday sustainable homewares and goods, and you can see it here.   You’ll find a range of GOTS certified organic cotton cushions in geometric patterns that are sized for use as floor cushions, or for your sofa.  As a BLOG POST DEAL you can take $5 off these cushion covers.  If you purchase the NZ made duck feather inner too, take $5 off the cover and get free delivery.  (Cushion inners are bulky items and have higher shipping costs, so take advantage of this offer!)  Note that this deal is for the large 60x60cm cushion covers and inners only.  Offer valid till November 15.  Please email me and mention this blog post deal.  NZ residents only sorry.

I blogged earlier this year about why I love linen, whether it’s in clothing or cushions and throws etc.  You can read that here

thumb_IMG_4335_1024Image by Katie Smitten from Smitten Design

If you’re still reading THANK YOU!  As always, I am appreciative because I know in our busy lives there are many other ways you could be spending your time.

Till next time (when I’m planning to share something lighthearted and Christmassy!)

Kim x





Author: The Coastal Creative

Living close to the beach encourages a relaxed way of living and this influences my work as an interior designer. I am drawn to the eclectic, faded colours, rustic timber, the imperfection of things hand made, and objects that tell a story.

2 thoughts on “Organic Cotton: what’s the fuss?”

    1. It’s lovely that you took the time to comment – thank you. As consumers we often don’t think about the people that made our goods further back in the supply chain, and if we did know, I think that spending habits would change for many! It’s all about awareness, as you’ll know, and the more people that talk about this issue the better.


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