STYLE / Cotton Conundrums

Did you know that it takes up to 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt? In other words, the equivalent of around 34 baths or 3 years worth of drinking water! 

This is even more shocking when you think that cotton is typically grown in some of the most water scarce parts of the world. The irrigaton systems for this thirsty crop have already been implicated in the drying of the Aral Sea, and sadly there's more to its story...

Cotton is one of the most widely used materials in clothing, loved for its versatility, comfort and ease of care. Most of us will dress in at least one cotton piece of clothing each day, often choosing it for its more natural appeal. We probably don't think each morning of how conventional cotton cultivation is also dependent on agri-chemicals and is thought to be using up to a third of the world's pesticides and fertilizers. There is also a history of unjust payment for local farmers and forced child labour. Cotton suddenly starts to look a little less natural and appealing to wear.

What can you do?

1. Buy Organic

I don't suggest we completley fall out of love with cotton, it involves the livelihood of millions, even forming part of cultural identity in India for example, where a spinning wheel features on the national flag. There are many initiatives that are striving for positive change so that cotton can become the sustainable resource it has the potential for.

Cotton production does not have to be chemically intensive and there are ways of growing it alongside other food and cash crops, using crop rotation, and compost which will result in an organic matter rich soil. This soil will also retain water more efficiently, requiring up to 91% less than conventional cotton cultivation. 

Supporting organic production is a significant contribution to sustainable development and greater demand from customers could mean that one day these methods might become the norm.