Stories from AGENdA

Fabric 101: Cotton

Fabric 101: Cotton

Made from the soft, fluffy ball around the seed of the cotton plant, cotton is the most well-known and used fiber in our life. From beddings to the table cloths to tote bags, there seems to be an infinite number of products that are made from cotton in our daily lives. 

You probably know great things about cotton already. Cotton can breathe; your cotton T-shirt can absorb moisture and release. Since it can breathe and release moisture it also helps to control body temperature therefore, it works for all seasons. It is also soft and the least harsh on the skin. You see baby and children's clothing made mostly in cotton for this reason. Cotton also has its unique crispness. Plus, it is easy to care for. On the other side, cotton wrinkles and lose their shape easily; it would the reason why you don’t see cotton suits often.

Now if you look at the environmental impacts of cotton production, you would find several major issues being discussed today. In short, cotton is a very water, labor, and pesticide-intensive crop.

Cotton takes lots, lots of water. It is said that to produce 1kg of cotton, 20,000liters of water is needed. 1kg of cotton would be equivalent to single T-shirts and a pair of jeans. With the current scale of cotton farming, it causes soil salinization. Diversion of water and its pollution is impacting major ecosystems in Central Asia, Pakistan, Australia and more. Another important point is the use of various chemicals. Conventional cotton production involves a heavy application of fertilizers and pesticides. This threatens the quality of soil and water, as well as the health of farmworkers. 

US$2 biillion's worth of chemicals are sprayed on the world's cotton crop every year and almost half of which is considered toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.Cotton is responsible for the use of 16% of global insecticides - more than any other single crop. - <Fashion & Sustainability>, p.22

That is where organic cotton comes in. In a way to reduce the chemical load in cotton growing, organic cotton has been popular among those who are sensitive about the chemical issue around the cotton. There are also biological means to control pests and pathogens; and including genetically modified - which is up for debates. The fact that there is constant development on more sustainable ways to grow cotton reflects how important this crop is to human life currently. Cotton is grown in more than 100 countries around the world and of course, every region has its own environmental and social challenges. In that way, watching the sustainable development cotton movement can be a way to examine all other fibers in general. 

Cotton is still a wonderful material to work with and wear. It is the way how it is made that hurts the earth and life in general, not the crop itself. So please continue taking good care of what you already own so that they last longer. 

*Featured image is from http://photogrammar.yale.edu and AGENdA by July does not have a copyright. Date: Nov 1939 Photographer: Marion Post Wolcott Original Caption: Sampling and classing cotton in classing rooms of cotton factor's office, Memphis, Tennessee