Close to 80% of material used at WORK+SHELTER is cotton. Almost all of that is organic.
Why does that matter? Well, besides the fact that this crop has likely been converted into material that is probably next to your skin right now, producing cotton can have startling social, environmental, and economic impacts. For starters, check out these quick facts:
- It takes 2,720 liters of water to make one cotton shirt
- Up to 8,000 chemicals can be used in the production + processing of textiles — for dyeing, treating, printing and finishing
- Cotton accounts for 16% of global insecticide releases
Right?! Indeed, the material we choose to use in our production and the material your products are made of have a direct impact on people, land and water. That’s why we’ve run all over India to find the best cotton around, namely:
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified yarns
- Recycled, undyed yarns
- Rainfed cotton
- Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) material
Our trusty sustainable sidekick.
Let me be clear – the organic versus conventional cotton issue is complicated, and in this case when we use the word conventional we also mean GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), because in the case of GOTS certified cotton, conventional + GMO comes as a package deal. There are very smart folks that say conventional GMO cotton is better for farmers due to higher yields, and for the planet because it’s actually less likely to need pesticides than organic non-GMO cotton. Conversely, there are also very smart people who believe that Monsanto is trying to take over the world and that conventional cotton is their path to dominion. What’s going on here?
- Pests are not only adapting to, but building a tolerance against natural “organic” pesticides so they continue to come and bother the crops, making more work for the farmers who oftentimes have to remove the pests by hand – more work = less profit
- GMOs help cut out additional processes in the harvesting production that are not so eco-friendly including excessive water waste
- GMOs provide a much larger yield with less labor and resources than organic cotton
I know, it’s a lot. But that said, part of supporting ethical production through our buying choices is being able to avoid decision paralysis and understand the trade-offs. When working with limited data points, and the understanding that ALL production uses resources, and therefore has impact, we still have to do our best to make the best decisions we can for our stakeholders (environment, employees, supply chain, clients, P&L, etc.). Which brings us to our decision:
WORK+SHELTER sources Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The certification itself covers more than just whether the cotton itself is “organic.”
GOTS conducts an in-depth review of social and ecological criteria. The certification process is actually very intensive because they look at the fabric production from so many different angles.
The process begins by reviewing the harvesting process of the raw materials, then moves onto analyzing the environmental + social impacts and finally ends with making sure the fabrics are properly labeled to ensure credibility to the consumer. One of the main reasons this certification has such high credibility is because it’s backed by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.
GOTS is also praised for the emphasis they place on proper waste water management techniques in the fabric production process + the dyeing process. That emphasis helps to lower the risk of harmful toxins leaking into water sources as mentioned in our previous blog, How Water Waste in the Fashion Industry Today is Polluting the Future. We see this happen all the time in India because not all factories have the means to efficiently dispose of their waste and so it ends up getting dumped into a nearby river. All in all, GOTS focuses on making the supply chain as eco-efficient as possible by looking at the process from start to finish and everything in between.
In sum, we buy GOTS certified cotton because we believe that on the whole it provides stronger environmental and labor standards than conventional cotton.
Why Recycled Cotton?
We could not be more pumped about our new recycled cotton source.
The hard truth is that the United States alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year. According to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, 95% of textiles that are landfilled each year could have been reused or recycled. Of that 95%, it is estimated that around 80% is cotton-based. If we do some quick math here, that adds up to somewhere around 16 billion textiles that could be diverted from landfills, getting a second, more sustainable chance.
In addition to avoiding old fibers languishing in landfills, recycled cotton has the benefit of being VERY low impact. Think about it. Much of the energy, water, and dye process for this material happened during its first life. Remember earlier when we mentioned that it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce ONE cotton t-shirt? Well, using recycled cotton saves much of that water usage. This is mainly because producing cotton from scratch is a highly water intensive process. Beyond that, it has a natural, almost denim-like light blue color to it so there is no need to put it through the color dyeing process. Win win 🙂
Why Rainfed Cotton?
Well first-off, what in the world does “rainfed” mean?
For agricultural purposes, “rainfed” means that the crop in question relies on rainfall as its water source. Why is this important? Well, water is one of the most valuable resources when it comes to the textile industry, especially in cotton production. Oftentimes, if the water supply is not coming naturally from rain water, then the water is getting diverted from lower income areas that once relied on it as their water source. This can cause serious water-access issues for low-income populations, especially in countries like India because food insecurity is already a systemic challenge. Water usage in crop production also uses a great deal of energy to transport the freshwater from the source to the cotton farm and manually water the crops, whereas with rainfed cotton there is no need.
These are a couple of the main reasons why at WORK+SHELTER we have added a cotton source from Kutch, India that uses the rainfed technique as their water source. What’s also wonderful is that the water doesn’t need any treatment, as rain water does not have the dangerous man-made chemicals that are often seen in river-originated water sources.
Along with the environmental impacts, our rainfed cotton vendor is also a social enterprise that focuses on sustainable cotton production, while preserving agricultural + artisan livelihoods at the same time. This rainfed, organic cotton is hand-spun and hand woven in the traditional khadi style, meaning that the actual processing of the material is done without the use of electricity. This means no coal was burned to fuel production (72% of energy in India is from coal), and also that artisans without access to power can participate in the supply chain. So many wins!
Why Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) Cotton?
BCI = Better Cotton Initiative…sounds important. That’s because it is!
Our final and latest source of sustainable cotton is brand-spanking new to us. The main aim of BCI is to make cotton production all around better for the people producing it, and the environment in which it is grown. BCI employs 7 principles to this end, supporting + training farmers in growing, regularly assessing the farms, and diving into best supply chain methods and always measuring impact.
One thing we like to note about BCI certified cotton is that because it has to go through a hefty evaluation process the cotton tends to be sold in larger quantities while abiding by higher minimums. This opens doors for large scale manufacturers that are looking to produce at higher volumes with eco-friendly fabrics.
I’m sure you’re wondering how this differs from our previously acclaimed GOTS certified cotton. Well, while GOTS certification focuses heavily on the production process of the cotton and the water + chemical usage, BCI focuses more on the social and economic impacts of the farmers producing the cotton. Both very important components with similar views on doing good, they just go about achieving positive impact in different ways.
Cotton Options for Your Order
Finally, rather than just talking about how much we love our sustainable cotton fabrics, we want to share them with you! We have a variety of woven and knit materials in stock, which means they are available even for quick-turn, low minimum orders.
Would you like swatches? Or maybe you want to inquire further about a custom color or rainfed options? Drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a time to virtually chat it out with us.
Much health and happiness to you and yours,
Founder + CEO of W+S