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Cotton vs Organic Cotton – Identifying 100% Certified Organic Cotton

How to verify how your cotton is 100% organic

Nicole de Boer
Product Sourcing

How Do I Know The Product I Am Buying is 100% Certified Organic Cotton?

Organic cotton is a sustainable solution, grown without the use of pesticides, from seeds which have not been genetically modified. Organic farming practices avoid using harmful chemicals while aiming for environmental sustainability. Chemical-free agricultural land even stays fertile much longer than land which is hampered by the constant use of pesticides, so organic cotton farmers generally have a extended  cotton commodity lifespan and may rotate crops to allow land to restore itself in addition as part of good ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ farming practices. As a result of using fewer pesticides, the first benefit is that the health of workers improves dramatically, communities live healthy with access to clean water and food supplies, in addition to the soil which has a longer lifespan as  it is not being damaged by chemicals. Organizations, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), have created standards to ensure the Processing and Manufacturing subsequent to the farming and production, sustains ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ and ‘sustainable’ right up to the finished retail product. GOTS covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of textile products, ensuring that environmental and social standards, including  safe and hygienic working conditions, no social workplace discrimination and fair workers compensation are adhered to. It is important to know the brands you are buying from. Retail brands have a Corporate Social Responsible policy on their websites, where you can read if you are indeed purchasing ‘certified’ organic products or not. Through the action you take to embrace ‘certified’  organic cotton alternatives in your everyday life, you are acting ethically and sustainably and  encouraging the production of cotton grown without pesticides which impacts negatively on biodiversity.[3]
Figure 3: GOTS logo
Some consumers are increasingly looking for products  better for them and for the environment. The search for ‘organic’ products began in the food industry and reached the fashion retail industry, resulting in brands increasingly starting offering organic options to their consumers. Take care to read about ‘certified’ organic or simply ‘organic’,  ‘pure’, ‘eco’ etc being used to lure customers to stores. Remember that with organic cotton production and farming:
  1. With organic cotton fewer fibers are harvested than with GMO cotton, and more plants and as a result more land is required
  2. In addition, before the organic fibre turns into your soft and comfortable garment, it requires chemical processing and dying (to colour it in different colours), which is chemically intensive. Without GOTS certification, it is not possible to tell if the chemicals and  dyes used in production, were carefully managed to avoid negative impact and you and the environment.
The mere word ‘Organic’ is freely used in marketing campaigns: beware of ‘green washing’  and of fashion brands statements that do not ‘paint’ the complete ‘picture’.  Through usage of ‘organic cotton (refer to previous post on organic cotton without GOTS certification, which only relates to GMO modification and pesticides and has no bearing on the subsequent processing and manufacturing) Organic cotton, (without GOTS) if sustainably and ethically produced, is an improvement and a step in the right direction and is an improvement to standard or non-organic cotton, but GOTS certification completes the management and controls of the entire supply chain to the finished retail  product.