The unknown facts about cotton

Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics we all look for nowadays. It is mostly because it makes you feel very comfortable regardless of the temperature outside and it also helps your skin to breathe while absorbing excess moisture. It is due to these positive qualities that we oftentimes choose it for our clothing.

 Here are some interesting facts about cotton that you may not know:

  • cotton blooms in two different colors before the lovely fluffy threads that we know appear;
  • in its natural state, cotton grows not only in white but also in green and brown, which means that dyes may not be needed at the next stage of production;
  • each piece of cotton can be used up to 100%, taking part in different parts of the textile, pharmaceutical and food industries. For example, cottonseed extract is an ingredient in many soaps and human foods;
  • around 25 billion tonnes are produced worldwide in 130 countries;
  • cotton is one of the oldest agricultural crops in the world, produced since ancient times;

 What do you need to know before choosing cotton as your fabric for clothing?

Let me tell you about the hidden secrets of cotton you might not know …

 There are three types of cotton, depending on the way it is grown.

 

  1. Conventional cotton


This is the most common type of cotton produced in the world. Conventional cotton is treated with pesticides, fertilizers and various other chemicals that are sprayed during plant growth. The goal is to protect against weeds and pests.

Globally, more than 10 percent of the pesticides used and nearly 23 percent of agricultural insecticide sales are used in cotton plantations. Subsequently, in the production of fabrics, cotton is very often treated with bleach containing chlorine, and dyes containing heavy metals are used in dyeing.

It is also worth mentioning the serious consumption of water and the fact that it takes about 2500 liters of chemicals to produce only one T-shirt made of conventional cotton and the same amount of chemicals to produce two pairs of regular men’s boxers. Needless to say, it pollutes many water bodies and groundwater.

As mentioned earlier, parts of cotton are being used in the food industry, which means that pesticides can enter the human food chain. This can be done through cottonseed oil, which is used in some processed foods.

In addition to all of the above, the use of chemicals in the processing of cotton weakens the fibers therefore conventional cotton products wear out faster. I believe that many of us would immediately think of at least one cotton item that looked washed out and worn out after the first wash.

How can you tell that the clothes you liked were made of conventional cotton? Unfortunately, you won’t find a description of it anywhere on the label. However, you could focus on the quality of the texture matter. If it is tight and dense, then the cotton is most likely treated with more sparing chemicals. If the fabric does not restore its original shape after stretching, then I do not advise you to choose this particular garment. Of course, there are many types of cotton and this rule does not apply in 100% of the cases. Nevertheless, if there is no other information on the garment about the cotton type, it is most likely conventional.

  1. Genetically modified cotton

The unknown facts about cotton

Genetically modified cotton is a plant with genetically altered structure of the seeds. These seeds cannot be reproduced naturally, like conventional and organic cotton. There are two types of GM cotton: the first one provides protection against certain categories of insects, and in the second, the plant contains a distinguishing feature that makes it tolerable to a range of commonly used herbicides. There are several advantages to its popularity: increased yields, reduced cultivation costs and lower processing risks, matures earlier than non-GM cotton and so on. This is why many manufacturers prefer it.

The disadvantages of genetically modified cotton and the risks it poses are also quite a few. Although generally cotton is a water-loving crop, GM cotton requires significantly more. In addition, some types of genes mutate over time (insects and weeds “get used” to it) and require the introduction of secondary species to maintain the desired effect of high yields and prevent pests.

In the manufacturing process the same unhealthy chemicals are included as in the conventional cotton.

What is the scary part to me personally? As with all other genetically modified crops, scientists are not yet fully aware of the long-term effects that GM cotton can have on the environment and humans. The use of genetically modified cotton can have a dangerous effect on the human circulatory system by accumulating known chemicals, metals, genes contained in cotton. Of course, this is likely to lead to new human diseases. As in the situation with genetically modified food, we will find out if this type of agriculture is bad for our health in 20-50 years. As I am sure you will agree with me that this could prove to be a very expensive experiment for many generations! 

I am not saying that GM cotton is causing the biggest illnesses in the world but it definitely has the power to support them.

 

  1. Organic cotton

The unknown facts about cotton

Organic cotton is grown using environmentally friendly methods and materials. Producers of organic products strictly follow the procedures allowed in the creation of organic products.

Regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seeds for organic farming.

Here’s a little more about organic cotton:

  • Organic cotton is healthier because natural fibers have not been damaged by chemical treatment;
  • Synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are not used in growing organic cotton;
  • Organic cultivation does not damage the soil, the water, the air or human health;
  • The processing of organic cotton does not harm farmers and their families;
  • Certification bodies for organic products do not allow genetically modified / GMO / fibers;
  • The production of organic cotton clothing uses significantly lower amounts of water and does not contaminate water bodies;
  • Organic cotton is usually more expensive than traditional cotton because it takes more time and skills in the process;

The easiest way to check whether your garment is produced of organic fabric before purchasing it is by checking the price tag. If there is information saying that the cotton is certified by GOTS, there is nothing to be worried about. 

Since the word “organic” is certainly overused sometimes, fashion brands add it to their labels without having the right for that. A cloth can be called organic only if all the manufacturing processes are natural and ethical. You can also find out who made your clothes using the hashtag #whomademyclothes and then search at

 https://global-standard.org/public-database/search.html 

for the exact name and see if they really are certified to produce organic clothing.

Sources: Organic Trade Association and Global Organic Textile Standard, Chirpan Cotton Institute.

Meet the author

Hi, I’m Tia!

A Barcelona-based international fashion stylist, designer & image expert with over 20 years of professional experience in the fashion field. I work with individuals and businesses both online and in-person helping them create their best image, making them feel confident in the world.

I believe personal style is a powerful asset we can all have no matter your social status, age, experience, culture, lifestyle, and body type. It all comes down to having the right guidance and support. By changing our clothes we can influence the way we perform at any given moment.

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