The Benefits of Organic Cotton Fabric

Monaluna's commitment to using only 100% certified-organic fabrics can be traced all the way back to my earliest days. I grew up in a family and community that was very aware of environmental issues and pretty active in the environmental movement. My mom started the first recycling truck in our neighborhood, we were members of the local health food co-op, and I learned how to make solar panels in my third grade class.

So I knew about the benefits of organic products, and I would buy organic cotton when I could. But it always seemed hard to find, and with limited options. I was interested in supporting organic cotton, but it didn't seem easy.

Then in 2009, when I had just started licensing my fabric designs, I heard a piece on NPR's All Things Considered that profiled the health effects of pesticide use by cotton farmers in India. It really personalized the issue for me, and prompted me to learn more about conventional cotton farming and the alternatives that organic cotton could offer.

What I learned surprised and impressed me. Here are some key facts about organic versus conventional cotton:

  • Conventionally-farmed cotton is one of the most chemically-dependent crops, using up to 25 different pesticides and fertilizers, several of which are toxic to humans or are known carcinogens.
  • Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Instead, organic production uses farming techniques that focus on soil and plant health, including crop rotation, companion planning, local plant varietals and beneficial insects.
  • Synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizers used in conventional cotton dramatically increase its environmental footprint. Excess nitrogen escapes into the atmosphere, streams and groundwater, contaminating the water supply and contributing to the highest-impact greenhouse gas.
  • Organic cotton uses less energy, releases less greenhouse gas, does not contaminate groundwater, and, due to improved soil quality, uses significantly less water. To learn more about this issue, see this interesting blog post on the relative carbon footprint of textiles.
  • Conventional cotton farming can pose serious health risks to the farmers and farming communities, particularly in areas where proper use guidelines may not be followed. In addition, the finishing process for conventional cottons can involve numerous toxic chemicals, exposing mill workers to health risks as well.
  • Conventional cotton products can cause skin irritations and other health effects due to residues of pesticides and chemical agents, particularly formaldehyde, that are part of the finishing process.
  • In contrast, GOTS-certified organic cotton is produced using no toxic chemicals throughout the entire production process, ensuring a healthier working environment for farmers and mill workers, and a healthier, higher-quality product for the end user.
  • Additionally, the GOTS certification signifies that the product is fair-trade, ensuring that it was produced under safe, healthy and equitable conditions. Read more about the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

After learning all this, I realized that I wanted to promote organic cotton farming in whatever way I could, eventually deciding to launch my own organic fabric company in Monaluna. Although our first few collections were too small to use GOTS-certified dyes, we've always used 100% organic fabrics, and we now exclusively produce GOTS-certified collections.

These days, organic fabric is much easier to find, and the choices are wonderful and varied. Next time you're in the market for fabric, do yourself and the environment a favor and try an organic alternative.

Jennifer Moore