From the very beginning, our commitment to organic cotton has been a cornerstone of Nau’s sustainable fabric sourcing strategy. Because we believe that business should be a force for positive change, we’re rigorous in selecting materials that minimize the environmental and social impacts of our products. As one of the best natural products with one of the worst environmental track records, cotton-like apples, and milk—is one place where the choice to go organic makes a big difference. That’s why, in over ten years of business, we’ve never used conventional cotton.
From a performance standpoint, cotton is a wonder fiber. Naturally soft and breathable, it can be spun alone or in combination with other fibers to create a versatile range of fabrics. Ideal for creating casual clothes with technical performance in warm weather, its reputation for being strong, durable and comfortable next-to-skin have made it history’s most popular textile fiber.
But with that popularity have come some pretty serious environmental and social costs.
Although conventional cotton is grown on only 2.4% of all farmland, today it accounts for 24% of global insecticide sales and 11% of global pesticide sales. The use of these synthetic chemicals can have severe negative impacts on the health of workers in the field, as well as long term damage to the surrounding ecosystem. And it’s a problem that is only getting worse, because—as with drug-resistant viruses in medicine—insects are beginning to develop resistance to existing chemicals.
“I’ve visited organic and non-organic cotton farms side by side,” says Nau’s materials manager. “You can see in the non-organic farms that the pests are becoming resistant, so the farms have to use a higher and higher dose, which really destroys the soil.”
Cotton farmers bear the brunt of this contamination, but conventional cotton’s heavy chemical dependence impacts all of us in unexpected ways. Runoff sends fertilizer into streams, causing algae blooms that kill aquatic life. Insecticide causes collateral damage up the food chain, poisoning wildlife and disrupting the food supply of birds and mammals. And through crop rotation, this season’s cotton field becomes next season’s vegetable field, meaning our food is often grown in soil impacted by the by-products of cotton production.
You don’t eat your clothes, but cotton is grown on the same land that your food is grown on.
Organic cotton addresses these concerns by eliminating the use of agrichemicals and genetically modified seeds. Certified to the same standards as all organic agriculture, organic cotton depends on natural ecological processes that sustain the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. The result is a product of equal—or better—quality that requires less water, less energy, and no toxic chemicals. It’s also more profitable for farmers who can rotate their fields with organic food crops and escape expensive corporate contracts for chemicals and seeds.
While there’s no health benefit to wearing organic cotton, the long term benefits of healthy soil, streams and ecosystem are shared by everyone. The key benefits are the environmental and social impact. Organic cotton is a place where our purchase decisions can have a direct impact on the world.