I have a lot of people ask me if it is worth it to buy organic baby clothes. What about used baby clothes that aren’t organic. Then there is hemp, bamboo, soy, and wool. There are so many options it can get confusing. Then throw in there the types of dyes, and other toxic chemicals, that are used that potentially can make your organic clothing toxic and it gets really confusing. I’ve been doing a lot of research on this, talking to fabric manufacturers, emailing with companies and reading up on things online. I know about certifications of raw cotton, fabrics, and final pieces that clothing can have. Unfortunately, I now know more than I wish I did! I will never look at clothing the same. First I’ll go over the environmental (and social) aspect for each of the types of fabrics, then some information on dyes, then the certifications, and finally my opinion if buying organic is worth it. The reason this is so important is that your skin is your largest organ. Everything you put on it gets absorbed into your blood stream. If you don’t want to read all of this you can skip to the bottom for the link to the list of recommended clothing companies (but I do recommend reading this so you are an educated consumer!).
Conventional cotton (non-organic):
- For every 1 pound of cotton produced, about 1/3 of a pound of chemical pesticides and fertilizers are used. Just to give you an idea of how much cotton that is, it takes just under 1 pound of raw cotton to make t-shirt.
- 25% of the world insecticides are used on cotton crops where only 2.5% of the world’s land are cotton fields. Cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop grown on the planet. $2.6 billion worth of pesticides are used on cotton worldwide each year. That is a huge percentage of toxic chemicals used to grow conventional cotton! Think of the overspray, which can travel up to 2 miles, that is in the air (that you breath) and getting on other crops (your food) just from cotton.
- The Environmental Protection Agency considers 7 of the 15 pesticides used on conventional cotton as possible or known carcinogenic (cancer causing) agents.
- Cotton is considered the world’s dirtiest crop due to its heavy use of insecticides, the most hazardous pesticide to human and animal health.
- According to the World Health Organization, 20,000 people die every year from accidental pesticide poisoning in conventional cotton agriculture, and 1,000,000 people a year suffer from long-term pesticide poisoning (Pesticide Action Network).
- 100 million conventional cotton farmers, from Russia to South Africa, are living in conditions of abject poverty and near starvation. Conventional cotton subsidies (funded by American taxpayers) are causing poverty in the developing world as they lower the world price for cotton.
- Cotton is an extremely water intensive crop
- Most conventional cotton being grown is now GMO cotton a whole other post could be written about GMOs!
- Most cotton clothing is now being produced in China in sweatshops where women & children are being exploited and are working well below the minimum wage. How do you feel about your new shirt or pants when you think a child might have made it? Looking for clothes not made in China is a big challenge too. I’ve found several companies that I will share with you.
- Sadly, the suicide rate for conventional cotton farmers is high (especially in India). Some say it is no higher than it always has been. Some say it is higher now that cotton farming is GMO. Either way, it is a sad situation.
- No pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals are used when growing organic cotton
- To be certified organic the soil must be free from chemicals for at least 3 years
- The land, and soil, benefits from crop rotation
- Cotton is an extremely water intensive crop
- A lot of organic cotton is grown in other countries so it requires shipping to the US. However, there are several states in the US that are getting on the map for growing organic cotton.
- Look for the GOTS certification to make sure the clothing is organic and non-toxic from field to finish. You can buy organic cotton, that is not certified, that has been finished with toxic dyes or chemicals (I find this very sad but it is true).
- No pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals are needed to grow hemp
- The traditional way to get to the hemp fiber in Europe is to leave the stalks out in the fields and have the weather brake the stalks down. Then the farmers can harvest the hemp. In China, some of the farmers are now using chemicals to break down the hemp stalks to speed up the process of harvesting. This is very sad that such a great, natural fiber, is having chemicals added to it for no reason other than speeding up the harvesting time. Another reason to avoid things made in China!
- Is being touted as a “green” material. It is true that it is hearty, grows very easily and can be cultivated quickly. From that standpoint, it is green.
- Getting bamboo into a usable form can be a very chemically invasive process which uses harsh chemicals. Bamboo must go through several chemical processes to get into usable form and the human exposure and damage to the environment surrounding the factories make bamboo not as green as everyone is saying it is.
- Most all fabric and clothing that is bamboo, is bamboo rayon or bamboo cellulose, which is made using the chemically intensive process described above.
- Bamboo linen is generally made without the use of chemicals but since it is such a labor intensive process there is very little bamboo linen on the market.
- Very little water is needed to grow Bamboo
- Raw bamboo lets most UV rays through the clothing (unlike cotton) and there have been talks about adding chemicals to the clothing for UV protection.
- Bamboo is very soft which makes it appealing for clothing.
- Soy is one of the largest GMO crops worldwide.
- It requires a lot of water and pesticides to grow.
- Soy is biodegradable and has minimal impact on the environment – non GMO soy that is!
- Soy fiber is not as durable as cotton or hemp
- Soy fiber is made from the byproduct of the soy industry (tofu, soy beans, etc) so it is not grown specifically for clothing. That’s nice that it is dual purposed.
- The process to turn soy into clothing is very chemically intensive process. The same chemicals are used repeatedly so at least chemicals aren’t be dumped as often. However, those chemicals are still being applied to the clothing you will be wearing.
- Wool is a great renewable fiber.
- Wool keeps you warm in the cold months and cool in the warm months.
- Wool is naturally flame resistant.
- It tends to be both dust mite and mold resistant.
- Wool is lightweight.
- Lower quality wool can be itchy but most wool is not itchy at all.
- Some people can be allergic to wool. In most cases, it is very rare for someone to be allergic to organic wool. Most people have a reaction to what the wool was treated with if it wasn’t organic.
- There can be inhumane practices associated with wool, like mulesing in Merino wool which is cutting out strips of skin near the sheep’s rear to prevent pests, some places will kill a sheep for the wool and some sheep farmers pack in the sheep like you would see on a factory farm. If you Google mulesing just be prepared to see some grotesque and upsetting pictures. I would say that these practices aren’t the norm, and if you look for certified wool you won’t have to worry about contributing to inhumane practices.
- Sheep can be sprayed with pesticides.
- Organic wool and Zque certified wool do not allow inhumane practices (like the ones mentioned above) or pesticides to be used. Another reason to buy organic!