Before You Buy Your Next Cotton Garment – Read And Remember This Things you should know before you purchase cotton garments
Like most Indian families, cotton fabric has been an integral part of my family for generations.
From clothes to bed sheets, cotton is the most preferred fabric. I remember my grandmother recycling old bedsheets into vegetable shopping bags due to the strength of the fabric.
She would also sew cotton shirts for me. I was young and didn’t understand the logic of this prejudice towards cotton.
If the cotton crop is not harvested on time, that is before the temperatures drop below 20 degrees and get affected by cold and frost the harvest is destroyed. It requires sunshine, moderate rainfall, and timely harvesting to provide raw material to factories to process cotton goods.
A lot of back-breaking manual effort goes into harvesting the cotton crop. Cotton pickers spend more than 12 hours every day picking cotton.
The downside of cotton cultivation is that it requires a lot of water to grow and it is sprayed with a lot of pesticides and insecticides polluting the soil and environment.
Fortunately, there is a healthier alternative for cotton which is better in all aspects – hemp.
Let’s walk through the cultivation of both crops and what effect they have on the environment:
What is Cotton?
It is a natural fiber extracted from the seed pod of the cotton plant which used to weave several fabrics. The structure of the fiber is hollow in the centre, and if you see it under the microscope, it resembles a twisted ribbon.
Cotton can be woven or knit into fabric. The most common weaves for cotton are the plain and twill weave.
Plain fabrics – gingham, percale, chambray, and broadcloth.
Twill weave – denim, khaki, and gabardine.
Cotton – the Fabric The World Loves, Without Reason
This fabric or material has become a part of our daily lives. We dry our faces and bodies with cotton towels, dress in crisp cotton shirts, and at night sleep under warm cotton sheets. It can be used to weave almost anything – from shoelaces to clothing. Although cotton is mainly used for home furnishing and clothing, heaps of cotton are also used for industrial processes.
From a consumer point of view, cotton use is very simple and easy, however, cotton cultivation is extremely taxing on land and water resources.
Cultivating 1kg of cotton can consume about 20,000 litres of water, which is equivalent to a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
With such facts can you imagine the adverse impact cultivating cotton has on our environment?
Impact of Cotton Fabric on the Environment
Cotton cultivation and processing are not without any side effects to us and the earth. Although it is a natural fibre and it is biodegradable, it takes a long time to decompose.
The process of cotton crop cultivation can impact the environment, not cultivation itself. Organic cotton cultivation poses damage to the soil, the water, the air, or human health.
Synthetically cultivated cotton rips off essential nutrients from the soil. And the cotton crop cultivated this way needs a lot of water to grow. Synthetic cotton is grown by adding pesticides and insecticides in huge amounts.
Organic cotton is costlier than synthetically grown cotton and is safe for the environment as well.
Regular cotton is a mono crop, which means that the farmer cultivates only one crop for years which makes planting and harvesting crops easier for them. However, mono crops are dangerous as they attract insects and fungi move in which eat that crop.
To destroy these pests, farmers spray herbicides and pesticides incessantly and in huge amounts.
An interesting fact about cotton cultivation is that although cotton cultivation happens in 2.4% of the arable land across the globe. But cotton cultivation also accounts for 18% of the world’s pesticide use and 24% of total insecticide use across the globe.
Continuous use of pesticides and insecticides can lead to pests and insects becoming resistant to it. Farmers then try stronger chemicals that not only eliminate the pest but also their natural enemies.
Due to the use of harsh chemicals the condition of the soil degrades leading it to become barren.
The production process also includes the use of chemicals which are then passed on to the human body. This chemical can be passed on to our bloodstream leading to serious ailments.
Cotton Demands Effort Even When It’s In Your Home
Maintaining cotton fabric is no big deal. It can easily be machine-washed or dry cleaned. The washing instructions will vary based on the colour of the fabric and its composition (blends). Do check the label for washing instructions to make no mistakes.
- Cotton fabric can bleed colours, thus, wash like colours together. Darker colours cotton clothing must be washed in cold water to suppress dye bleed, while lighter colours can be washed in warm water.
- Bleach can be used on cotton fabric for whitening it (if white clothes) or stain removal (white or coloured).
- Cotton fabric is prone to shrinking, hence if you are sewing with cotton, pre-wash it to get the perfect fit after you have sown it. And if you are buying cotton clothing or home furnishing buy a size larger to eliminate size issues after the first wash.
- Cotton wrinkles easily, so remove from the dryer quickly to avoid wrinkles. You may have to iron the fabric to achieve a crisp look
Cotton fabric may be comfortable for human skin but not for the environment. Cotton has an alternative, and when you get to know its details, you would replace all your cotton clothing with this eco-friendly fabric.
Hemp – A Ray Of Hope
This super crop has been in use for centuries but its controversial link to the Cannabis Sativa (marijuana) has not gained any prominence.
Here is a list to prove that hemp is the fabric to choose if we want our earth to be in good hands:
- Does not need pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers to grow.
- Hemp plants can kill weeds, purify the soil, perfect for rotation use as its harvest cycle (4 months) is very short.
- Needs very less water to thrive. Rainwater is enough for a good hemp harvest.
- After harvesting hemp crops, farmers add the leaves and roots back into the soil to improve the quality of the soil.
- Hemp plants absorb carbon from the air around us, reducing the pollution levels drastically.
Hemp is an eco-friendly crop that does no harm to the environment, hence, must be the first choice for us instead of cotton.
Here are a few facts to prove hemp fabric are worth adding to your wardrobe:
- It is a strong and durable fabric.
- The fabric is resistant to bacteria, termite, chemical, mould, and to a great extent fire as well
- Hemp fabric is UV resistant.
- This fabric does not lose its shape due to its low elasticity property.
- Hemp fabric has a long lifespan.
- It has thermoregulating abilities and you can wear them throughout the year. It can keep you cool during summers and warm during winters.
- Hemp fabric is an eco-friendly fabric and can decompose within a few weeks of its going into the compost pile.
Hemp fabric scores well above the cotton fabric but the taboo around the plant species reduces its acceptability.
Hemp is not marijuana, and hence, doesn’t get you high. Hence, we must make a conscious decision to promote this extraordinary fabric to save the earth and ourselves as well.