GROWING ORGANIC COTTON T-SHIRTS
IN THE USA
After the crop is planted, there are about 6 weeks of TLC needed to keep the crop safe from blowing sand and weeds. This is accomplished through weekly cultivations and hoeing. Also small calves may be allowed to graze from May until September, walking the rows and feeding on weeds but doing very little damage to the organic cotton.
July turns hot and dry and irrigation is used to supplement the natural rainfall. The cotton begins fruiting at about 6 weeks and continues until frost. Harvest cannot begin until after a killing freeze as defoliant chemicals cannot be used. The freeze occurs on average around the 1st of November but can come as early as late September in the Texas panhandle. The fiber color is determined by the maturity of the cotton boll which is a function of the heat received during the growing season and the length of the season. Like wine, cotton properties are determined by the elements of nature and will vary from year to year.
Harvested cotton is ginned and shipped to a spinning mill in North Carolina to convert into knitting yarn, then to a knitting plant to be knitted into tubular fabric. This greige fabric then moves to the finishing plant for washing and compacting (to mechanically control shrinkage). Color can be added here as well using low impact dyes. If left in the natural color, the tale of the growing season will be evident in the color of the tee. The lighter the color, the more mature the bolls at termination. Immature bolls will have a darker fiber yielding an oatmeal color at worst and sometimes striping in the fabric if a mix of maturity is in the crop. The final step is the cutting and sewing of the fabric into an organic cotton t-shirt. For low impact pigment dyeing, the finished tees would then go to a garment dyer to get that earthy, worn look. All processes take place in the USA, even labeling and thread.
So from the “seed to the sewing” or “dirt to the shirt”, it takes from May to about March or April to grow an organic cotton t-shirt. And by the way, a t-shirt grown using chemicals uses about 4 oz of concentrated chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, growth regulators and defoliants. An organic cotton t-shirt???---Zero. Four ounces doesn’t sound like much but an adult t-shirt weighs about 8 oz.
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