WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT
To answer these questions, you first need to understand what happens from the time that a cotton seed is planted to the time that a garment is sold. The conventional cotton T-shirt sold at your nearby department store has most likely has wreaked havoc on the environment and on people in each step of its long journey around the world to you. The typical story goes like this (it’s long, so get a cup of tea and relax while you read on):
First, a farmer plants cotton seeds in some country - China, USA, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey (in order of the world’s greatest cotton producers), or perhaps some other country. Most of the time, seeds have been genetically modified, so the cotton plants are resistant to insects, As the plants are growing, plenty of fertilizer is applied. In addition, insecticides are applied to kill troublesome pests, and herbicides are used to kill weeds around the plants. This sounds convenient, but as time passes, even higher doses of chemical pesticides and herbicides are needed on the farm to kill the pests and the weeds. Herbicides are used again right before picking the cotton, to make the picking process easier. Huge quantities of extremely toxic chemicals are used in this type of cotton farming, and guess where these chemicals go as soon as it rains or the farm is irrigated…right into someone’s drinking water downstream! Did you know conventional cotton farming accounts for 25% of worldwide insecticide use, according to the Organic Trade Association? The farmer then harvests the cotton and brings it to a gin to separate the cotton fiber from the seeds. From there, it may go to another country for fabric production.
To make fabric, the fiber is then spun into threads. But to make it easier to weave, it is coated with polyvinyl alcohol “sizing.” So the white can be really white and colors can be really bright, the fabric then has to be bleached with liquid chlorine (a classified hazardous material in the USA). To get out the bleach and sizing, the fabric has to be washed with a detergent and then scoured with sodium hydroxide (yet another hazardous material). But now we need some colors…dyes are typically compounds of iron, tin, potassium, volatile organic compounds and solvent-based inks containing heavy metals, benzene and organochlorides (translation: more hazardous chemicals). To finish the fabric, more chemicals like formaldehyde, caustic soda, sulfuric acid, bromines, urea resins, sulfonamides, halogens and bromines are used. And guess where the huge volumes of toxic rinse water from all these processes goes once it gets washed down the drain…you got it – into someone’s drinking water again!
Next the fabric needs to be sewn into clothing. This requires labor. So, to keep things inexpensive, the fabric is shipped to some other country around the world (usually in Asia) where wages are low and labor laws are few. Countries like China, India, and Vietnam seem to have repeated incidences of “slave labor” conditions, where workers are literally kept prisoners in factories. However, “sweatshops”, where workers aren’t paid fairly for their work, exist nearly everywhere, including in the USA.
The clothing is then shipped back across the oceans to the various world markets. It is then distributed to the stores where people buy the finished products. Emissions from boats, trains, trucks, and planes used to get the products from place to place continue to warm the earth and pollute the planet..
Green clothing is about changing and improving this story, wherever possible, to make the toxic footprint smaller. Organic cotton and hemp are crops that make great fabric, and they eliminate the need for chemicals at the farm. Wild silk, Tencel, organic wool, soy, and recycled fabric also provide environmental benefits. Colorgrown and natural colors eliminate dyeing chemicals from the production process, and low-impact dyes reduce the volume of chemical waste produced. Certified fair trade and sweatshop-free companies eliminate the abuse of people for clothing production. Finally, when you live in the USA, buying Made in USA and USA Cotton cuts down on shipping pollution and supports local workers.
As consumers are made aware of the environmental damage conventional cotton farming wreaks on the environment, a growing number is choosing to make a difference and “go green.”
Each year, fashion shows in New York City and Los Angeles are showcasing more eco-friendly fashion lines, and childrenswear is no exception. You no longer have to choose between style and conscience. The eco-fashion world is getting creative with fabrics, blends, and as usual, new styles.
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