What’s the drill with Organic Cotton?

The Organic Food industry has been one of the fastest growing market segments across the planet for the past 5 years. People are catching on about the fact that toxic chemicals and fertilisers don’t taste great, and that they and artificial colours, flavours and preservatives can’t possibly be good for your long term health and well-being.

NatNatalie Dillon is the co-founder of 3Fish. Found in over 80 stockists around Australia, 3Fish presents a range of 100% Fairtrade certified organic cotton, carbon neutral wardrobe basics and seasonal pieces you can feel great about on every level. They recently took out the United Nations World Environment Day Award for Sustainability Leadership for SMEs, and a week later won the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award for Small Business.

Certainly what we have observed is that one of the biggest leaps into organics begins when people begin the journey of parenthood. At that point the enormity of the fragility of life suddenly kicks in. The urge to protect and preserve and do our best for the small person we are now responsible for is overwhelming. It’s a game changer. And we are now seeing translation of this appreciation to organic fibres, fabrics and garments. Not only do they feel beautiful to wear, regular feedback from people reports vast reductions in skin conditions, and increased breathability and comfort.

I would like to think that we as humanity are emerging from the chrysalises of self-centredom, to understand that organic farming methods lead to better health and well-being outcomes not only for the consumer end of the chain, but that it is critical to respecting the health and well being of all those involved in those products along the entire supply chain, and ultimately to the sustainability of our planet.

P1000847At the beginning of that journey of understanding is raising awareness about the source of garments; and that the life of a cotton garment begins in a cotton field, and that as a crop, cotton is one of the thirstiest crops on the planet, for one of our most scarce resources; water. As one of the driest continents Australia is not suited to the farming of cotton. Countries such as India are well suited, and specifically, organic cotton. There, organic cotton is rain-fed by the monsoonal rains, the largest rain event on earth, and is handpicked for even less impact on the earth.

Also, in gaining new eyes through which to view the reams of garments adorning our high streets, and the superhighway of faceless “fashion” that is online shopping, it is imperative to understand that conventional cotton is heavily reliant on chemical pesticides. As a crop conventional cotton makes up 4% of the agricultural footprint of all crops in the world but consumes more than 25% of chemical insecticides used in the world. And this is what we wear on our skin. In 2008 the production of conventional cotton used over 284 million pounds of pesticides in the United States alone, with hundreds of millions more pounds sprayed worldwide. Additionally, seven of the ten pesticides most commonly sprayed on cotton are on the EPA’s list of known, probable, or likely human carcinogens.

It is also tragic beyond words that approximately 1000 conventional cotton farmers commit suicide annually in central India because of the overwhelming debt cycle often associated with the terminating cotton seed and partnered pesticides and fertilisers marketed by some of the world’s largest seed companies. And these are the same small scale farmers who bear the brunt of improper use of chemicals unable to be sold in other world markets, and so dumped in countries where regulation is less stringent, to wreck havoc on communities through birth defects and significant health issues, and ultimately death.

But there is an answer. A very commercial and sustainable answer. Results released this year from a 20 year US trial, Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST), which compared organic (biological) and conventional production methods of corn and soybean crops, showed dramatic benefits in using organic systems over the longer term:

• Organic systems produced 31% higher corn yields than the conventional system during moderate droughts
• Weed competition in organic production methods were tolerated better than in conventional farming methods
• Carbon sequestration is highest in manure-based organic production, followed by legume-based organic production
• Groundwater appears to increase in organic systems with 15-20% higher volume of percolating water and reduced runoff; and
• Energy use in the conventional system was higher than in the organic systems

Understanding_the_Impact_of_Organic_FarmingThere is rising consumer awareness around sustainability issues and given equal or similar alternatives within a price range, a growing number will choose the more sustainable alternative. So there is also a growing market driven imperative.

However, at the end of the day, we all have to live with ourselves and the impact of our purchase decisions. As a business owner, other than fulfilling all my creative and commercial goals, I want to know that beyond producing a garment that does no harm, I want to produce a garment that does good; that provides sustainable livelihoods for everyone involved in creating our products. We would like to think that every garment we sell, not only has it created healthier lives for the people who grew the cotton, and made our garments, is a far healthier option for the people who wear them.

So what’s the drill about organic cotton? Not only is it fabulous to wear, it is far more fabulous for the earth and all its people.

Fast Fact:

Since inception, 3Fish has produced over 100,000 fairtrade and organic cotton products, using organic dyes and inks, recycled packaging, and producing garments carbon neutral, saving an estimated 11.3 tonnes of toxic chemicals from being used.


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