Op-Ed: Organic Cotton and the Apparel Industry

Writer, model, and sustainable fashion enthusiast, Kieran Lee Lewis reached out to us to share his piece "Is There Enough Organic Cotton to Shift the Apparel Industry?" This piece delves deeply into the increased demand and limited supply of organic cotton and its environmental impacts, but it goes beyond just looking at the size of the industry, making us question not only if there is there enough organic cotton to shift the industry, but if organic cotton is enough. 

Lewis first paints a picture of just how large the cotton industry is.

As it stands, conventional cotton production accounts for over 50% of the world’s fiber market and produces more than 29 million tons per year, according to the WWF. With such enormous production, the sheer power of this crop is undeniable; hence, revising production methods in favour of organic cotton will have a tremendous impact on our planet. Examining this impact further, we see that conventional cotton is responsible for using more than 3% of the globe’s arable land, 10% of all agricultural chemicals (largely pesticides) and 25% of total insecticide usage. Cumulatively, the apparel industry is responsible for around 10% of the global carbon footprint.

He goes on to explain how the industry is getting tangled in a battle between supply and demand.

But as it stands, we may be soon (very, very soon) approaching an organic cotton supply shortage. The 2013 Organic Cotton Report put together by the non-profit, Textile Exchange, stated that ‘the balance between declining production and increasing demand will have ramifications as we move into the coming years. Any fibers from years of high production will be absorbed and new demand could be an issue.’ With H&M upping their organic cotton usage by nearly 30%, representing nearly 11% of their total cotton used in products, and C&A selling 110 million organic cotton products in 2013, that ‘new demand’ is indeed an issue.

In addition to increased demand, there are financial incentives for farmers to go organic.

The financial incentives associated with organic cotton are becoming quite apparent and it has been shown that in recent years growers are beginning to catch on, with investment in the industry on the rise. The survey conducted by the OTA detailed a 14% increase in organic cotton acres planted in 2014, climbing from 15,973 in 2013 to 18,234. Production saw a 20% hike accounting for 10,335 bales.

Organic cotton seed will run you a much smaller bill than conventional cotton. At $70 a bag versus conventional cotton that runs for $400, the affordability makes this even more appealing. 

Lewis concludes that the shift is slowly happening, and could benefit the industry, and the planet, on many fronts.

Taking sincere action to affect the apparel industry will impact our communities and environment, creating harmony between the land we work with, the people who work it and the consumers who wear it.

The Moral of the Story: The demand for organic cotton is on the rise, and is more beneficial for people and the planet.

Read his complete article here. If you would like to be a guest contributor, get in touch!