Understanding Cotton In Sustainability

Understanding Cotton In Sustainability

One way to show concern for the planet is by buying sustainable products - those that are better for our skin, animals, and the environment.

Sustainability is slowly and steadily becoming the new normal, yet it is still not entirely known to many. Sustainability, in simple terms, means consciously using the resources and opportunities without depleting them for other humans, animals or the environment. Sustainability or sustainable practices are the need of the hour and must be a part of our lifestyle.

Photo by Teona Swift

In the apparel industry, the fabric and yarn used plays an integral part for brands in their promise to provide sustainable products. Many fabrics and yarns are labelled "sustainable." That includes cotton, both organic and recycled, organic linen, recycled wool, organic hemp, and others.

Our last blog covered the meaning of sustainability and eco-fashion. Through this blog, we aim to highlight the types of cotton fabrics and yarns widely used in the market.

We shall also be underlining the fabrics and yarns used at Roy’s Boys, and how, as a brand, we are moving towards making sustainable choices.

Introduction to Cotton

Cotton is one of the most widely used yarns on the planet. This plant-based material is breathable and light. We are sure everyone has had or currently owns at least one item of cotton clothing. However, producing cotton can be complicated. Traditional or conventional cotton uses a lot of water and chemicals during cultivation. It necessitates the use of numerous pesticides, which damage the environment and the individuals who produce them. On the other hand, organic cotton is 100% natural and biodegradable.

What is organic cotton?

Organic cotton, or organically grown cotton, is farmed naturally without the use of artificial agricultural agents. The field soil is free of any fertilisers, pesticides, or transgenic technologies for a minimum of three years. It was first cultivated in the late 1970s to ensure continuous, ecological, and biodynamic cultivation. It encourages and improves biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, benefitting both humans and the environment. Additionally, organic cotton is also known to offer better quality, stronger and longer-lasting clothing. These properties, although different from conventionally grown cotton, are driving an increase in its global demand and supply.

Organic cotton certification:

How can we identify if the clothes are indeed organic?

It can be challenging to verify if the apparel is organic. In particular, since it has become popular to advertise clothes as sustainable or ethical, even though not all of them may be what it says on the label. Organic farming is defined by law in the United Kingdom and the EU. Therefore, any product marketed under the organic label must adhere to the manufacturing and processing requirements.

The ideal way to find sustainable clothes during purchase would be to check for official trademarks, certificates, and logos that indicate the standard of the product.

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the Organic Content Standard (OCS), and the Soil Association logo are the three primary badges to search for in the United Kingdom.

The GOTS and the Soil Association logos are symbols that inform consumers about how the processing, manufacturing, packing, labelling, trade, and distribution of the products meet the required standards.

Whereas, as per the Textile Exchange, the Organic Content Standard is an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of certified organic inputs and chain of custody. The goal of the OCS is to increase organic agriculture production.

What does “cotton in conversion” mean?

Cotton grown during the three-year transitional period in the cotton farming process is referred to as cotton in conversion. It is the transition of cotton cultivation from traditional conventional methods to certified organic agricultural methods. The method follows the organic farming criteria of certification providers such as GOTS, OCS, and the Soil Association.

Cotton is a diverse material used to make a range of products like clothing, towels, and other fabrics such as khaki, flannel, denim, corduroy, etc. Although it has pros and cons, cotton is entirely recyclable when grown organically and with natural ingredients. However, it is not easy to switch to organic farming immediately. It is a process, and as consumers, we must also encourage transitional organic cotton, which is slowly making its way towards sustainable cotton production.

How sustainable is Roy’s Boys’ clothing?

As a brand that values sustainability, we make every effort to give our customers the best possible quality. However, we are not a certified organic brand. We do aim to be a certified retailer in the future.

Due to the stringent rules and high license fees to be GOTS and OCS certified, we have not registered for our respective certifications. One of the key conditions to being GOTS certified is to have 70% of the fabric and yarn material for clothing made from organic cotton. However, the quantity of organic cotton farmed globally is low, accounting for less than 1% of total cotton production. This, coupled with low supply and high demand, inflates the organic cotton price, making it exorbitant. Such intricate issues make it challenging for small businesses like ours, including fabric sellers and wholesalers, to obtain the certification.

However, we are proud to be working with OCS-compliant factories and are going down the route outlined by the Organic Content Standard. The OCS is administered with the help of manufacturers, suppliers, brands, and retailers globally, ensuring the organic content's property is preserved from the farm to the finished product.

We understand the benefits of using organic cotton. Therefore, we have made conscious decisions to use cotton in the conversion stage to make our products. This move has helped us slowly accelerate our sustainable practices in the apparel industry. Additionally, working with manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors in the OCS chain of custody, we have already moved some products to in-conversion organic cotton – this includes our socks and leggings.

Although we are not OCS certified, we do have the Transaction Certificates (TC), which are submitted down the supply chain to pass ownership onto the next recipient in the chain. For example, the cotton supplier must have certification, to begin with, to prove the claim about the organic content of the cotton. They then sell the cotton to a manufacturer or a dye house; each time the product changes hands, a TC is created. This continues until the end of the supply chain, where the final product is made and sold. Without the transaction certificate, the certification at the beginning of the line holds no value to the rest of the supply chain.

As a part of the chain and with the right TCs, we make sure that the cotton farmers are taken care of while their fields transition from conventional to organic cotton cultivation. By supporting the farming industry with in-conversion cotton in our products, we hope to eventually use organic cotton in a few years and get our certificate from the boards.

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