Cotton is one of the most important raw materials in the textile industry. Although polyester leads the market share of global fibre use, cotton is the second most widely produced textile, accounting for 24% of global fibre use. As a result it’s highly likely you’re either wearing a garment made with cotton right now, or that you have cotton items in your wardrobe!
It is widely understood that cotton is a natural plant-based fibre, but don’t be fooled that this means it is produced naturally. The reality is that cotton is a chemical and water intensive crop to grow. In fact, according to the Fast Fashion documentary The True Cost: “Growing cotton uses 18% of pesticide and 25% of total insecticide worldwide”. Read that again. Now consider the impact of this on global ecosystems and the people working on cotton farms handling these chemically enhanced crops…
That’s why Montane chooses to only use organic cotton in our range, most notably seen in our popular Graphic T-Shirts and several caps. But what is organic cotton and how is it more sustainable than conventional cotton? Montane’s CSR manager, Anna Pitman, explains.
What are the benefits of organic cotton?
Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is grown without the use of harmful pesticides. Just in the same way as organic food is grown. As earlier mentioned, cotton is a natural plant-based fibre that comes from cotton plants, which grow fluffy cotton balls. These are picked by cotton farmers and sent off to factories to be processed into fabric, before becoming the garments that you know and love.
By not using harmful chemicals, organic cotton helps to protect the farm workers who handle this crop. This is because the chemicals used in conventional cotton farming commonly cause respiratory diseases, as well as the run-off from crop irrigation contaminating waterways, which is then used by local communities.
Where does the organic cotton we use come from?
Typically cotton is grown in warmer climates, including India, Turkey, the Stans and America. Another large producer of cotton is China, though none of the cotton Montane uses comes from here. This is significant to note as there have been several human rights abuses relating to cotton farming recorded here.
For those interested, the cotton used in our graphic T-shirts comes from Fusion, a supplier based in India. They manage all aspects of production for us - from sourcing the cotton right through to manufacture. Importantly, Fusion are also a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified factory. We’ve worked with these guys since 2015, and we’re proud to say it’s one of our longest standing supplier relationships.
Why do we use cotton?
If you own a cotton garment, you probably know already that items containing cotton usually have a nice soft hand feel. This makes it a great option for clothes that sit next to your skin. Organic cotton is also hypoallergenic - so suitable for people with sensitive skin.
Our graphic T-shirts are made with 100% organic cotton and these are generally more for casual everyday use. For those looking to take on higher intensity activities, such as climbing, we would suggest using a poly-cotton instead (a blend of polyester and cotton). This is because they are lighter weight, faster drying, and treated with Polygiene (an anti odour treatment). You can find these within our BMC range.
Does organic cotton have any downsides?
Whilst organic cotton is a lot better for the people in our supply chain and their local ecosystems, it does come with a caveat. As harmful pesticides and insecticides are not used, the yield of crop is not as large as that of a conventional crop of cotton. This can mean that more land is needed to grow organic cotton, in turn making it more resource intensive. That said, positive farming methods, including crop rotation, can help to yield a similar output, though this takes time to develop and come to fruition.
Ultimately, as a company we choose organic cotton over conventional because we want to be environmentally responsible, and to ensure the highest standard of safety for the people working in our supply chain. By choosing only organic cotton, and by being a Fair Wear Foundation member, we can be confident of compliance with high social and environmental standards throughout our supply chain.
Are there alternatives we could explore?
In line with our wider sustainability agenda, we are always looking at alternatives, which in this case includes recycled cotton and regenerative cotton. Currently, neither of these are as widely available, with less than 1% of cotton used in global fibre production being recycled cotton.
For those unfamiliar, regenerative cotton focusses on regenerative farming practices, to support and sustain soil health. This helps to avoid the depletion of soil nutrients caused by over farming and using a mono culture approach. Regenerative cotton is a developing practice which we see a lot of potential in and will be closely monitoring to see how we can use this within our supply chains, moving forwards.
Explore the Organic Cotton Range
We hope you found this deep dive into the world of organic cotton useful! For those interested, in addition to using 100% organic cotton, all of our Graphic T-Shirt designs were developed by our HQ team. The prints we use are also free of PVC and phthalates - check our sustainability page for more info on this. Keen to get your hands on one? Head to our website to browse our organic cotton range.