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Organic Cotton: The 5 Minute Guide

Pros, cons, and differences between organic cotton and conventionally-grown cotton.
July 7, 2022
By Oliver Charles

2022 Limited Edition Summer Sweaters

Everything you need to know about SeaCell, organic cotton, and why we're blending these materials to make a limited edition summer sweater named the Big Sur.


Why Cotton?

Cotton is the most used natural fiber in the world! You'd be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn't own at least one piece of cotton clothing.

There's a reason for this; it's incredibly versatile, widely available, and inexpensive.

Cotton is also soft, durable, breathable, and very absorbent, making it comfortable in almost any scenario.

It's also easy to work with, takes dyes extremely well, is machine washable, and doesn't pill.

The 3 Most Important Properties of Cotton

Cotton has a little bit of everything regarding how it feels when wearing it. However, it has three key properties that make it special.

  • Softness: Cotton is very soft when compared to other natural materials. The fibers are naturally smooth, unlike wool which has scales that can catch and irritate the skin. Additionally, the fibers are very fine, ranging between 11 and 22 microns. For reference, Yak wool ranges from 14-19 microns. 
  • Breathability: Similar to wool, the fiber structure of cotton is twisted, creating pockets that allow air to circulate freely through the fabric. While wool is technically more breathable due to its superior moisture-wicking properties, cotton is much finer and can be easily made into lighter, airier products.
  • Durability: Cotton is a very strong fiber, thanks to the plant's cellular structure. Cotton fiber is made from 30 layers of cellulose tightly coiled like a spring. This tightly wrapped coil gives the cotton a smooth exterior and contributes to the fiber's strength. Cotton also retains strength over time, meaning quality cotton clothing lasts decades. 50-year-old cotton fibers have the same molecular structure and strength as new fibers.

Is Cotton Sustainable?

The short answer is yes and no. Cotton is all-natural and 100% biodegradable making it better than any plastic-based synthetic.

However, you've likely heard some not-so-good things about cotton when it comes to the planet.

Rightfully so. Conventionally-grown cotton uses a tremendous amount of water and chemicals to increase yields. Growing cotton this way isn’t sustainable, especially when there’s a sustainable, organic alternative…

Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton recycles rainwater, uses a small fraction of freshwater, and does not require pesticides, making it a sustainable fiber.

Unfortunately, only about 1% of all cotton grown is done so organically.

How Cotton and Organic Cotton Are Different

So what's the main difference between the two types of cotton, and why is one so much better than the other?

Conventionally grown cotton optimizes for quantity over quality. It uses genetically modified seeds to grow cotton year-round in the same area. This drastically increases the yield of the farmland but at the cost of the soil.

The unhealthy soil doesn't retain moisture and requires intensive irrigation, which promotes the growth of weeds. These weeds are removed using harmful pesticides, further damaging the soil while leaching chemicals into water and food systems.

It doesn't stop at farming. Due to the lower quality of conventionally-grown cotton, extra chemicals are often required during production.

These chemicals include toxic waxes to stabilize the fibers, chlorine bleaching for whitening, and synthetic surfactants such as formaldehyde to remove impurities.

Alternatively, organic cotton is grown on rotated land with unconditioned non-GMO seeds. Organic growing keeps soil naturally healthy, retaining moisture and resisting pesky weeds.

At the end of the day, organic cotton requires 91% less water than conventional cotton while using non-toxic peroxide and corn starch to support its growth.

Organic Cotton Vs. Conventional Cotton

How is organic cotton more sustainable than conventionally-grown cotton?
 Organic CottonConventional Cotton
SeedingNatural untreated GMO-free seeds.GMO seeds pretreated with fungicides and insecticides.
SoilCrop rotation promotes soil health moisture retention.No crop rotation hurts soil health, compensating with synthetic fertilizers.
ChemicalsHealthy soil balances weeds, crops, and insects.Unhealthy soil requires toxic pesticides that kill weeds and insects.
Natural flowering.
Chemically-induced flowering.
YieldLower yield due to crop rotation and non-GMO seeds.Higher yield due to using GMO seeds and a mono-crop culture.
Water186 gallons per sweater2,186 gallons per sweater
Energy1.6 kWh per 1 kg of cotton.4.6 kWh per 1 kg of cotton.
Emissions0.9 kg CO2 per 1 kg of cotton.1.8 kg CO2 per 1 kg of cotton.
QualityProduces longer fibers that are softer and stronger.Produces shorter fibers that are less soft and weaker.

How Much Better Is Organic Cotton?

Worldwide, 2.5% of all cultivated land is used to grow cotton requiring around 3% of the world's freshwater.

Only 1% of cotton produced worldwide is organic, even though organic cotton is 99% better for the planet and the farmers.

By working with the environment, instead of against it, farmers can grow cotton very efficiently while reducing the environmental impact.

In addition to using 91% less water than conventionally-grown cotton, organic cotton requires 62% less energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 42%.

Finally, the lack of pesticides decreases waterway pollution by 26% and the chances of acid rain by 70%. (Soil Association)

Organic Cotton Certifications

True organic cotton is traced through its supply chain to meet global standards and contain verifiable organic content.

Blending Organic Cotton With SeaCell

SeaCell is the perfect material to blend with organic cotton.

SeaCell requires less than 1% of the amount of water and has a 10x higher fiber yield per acre as cotton.

SeaCell is also 2x stronger and faster drying than cotton, resulting in 50% more breathability.

Cotton benefits the blend by providing a soft natural feel to the silky SeaCell.

Cotton is also very absorbent. With the fast-drying capabilities of SeaCell, the blend is efficient at transferring sweat out and away from the body into water vapor.

Organic Cotton FAQ

If you believe that every good wardrobe starts with owning less and owning better, consider buying yourself an OLIVER CHARLES sweater.
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