It has become a well-known fact that the vast majority of food crops are sprayed time and again with pesticides - but perhaps fewer people appreciate that the clothes we wear have led a similarly heavily treated life.
Cotton is in actual fact the most sprayed crop in the world, and many other common clothing materials suffer a similar fate.
“… although the global inorganic cotton crop accounts for only 2.5 per cent of land, it accounts for 10% of pesticides used and 22% of insecticides. Not only does the toxic residue from these pollute soil and water sources and kill wildlife, but the World Health Organisation estimates that 20,000 cotton workers die every year from contamination. Those who don’t are typically driven towards poverty, taking loans to pay for the chemicals deemed necessary to create a more profitable product (all while US and EU cotton growers are heavily subsidized for their large-scale production).”
The Independent, 6 July 2006
It stands to reason then, that if you wish your babies to lead an organic lifestyle, you will want them to wear organic clothes.
A baby's skin is five times thinner than that of an adult, making it far easier for dangerous and harmful toxins to enter their bodies. Organic baby clothing is free of toxic residue, making them - and you - more comfortable with what they're wearing.
Heavy pesticide use reduces biodiversity, disrupts ecosystems, and contaminates water supplies. Worse still, pests exposed to synthetic pesticides build up a resistance to them. So each year, farmers have to buy and use more pesticides to grow the same amount of cotton – increasing the annual damage to the environment.
Pests build up resistance to chemicals, farmer borrows money to buy more chemicals than before, farmer gets less profit from crop, repeat until farmer is destitute. In parts of India agricultural chemicals take up 60% of the farmer's production budget. In Maharashtra alone, the government estimates that over 1,000 farmers have committed suicide since 2001 because they were irrevocably in debt.
Many chemicals used in cotton farming are acutely toxic. At least three of them are in the "dirty dozen" – so dangerous that 120 countries agreed at a UNEP conference in 2001 to ban them. So far this hasn't happened. The World Trade Organisation estimates 20,000 deaths and three million chronic health problems each year are the result of the use of agricultural pesticides in developing countries.
Organic cotton farming is not only less destructive to the environment, but provides better income for farmers and is sustainable long term.
Organic cotton farming uses natural pesticides (usually containing a mixture of chilli, garlic and soap). This keeps pests off the crops, but does not destroy their natural predators – which survive to control their numbers naturally. Intercropping is also used. This is where secondary crops (often sunflowers or millet) are grown between and around small plots of cotton. These create a natural barrier against the boll weevils, which cannot sniff out their favourite snack through the extra foliage. (These secondary crops may also provide another cash crop or food for the farmers, a useful backup in case of a poor cotton harvest.) In stark contrast to conventional methods, this way of farming actually promotes biodiversity; organic cotton fields contain a significantly higher number of insect species (especially those that are beneficial).
Clued-up people like your good self are prepared to pay a bit more for the quality and provenance of organic cotton. That's why we can pay our organic cotton farmers a 30% premium above conventional cotton prices. We also commit to buying the cotton before the crop is grown, so farmers have security of income too. Our cotton is produced by a group called Agrocel in Gujarat, India, which works with 20,000 small-scale farmers, using Fair Trade principles to support them in the conversion to organic farming. We think that makes organic cotton all the more worth the extra money.
Unlike the insatiably thirsty conventional methods of cotton production, our organic cotton is largely rain-fed. The soils are fertilised with natural organic materials, which help to give the soil higher humus content – making it better able to retain moisture and its fertility.