Why organic cotton

Fluffy cotton cloud in the sky

Cotton  a miracle fibre

Did you know that money is made out of cotton? UK and US banknotes are made out of a mixture of cotton and linen, while Euro notes are made entirely out of cotton.[1][2]

In preparation for this article, I tried to take stock of the prevalence of cotton in my life and found myself slightly overwhelmed. I’m currently wearing a cotton sweatshirt over a cotton t-shirt, cotton sweatpants over ribbed cotton socks, and a cotton baseball cap to keep the hair out of my face. Behind my screen, cotton curtains flank the sole window in my study, and beyond them, I can see my neighbors' cotton bedsheets flapping gently in the wind.

In my closet, I have a few cashmere sweaters, a wooly coat or two, but almost everything else is made of cotton: cotton collared shirts, cotton knitwear, cotton underwear, cotton towels, cotton tote bags, and the list goes on. As someone with sensitive skin, I’m quite particular about what I allow to sit against my skin and the only things that don’t irritate me are cotton and a synthetic nylon-blend from my (and the world’s) favorite Japanese purveyor of everyday essentials. I could easily spend the whole day in a brushed cotton sweatshirt but will find even the finest grade cashmere intolerable after a few hours.

All of this is to say that, despite its troubled history, cotton remains my favorite textile. It’s soft, hypoallergenic, and feels great against my skin. It wicks sweat and keeps me dry in tropical climes, at the gym, and while I overheat under wooly layers in winter. It’s also durable so I can move around without feeling too precious, and strong enough to survive a machine wash. In other words, cotton is everything I wish I was: cool, natural, and low-maintenance.

From a production perspective, cotton is easy to cut, sew, and dye, and since color is one of the pillars of the Serses brand, it only makes sense that it should be our fabric of choice. We’re not alone in this: cotton accounts for nearly half of the world’s fiber needs.[3]

Aerial view of polluted river

The problem with conventional cotton

Unfortunately, after a lifetime of seeking out cotton without giving it much thought, I finally did some research and found myself at a loss - what I once thought of as a miracle fibre was beginning to sound more like the source of all evil. Conventional cotton production is water-intensive with a cotton shirt requiring roughly 2,500 litres to produce.[4] Conventional cotton is also the dirtiest crop in the world, accounting for 6% of global pesticide use (and 16% of insecticide use) despite only covering 2.4% of all cultivated land.[5]

Chemical runoff from cotton fields contaminates rivers, lakes, wetlands, and underground aquifers, affecting biodiversity and raising health concerns for surrounding populations. Trace amounts of these toxic chemicals are found on last-mile consumer garments, i.e. the clothes you and I buy from a shop, with cotton containing high concentrations of benzothiazoles.[6] Considering the fact that our skin is the body’s largest organ, we are literally ingesting these toxic chemicals through our skin, i.e. they’re being transferred from textile to skin, seeping into our pores, and zipping around our body through the bloodstream.[7]

Cotton-like plant

What is organic cotton and why is it better?

Organic cotton is cotton that is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals such as human-made pesticides and fertilizers, on land that has been treated and given ample time to regenerate.[8] This minimizes its ecological impact compared to conventional cotton: 91% less blue water consumption, 70% less acidification (acid rain), 62% less non-renewable energy, 46% less global warming potential, and 26% less soil erosion.[9]

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the most rigorous organic textile standard and goes beyond verifying the farming process to encompass the entire supply chain, e.g. human toxicity and the general well-being of all stakeholders.[10] This means that clothes carrying the GOTS label are free of poisonous things like heavy metals, formaldehyde, and azo dyes that release carcinogenic amine compounds. After a lifetime of torment by acute dermatitis, this was my primary interest in GOTS-certified organic cotton.

Unfortunately, organic cotton is still a rarefied material, and despite doubling harvests between 2017 and 2019 to achieve an almost all-time high, it still only accounts for 0.93% of global cotton production with a highly variable production curve.[11] We still strongly believe in its potential and think the extra cost and effort to source it is well worth it. Our first collection thus consists of certified organic cotton sweatshirts, t-shirts, and accessories, and we hope to build upon this going forward by seeking out the finest quality organic cottons to create a range of comfortable wardrobe essentials.