Seek Process: The Truth About Organic Cotton

Let’s start with the good news: More and more, consumers prefer to shop with brands that are committed to sustainability, especially when it comes to apparel. But here’s the bad news: the industry has responded with loads of “greenwashing”—manipulative marketing used to disguise unsustainable practices as environmental consciousness. That’s why at Seek Collective, we’re always urging consumers to dig deeper. With greenwashing ever on the rise, it’s not enough to take sustainability claims at face value. 

This rings true when it comes to one of the rising trends in apparel and home: organic cotton. Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is produced without the use of toxic pesticides, hazardous chemicals, or harsh dyes, making it better not only for you, but also for the ecosystem in which it’s grown. But here’s the truth: a lot of the cotton being sold to producers with the stamp “organic” isn’t really organic at all. 

The reason behind this wide scale fraud is a broken certification system. Somewhere between half and three-quarters of the world’s organic cotton comes from India, where external inspection agencies pay infrequent visits to farms to determine their organic status and grant certification. The certification comes with a price point, and many of the truly organic farms are small scale productions that can’t afford to pay. On the flip side, there are large farms that can afford to bribe inspectors to secure the certification, even if they aren’t producing organically. 

What does that mean for organic cotton at Seek Collective? If you look at our product pages, you’ll notice that only some of our styles are listed as “organic” cotton. While we source certified organic cotton from partners we trust, rest assured the “conventional” cotton we use is also sourced from partners who prioritize sustainability and fair labor.

Another element to cotton in the apparel industry that gets a lot of attention is how much water it uses. It has often been called a water “thirsty” crop but that is only when the cotton is not irrigated properly and/or grown in climates it shouldn’t be.  A lot of cotton today has been bred to be drought resistant and depending on where as well as how it’s being grown, it can be produced very responsibly in relation to water usage.

The bottom line: if you’re seeking truly sustainable cotton, make sure you are purchasing from brands that are transparent about their partnerships and sources. Do not trust easy catch phrases and trending terms, as production is far more nuanced than that. 

Further Reading:

New York Times: That Organic Cotton T-Shirt May Not Be as Organic as You Think

Forbes: Damaging Sustainability Myths Debunked: Cotton Is Not A “Thirsty” Crop, Says Report

The Water Footprint of Cotton Consumption

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