The True Cost (Part Two): Cotton

Did you read my first post about The True Cost? Yes? Then let’s talk about cotton. Genetically modified cotton to be specific.

Need to watch The True Cost?

Environment: Hands holding plant

It came as no surprise to learn that cotton is used to produce almost half of all garments across the world. Cotton’s good right? It’s natural? Well yes and no. More than 90% of all of this cotton is actually genetically-modified. This means the use of vast quantities of water and chemicals. Chemicals that are pretty much untested as far as the impact on the environment and human health goes.

Genetically modified cotton is meant to reduce the need for pesticides as it produces an natural alternative. However, this is actually ineffective against many pests that eat cotton. This means that over time an increased amount of insecticides need to be used on crops to combat pest resilience.

Effects of genetically modified cotton

Before I saw The True Cost, I had absolutely no clue about the shockingly high rate of farmer suicides in India. These suicides are linked by many to Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds. The high cost of seeds, and apparent unreliability of crops, means that thousands of farmers have found themselves with crushing amounts of debt. The problem is so widespread that the Indian government stepped in last year with a $1.3bn insurance scheme. Monsanto seem to be the only winners here, as farmers have to buy fresh supplies of genetically modified seeds each year. And we have also been using this excellent Bristol cleaning company a lot recently and they have just been wonderful so if you are in Bristol and could use some help then definitely give them a call.

It isn’t just its farmers in India that are suffering as this interview with Larhea Pepper shows.

Growing cotton really takes its toll on the environment. For starters, 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce enough cotton for a t-shirt, and as 20 million tonnes are produced every year, that’s an amazing amount of water. That’s before we even think about bleaching and dyeing the finished fabric and the water pollution that causes.

Soil also suffers when cotton is grown intensively. It becomes less fertile. Of course, the chemicals required also leach into the soil, which in turn impact what is subsequently grown.

Most people I know avoid genetically modified food. They believe it to be worse for them, and the environment, than organically grown alternatives. So why on earth do the same people then buy clothes made from genetically modified cotton and have these textiles next to their skin; the largest organ of their bodies? Genetically modified cotton has not been tested for long term health implications; but why are we taking the risk?

Of course, for the people who grown cotton and live in the surrounding areas, they don’t have a choice. Their water can be polluted, their land ruined by chemicals. This pollution then affects the food supply, which in turn affects people’s health. There are villages in India where babies are born with various birth defects, and where cancer is rife. Parents are literally waiting for their children to die. This isn’t right.

#whomademyclothes, John Lewis?

This skirt that I recently wrote about was made in India. John Lewis, thus far, haven’t shed any light on its manufacture, but I can’t help but assume it’s not a story I want to know…


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  1. 20th July 2017 / 9:15 am

    one of my main inspirations is Natalie Chanin – from Alabama Chanin (so much so that my first proper remake in my current project was a handsewn tee – something I would never have contemplated – but I was so inspired by her approach that I gave it a go……)

  2. 20th July 2017 / 9:18 am

    sorry – I probably should have included the context – re cotton – Natalie Chanin uses organic cotton and while I dont know the full back story – I am under the impression that she created the environment to encourage local farmers to grow the organic cotton and that the garment would be dyed with natural dyes and made locally by homeworks

    • Toria
      20th July 2017 / 1:26 pm

      I’m aware of Natalie Chanin, but not very familiar so I’ll have to go and have a read about her properly:-) A handsewn t-shirt sounds amazing, how long did it take you?

  3. 20th July 2017 / 11:21 pm

    Regarding Natalie Chanin- she has worked hard to use organic cotton the is processed, knitted and dyed in the US. It’s been a struggle for her at times since so much of the manufacturing process and machinery has been sent out of the country or shut down, but she had persisted. Her fabric is incredibly soft!

    • Toria
      21st July 2017 / 9:32 am

      Sounds interesting!

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