A Little Background
In the US, cotton is a $25 billion dollar a year industry and impacts our lives and our planet everyday without us realizing it. Growing and harvesting non-organic cotton causes significant damage to the environment. Compared to other natural fabrics, cotton requires more nutrients to grow causing soil erosion. To grow cotton on the same land, farmers must spray millions of pounds of synthetic fertilizer every year. The fertilizer can seep into waterways causing problems such as algae blooms which deplete water oxygen and result in dead-zones where fish can not survive. Cotton farming also requires large volumes of water (1320 gallons of water per pound of cotton). This and the heavy use of pesticides (84 million pounds of pesticide just in the US) has given cotton the title of one of the worlds dirtiest crop. By purchasing products made with alternative fibers, we can limit the environmental impact and preserve the limited resources we have left.
Lets Talk About Hemp
Hemp is similar to the marijuana plant, but with negligible levels of THC meaning it does not produce the psychoactive effects that marijuana does. Due to similarities with marijuana, however, hemp was illegal to grow in the US until 2018. Even though hemp was banned, it has been produced and used throughout the world and provides several key advantages over cotton. Hemp produces more fabric in the same amount of land. In one acre, about 1500 lbs of hemp is produced compared to only 500 lbs of cotton. In addition to less land, hemp also requires minimal nutrients and thus less fertilizer. To grow and process cotton also requires approximately 400% more water than to grow and process hemp.
Hemp as a fabric is more durable, absorbent, and a good insulator. Hemp has a more rough feel giving clothing a unique texture and design. By blending hemp with cotton you get the benefit of the softness of cotton while reducing our footprint. In addition, hemp reduces the amount of shrinkage cotton undergoes after washing giving hemp products a less worn look.
Lets Talk About Bamboo
Bamboo is starting to be farmed in the US, but is primarily imported from other countries like China. Bamboo, also called green gold, is extremely versatile and can be used to make solid products such as furniture and chopsticks to soft fibers such as for clothing! Bamboo requires 33% less water to grow compared to cotton. In addition, you don't have to replant bamboo, it just sprouts back reducing wasted labor and energy. Bamboo as a fabric is more absorbent than cotton and has antimicrobial properties. Bamboo is both more durable but much softer making beautiful skirts and dresses that flow. Here are some examples of skirts and other products made of bamboo.
Lets Talk About Linen
Linen is made from flax plants. Growing flax for linen requires significant less water and pesticide than cotton. Linen requires less fertilizer and pesticide to grow as well. However, linen can be much more expensive than cotton as harvesting the plant can be laborious. Linen is much more durable than cotton and lighter weight. Linen is a bit more rough but does not pill or shrink as much as cotton. Linen is not as insulating as cotton, which makes it a great fabric to wear in summer months. Here are some examples of products made from linen.
Lets Talk About Jute
Jute is produced from the plants in the genus Chocorus. Jute is actually the second most produced natural textile after cotton. Jute is much cheaper to produce and requires less water, fertilizer, and pesticide compared to cotton. The material is also 100% biodegradable. Jute is known for its high sheen and durability. Jute is primarily used to make rugs and bags and much less so used to make clothing. Here are some examples of products made of jute.
Lets Talk About Silk
Unlike other fabrics which are produced from plants, silk is harvested from insects, specifically the silkworm. The process may be considered cruel by some as silkworms do die in the process, although more humane methods of harvesting silk is currently being developed in India which requires less harm to the silk worm. It takes about 2500 silk worms to produce one pound of silk. Silk is expensive to produce but is considered a luxury for many of its properties as a fabric. Silk has a very soft and smooth finish with a partial sheen. Silk is hypoallergenic as the strands are densely woven preventing dust and bacteria from accumulating. It does not have insulating properties instead absorbs heat quickly making it great for warm weathers.
Lets Talk About Organic Cotton
Organic cotton is produced from non-GMO (genetically modified) seeds. Farmers cannot use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides when growing cotton reducing the amount of environmental pollution. Since organic cotton still requires high levels of nutrients, farmers must rotate the land where cotton is farmed allowing for soil recovery and improved soil water retention. Organic cotton farmers also cannot use herbicides and insecticides and must therefore manually or naturally remove any threats to the plant. Although these are all great reasons to buy organic, it also means that growing and harvesting organic cotton requires much more labor and energy for a much smaller yield. For instance, organic cotton will require twice as much water compared to conventional cotton to produce the same amount of cotton. Depending on how farms control all these factors, organic cotton may end up requiring more energy to produce and thus emitting more greenhouse gasses in the process. There are clear benefits though including less chemicals in organic cotton clothing which may cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
At Pure Chakra we offer products made of cotton, but also offer a larger selection of products made of sustainable materials such as bamboo, hemp, jute, and linen. We would like people to be more conscious about the material their clothes is made of. By purchasing cotton alternatives you make your voice heard and push us towards a more suitable future.
Author: John Pham