Cotton in the Circular Economy: Knits Made in Canada
Cotton has been one of the most important fabrics used by humankind for thousands of years. It's used to make clothes, homeware, and industrial products (it’s even the number one textile choice for the clothes astronauts wear in space!). Recently there has been a lot of discussion about cotton and its role in the circular economy. Many argue that despite the efficiency and economical benefit of importing cotton from overseas, cotton should be grown and manufactured locally. Today we’ll explore the benefits of local cotton production and weigh the pros and cons of organic and sustainably farmed cotton.
First thing’s first: What is cotton?
Cotton is a natural fiber that comes from the cotton plant. It's grown in warm climates around the world and is one of the most popular fabrics used in clothing and other products due to its lightweight and breathable qualities. Cotton cultivation can have a significant impact on the environment, including water use, soil erosion, and pesticide use. In addition, cotton production generates a large carbon footprint.
Sustainably Farmed vs Organic Cotton
When it comes to farming, there’s a lot to consider in terms of both the crops being grown and the overall health of the environment. There has been an increased focus on organic cotton production in the USA in recent years. However, sustainably farmed cotton is another option that is worth considering. Both types of farming have benefits and drawbacks. For example, organic cotton farming often requires more land than sustainable farming methods. This can lead to increased costs and a larger environmental footprint. However, organic cotton farming does not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, which can be harmful to both farm workers and the environment. Sustainable cotton farming on the other hand includes a variety of sustainable practices, such as using less water and investing in renewable energy. This can help to reduce the environmental impact of cotton farming while still yielding high-quality crops.
Doesn’t Cotton use a lot of water?
The short answer - yes. The long answer - yes, but so does literally everything in your life. Here are a few statistics to put things into perspective:
It takes 713 gallons of water to produce just one cotton t-shirt, from farming the cotton to manufacturing the textile
Alternative: Polyester - this textile uses much less water, however the water is replaced by oil and fossil fuels.
It takes 2000 gallons of water to create a single pair of jeans, again from farming to manufacturing.
Alternative: This issue is becoming more and more glaringly problematic, and certain brands have found ways to cut their water usage in half. Making a point to supporting the brands that are trying to make a difference is a step in the right direction - another great step would be to buy your denim second hand (not only is it usually broken in for you already, but it also tends to be less costly. Finding a tailor that you trust to make alterations on the “nearly perfect” jeans that you find second hand will not only make it easier to find your “perfect” pair, but it will also allow you to support smaller local businesses)
It takes 37 gallons of water to make a single cup of coffee. Unfortunately there is no alternative here - the only thing you can do to make a difference is to simply drink less coffee.
It takes 3400 gallons of water to make a smartphone. Smartphones are really born in water, as many of the metals and minerals used in electronics are mined using a process that requires a lot of water, and each chip in your phone needs to be rinsed over 30 times in the manufacturing process.
At the end of the day the point we are trying to make here is that while water consumption seems to be a necessary evil, it helps to put our water usage in the global market into perspective, and it is something to take into consideration when you are making any sort of purchase - including cotton.
Local Cotton vs Imported Cotton
The importation of raw cotton is another major source of pollution. India is the largest producer of cotton, followed by China, together producing between 45%-50% of the entire world’s cotton. It is usually much less expensive to purchase cotton from overseas, which is not only beneficial for the brand purchasing but also for the consumer as this can be reflected in the final price of your favourite T.
The flip side to that is the reason behind the lower price point is the lower cost of labour. Unfortunately, these countries are notorious for underpaying their skilled labour and not providing safe working conditions. On top of this, the price to ship the cotton overseas is paid by the environment, as it takes very large amounts of fossil fuels to do so. On this side of the ocean, the USA is the next largest producer of cotton, followed by Brazil. Taking into account the location in which any brand sources their cotton is important, as this decision impacts the labour standards under which the cotton is grown and produced as well as the carbon footprint of the textile industry. The further away a textile is from the place of production and the final sales location, the more energy and fossil fuels are required to get it there.
How can you make an informed decision about the cotton you purchase?
If you're looking for cotton garments that are sustainably produced, look for items that are made in Canada. These items are likely to be made from cotton that is sourced from the USA (as it is the closest place where cotton can be grown and produced on a large scale), which has some of the highest standards for cotton and production and fair labour standards in the world. You can also find clothing made from recycled cotton, which is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. When you buy cotton clothing that is made in Canada, you can be sure that it was produced under fair labor standards and that the workers were paid a living wage.
At BEDI, we source our cotton from North Carolina. It is grown and harvested and then sent to Canada to be spun into yarn and sewn into the knitwear that you know and love. All of our knits - t-shirts, long sleeve crew necks, hoodies, and joggers - are made from sustainably grown cotton sourced in the U.S. and produced here in Montreal.
By supporting local cotton production, we can help to build a more sustainable industry and create positive change in the world. When you choose to buy cotton clothing that is made in Canada, you are truly supporting the circular economy.