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Organic Cotton 101  

Still fuzzy about organic cotton? Here’s a BASIC overview (or cheat sheet) to help you understand what the fuss is all about. While a small novel could easily be compiled, this is meant as a quick and dirty synopsis…

We love it here at IMAGEN Green, and not just the durability and softer hand against your skin, but moreso the less detrimental effect it has on both human and environmental health.  

In essence, organic cotton is cotton that is farmed with the lowest possible impact on the environment. No harmful pesticides, toxic chemicals, fertilizers or GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds are used. One of the key principles is to rotate the crops and build a foundation of solid healthy soil. While conventional farming uses these harmful elements for various reasons, control of weeds and pest elimination are top of the heap. Organic farming takes a different approach, managing these crop inhibitors through manual labour, human ingenuity and the effective use of pest controlling insects. 

And depending on which independent organization’s standards are being considered, organic cotton that is certified must also adhere to Fair Trade policies.  Are the workers being paid a fair wage and does the environment they work in hold up to international standards?

And what’s the deal with “certified?” What does it mean, who’s in charge of certifying, and how does a farm get certified?  Good questions, all.

A farm can be certified (in North America) after 3 years of growing and adhering to regulated organic practices. During this 3 year period, the cotton is labeled as “transitional cotton.” Typically this can be a tough time for farmers as the costs to convert their farms can be enormous.  Traditionally “transitional” cotton has fetched a lower premium vs. certified cotton, although as of late major corporations such as Walmart have stepped up to the plate and offered the full “certified” price, easing some of the burden on the farmer. Side note - While there’s a lot to criticize the big W for, there’s a lot to be admired as well!

Standards for certification are all over the proverbial map. There is no single agency on a global basis that controls & divvies out certification for all, but rather a hodge podge of independent,  private and governmental organizations that have similar but often inconsistent parameters.  These agencies in turn look to one of a couple of global organizations like IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements), for global standards and accreditation. Depending on where you live certifiers like GOTS, SKAL, The Soil Association, or in the U.S., The Organic Trade Association (OTA) will be most prevalent. And all have their own regulations, some stricter than others.  The OTA for instance does not delve into Fair Trade issues under their definition of Organic Cotton. Organic clothing in Canada is similarly disjointed.

Otherwise, once the farm has been certified they can then officially label their products as certified, using the appropriate logo from the independent certifier. The onus is then on the consumer to understand what they’re buying, which at this point is no easy task. For more detailed information check out the following websites…




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