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The Truth Behind the Dirtiest Crop On Earth

Is there hope for the dirtiest crop on earth to become sustainable?

We’re talking about cotton - the fabric that once was proclaimed to be “The fabric of our lives” by a $20 million dollar advertising campaign in 2004.

While it is touted as the “natural and eco-friendly” choice because of its benefits and versatility, we want to expose the dirty secrets behind this white and fluffy fiber, and why organic cotton is not only a preferred choice for people living sustainable lives, but why you may want to make it a requirement.

The dirt on cotton

Conventionally grown cotton has earned its title as the dirtiest crop on planet earth.

While cotton covers just 2.5% of the planet’s total agricultural area, it uses 7% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides. Production is so dependent on chemicals, that entire companies have been created to make neurotoxic formulas (chemicals that have been proven to affect the nervous system) just to support its growth. 

These chemicals used in the production process expose farmers to harmful substances, and then are released into the environment and go on to pollute and affect our ecosystems, and our own health.

And while, on the opposite end of the spectrum, organic cotton is chemical free, ethically grown, sustainable, healthy for farmers and end users, and never sheds microplastics in the wash, the demand for conventionally grown cotton remains at an all time high.

But awareness is the first step. Because while the immediate impact of buying organic cotton is not as obvious as the food you buy, the long term consequences cannot be ignored.


Which came first, drought or climate change?

Water scarcity.

That’s the argument the cotton industry wants you to believe. With over half of all textiles dependent on it, in addition to the companies dependent on the profits of the chemicals used on their genetically engineered crop, you can bet they will continue to put up a bold fight.

And we will acknowledge the statistics. It takes 290 gallons of water to grow enough conventional, high-yield cotton to produce a t-shirt, according to Cotton Inc. To grow the same amount of organic cotton for a t-shirt, however, requires about 660 gallons of water.

But what is not being addressed, is that all important subject of climate change.

Conventionally grown cotton producers 220 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. The output of these greenhouse gases traps heat in the ecosystem, causing respiratory illnesses, extreme weather patterns, and basically, contributing to the drought experienced in India, the world’s largest producer of cotton.

And while a case could be made both ways, thank goodness for evolution.

Evolution in progress

You can save the environment.

Really. While organic cotton opponents would say that organic cotton uses more water, produces less yield, and therefore greater CO2 emissions, we would point out that in an ever-evolving world, nothing remains the same.

And that includes the organic cotton industry. 

As found by a study by the Textile Exchange, using a life cycle assessment (LCA) produced by Cotton Inc. in 2014 as a baseline, they revealed that organic cotton has the potential for environmental savings over conventionally grown cotton.

  • 46 percent less harmful to global warming
  • 70 percent less acidification of land and water
  • Soil erosion potential drops 26 percent
  • Surface and groundwater use falls 91 percent
  • Demand for energy could go down by as much as 62 percent

Today, countries like Australia are producing more cotton on less land, with more efficient water use and with less impact on the environment than ever before. And this is happening around the world.

Chalk another point up for organic cotton.

We're allergic to toxic

“I just love the way poisonous chemicals feel against my skin.” said no one ever.

We’ve talked endlessly about the 8,000 toxic chemicals used in the apparel industry. Conventional cotton alone is the 3rd largest user of pesticides in the world. And that’s just in the growing process.

The harmful effects from the exposure to chemicals that the farmers and growers have to experience is devastating. But the impact hits closer to home when you consider how much of those neurotoxins remain on the clothes you bring home?

Our skin is our largest organ. A baby’s skin is roughly five times thinner than an adult, and much more sensitive. Research shows newborn baby’s skin is super permeable as well, which means it’s easier for toxic chemicals to pass through that protective layer we’re all born with.

Babies are in a crucial stage of development where everything they come into contact with can have either potentially damaging or productive results.

In fact, as we discussed in our recent interview with Naturopathic doctor Anisa Woodhall, epigenetics (the science of how the outside environment impacts the expression of our genetics), even the chemicals on clothing during a woman’s pregnancy, can impact the expression of disease cells in our unborn baby.

As adults, our skin does thicken over time. But research still shows that wearing conventional cotton has been linked to cause cancers like leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and risk of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and young teens.

The best and the only way to prevent this is to avoid it completely with organic clothing. 

The dirt on your clothes

Conventionally grown cotton is a chemical process - from start to finish. 

Aside from the pesticides and insecticides used to grow cotton, chemicals are also used at the manufacturing stage to repel:

  • Fire
  • Wrinkles
  • Stains
  • Fading
  • Chemical dyes are also used to create vibrant coloring.

Those chemicals wind up polluting the waterways, the production workers, and, in the end, remain on the clothing you wear.

And while you may not see it or think about it when you grab a cotton tee shirt off the shelf, what you don’t see can hurt you.

How it feels matters

There is no comparison of organic vs synthetic when your family’s health is at stake. But does organic cotton actually feel different?

If the birds and the bees are any indication, we certainly think so.

Organic cotton is grown without ANY pesticides. As a stark contrast, conventionally grown cotton doused in chemicals is so toxic, even birds and bees won’t return to an abandoned field for 10 years. 

Aside from the feeling you get knowing there are no chemicals on an organic cotton garment, how soft it is depends on the length of the individual strands.

Premium quality organic cotton - the type that Nui uses - has a longer strand. It feels softer, lasts longer, and is more durable to wash and wear. 

Add in the other benefits of organic cotton, and there is no comparison. As a reminder:

  • No exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins
  • Enhanced comfort
  • Increased safety
  • Higher durability
  • Greater longevity
  • Social responsibility
  • Environmental responsibility


You matter

The reasons to buy organic cotton are many. From the health of you and your family, the workers, and the planet - your choice to shop organic matters.

Becoming more sustainable in your wardrobe is a choice. It’s an investment that doesn’t have to cost a lot when you use this simple formula:

Choose well.

Buy better.

Buy less.

Sustainability made simple. Just the way we like it!

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