what to know about the organic cotton industry
It is an era for renewal, rebirth, finding balance and breathing deeply. Life is busy and yet the planet is calling for help. Our future is at stake. The Native Americans lived and wrote, “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” As we enter a new year, it is an apropos time to join a commitment to life, to love, to world peace, to helping others,and to making positive choices that benefit both humans and wildlife. The collective health of our planet and our lives depend on each individual’s contribution to their own state of being.
We should let yoga inform the lifestyle decisions we make. I have reflected on how to translate what I have learned in my yoga practice—gratitude, intention, respect, humility, balance, integrity, focus, discipline, breath and compassion—into business and then use business as a way to inspire and transform.
There is a shared energy and mission in this growing movement as people have realized that what they buy truly matters. Two-thirds of the population believes that they can have a greater impact on the world with their purchasing dollars than with their vote. This gives the consumer a way to be a part of something more—of making a difference and a statement at the same time.
As I dove deeper and deeper into the interrelationship of what we buy, what we consume, and how these habits affect the world, I discovered a budding consciousness among progressive-minded people, who began to ask, “What’s next?” As a lover of fashion, I had an epiphany that, with food and fiber as mankind’s two basic necessities, there was a missing link in the wellness equation. Why was an industry as destructive as textiles being completely overlooked? As Maslow’s Theory says, man evolved from food to fiber. There was an opportunity to address this same evolution in the consumer market. As organic food penetrated more deeply into the mainstream, consumer awareness was shifting. A new kind of lifestyle was being embraced that involved a sense of connection and a responsibility to each other and to the future.
With this extension of yoga mindfulness, the “whole” picture needed to be taken into account for a truly balanced state of being. In organic agriculture, food and fiber crops are interconnected in many ways. Sixty percent of a cotton plant actually goes back into the food stream in the form of seed and oil and cottonseed grown from conventional cotton is rampant with chemicals and pesticides. Organic cotton cultivation, on the other hand, provides feed necessary for organic dairy products and oil for organic breads and snack foods.
The benefits of organic cotton farming go even deeper—organic farming involves crop rotation and other practices that build soil depth and richness. While most people rarely think about soil quality, our food and clothing choices dictate its future.
Conventional cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world and a leading cause of air and water pollution. Apparel and home products such as sheets and towels touch our skin twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. What we put on our body impacts our health just as much as what we put in our body because skin is our primary means of absorption. Chemical pesticides cannot be washed off in a washing machine to make a product organic, just as a conventional strawberry cannot be washed and made organic.
Pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers are deeply embedded into the soil, seed, root and essence of the plant. It is no surprise that one-third of the population today is walking around with allergies, asthma and severe skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, not to mention cancers and respiratory conditions. We cannot forget that pesticides are poisons meant to kill living species and humans are just another kind of living species.
A lot of people still think that conventionally grown cotton is the best natural fiber. However, when we evaluate the environmental, physical and financial implications of cotton, it is hardly “natural” or “good for your body,” as Cotton Inc.’s marketing has led us to believe. The impact of conventional cotton regarding farmer welfare is astounding. People need to remember that their apparel and home products did not grow in the department store or boutique. Our lives, and the lives of others, are affected by what we choose to wear and buy.
In United States, cotton is heavily subsidized, and it is very difficult for a farmer to make a living growing cotton. Moreover, between leased land challenges and machine-driven farming methods (which burn substantial fossil fuels), it is very difficult to build the soil properly and sustainably. In addition, with the U.S. consumer driving retail costs down, there are very few ginners, spinners, knitters, weavers and manufacturers left in the country who can compete in price with offshore production.
Overseas, cotton farming and harvesting is done manually. Farmers, many of whom are women, are walking the fields during spraying season with pesticide tanks on their backs and often with babies in slings hanging from their chests. The magnitude of illness and infection after each spraying season is horrifying. Even worse, over time the pests have become resistant to the original pesticides, which have resulted in stronger, more expensive pesticides. The farmers cannot afford these, so they end up leveraging their farms to the banks supported by the pesticide companies. These sprays then further compromise the soil, weakening the plant, thereby leading to more bugs.
This completely unsustainable cycle, known as the “pesticide treadmill,” eventually results in dead soil and crops, rampant infestation, and farmers in despair, as they no longer own their farms and livelihoods. There were over 20,000 suicides in India in the last few years connected to this very serious issue.
Fortunately, organic cotton farming methods shift this devastating paradigm. Growing free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, organic cotton is healthier for the farmer to grow. Then, because farmers get a premium on the cotton and do not need to buy pesticides, they can actually build a sustainable livelihood. A step further, when the cotton is also certified as fair trade, farmers get an additional premium to invest back into their communities for development, education, health care and improved farming methods.
On an added note, organic farming methods offset climate change with a lower carbon footprint—reduced emissions of greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide and methane, and reduced consumption of fossil fuels.
When I started my company, Under the Canopy, I realized that the consumer would not buy and support organic cotton and other fibers if the product could not sell on its own merits. Like organic food, which needs to look and taste good, organic clothing and home products need to be high-quality, feel good, be styled and colored right, fit well, and be both affordable as well as accessible.
Creating a balance between those characteristics while being socially responsible and environmentally sustainable was the winning equation. My company is committed to raising awareness and giving the consumer a way to have no compromise in their apparel and home purchases. Today people are seeking products and companies that resonate with their lifestyle choices. As more consumers have shifted to a yogic mindset, our goal was to create an industry and support those who shared similar core values.
Yoga can build a strong foundation through the experience of fitness, flexibility, strength and breath, ultimately melding the body and mind into one balanced state of consciousness. Likewise, “style with soul,” a term we’ve used to describe our ECOfashion® apparel and home products, is a fusion of looking and feeling good; revolutionizing fashion from being just about the physical, material world; and taking it to a new level, where it has a spiritual element that strikes a chord from deep within.
We all live “under the canopy” of the earth’s ecosystem. On a global level, we must come full circle and address the interconnection between mankind and nature. We no longer need to give up anything; instead, we can demand a better life for our children and ourselves.
As in yoga, we cannot lose sight of something as fundamental as breath. Industries, businesses and products cannot take planetary wellness for granted. We must be accountable to the earth and all of its species. Just as a yogis practice with a long-term world vision that respects breath and life, consumers must shop with a world vision that respects human health, farmer welfare, the environment and future generations.
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