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Clothes You Can Really Cotton To

Organic Style Jan/Feb 2003 Brennan Kearney

When it comes to fabric, cotton is still king: U.S mills process an average of 10.8 million bales of cotton fiber a year, and 1 bale can produce more than 1200 T-shirts. But along with those clothes consumers are putting some risk on their backs. "Of the top 15 chemicals used in California cotton farming, 7 of them cause cancer and all but 1 cause birth defects," says Will Allen, executive director and found of the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP).

To reverse these statistics, Allen's group works with apparel and home-furnishing companies, helping them to convert from conventional to organic cotton. The active-wear company Patagonia was one of the first to make the switch. Since 1996, all of its cotton products have been 100 percent organic. Nike also has seen the light.

Today, its cotton clothes for North America contain at least 5 percent organic cotton, and in 2003 the company plans to add 100% organic-cotton clothing for men to its already popular organic-cotton women's collection-big news when you consider that approximately 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers and farm chemicals go into a single conventionally grown cotton T-shirt. Timberland and Hann Andersson have also started organic programs after taking the SCP's tour of organic farms.

But to the SCP, reducing agricultural chemicals means more than cleaner fields. Cotton by-products, such as cottonseed and husks, are consumed in large quantities by domestic dairy cattle and thus find their way into our bodies on nearly a daily basis. (Not considered a food crop, cotton is free of some of the regualtions limiting pesticde use.) "We end up eating cotton more than we sleep on it or wear it," says Allen - and he doesn't mean cotton candy. You don't even want to know what goes into that. For more information, visit www.sustainablecotton.org

 
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