22nd March marks the 29th annual World Water Day - an awareness day dedicated to informing people about the importance of fresh, clean water, and the billions of people living in water-stressed regions.
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is one of the largest water users globally. It is dependent on water throughout the entire production process of textiles, from the growing of natural fibres to the dyeing of materials. The byproduct is often polluted, undrinkable water and heightened water shortages in already water scarce areas.
Cotton is a particularly thirsty crop, accounting for 69% of the water footprint of global textile fibre production. That’s why we use an organic cotton and linen blend that requires less water than its non-organic counterpart. This World Water Day, we wanted to talk more about our choice of material and share some of the ways we’re actively minimising our water footprint.
But first, what’s the problem with conventional cotton?
Earlier we said that cotton is a thirsty crop, which isn’t always the case. While it’s true that cotton is relatively drought tolerant, it is often grown in arid environments where it cannot be rainfed. Most cotton is grown in countries already facing water stress, with India, China, the US and Pakistan among them. Here, the problem is that most farmers are forced to use water-intensive irrigation systems, adding further stress to local water supplies. Soviet irrigation for cotton farming, for example, caused the Aral Sea in Central Asia to shrink to 25% of its former size in just 50 years.
Then you add toxic chemicals into the mix. More than any other crop, conventional cotton production relies heavily on agrochemicals and uses around 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of all insecticides. These chemicals are harmful to both human and planetary health, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and polluting drinkable water. Combined, vast volumes of irrigated water and the heavy use of pesticides cause soil salinastion. The result is a crop monoculture where other plants will struggle to grow, ultimately leading to local biodiversity loss.
Why we use an organic cotton and linen blend
Our signature organic cotton and linen blend is made from naturally grown fibres that use less water than conventional cotton. Our 100% organic cotton is OCS certified (Organic Content Standard) and grown in Turkey. According to the WWF, an organically-grown cotton t-shirt uses 2,457 less litres of water than a conventionally-grown cotton tee. Our linen is also grown in Europe and can come from a couple of sources, the last being Belarus. Linen is made from flax, a resilient natural crop that can grow in poor soil and is typically rainfed in showery Europe. In fact, “growing flax and weaving it into linen is the least water and energy intensive part of a linen garment’s life cycle!” Most of the water usage comes from washing and ironing the linen garment, so we encourage our customers to wash their clothes sparingly on an eco wash.
Sourcing organic cotton was important to us because it isn’t grown with toxic agrochemicals. According to Soil Association, “the water pollution impact of organic cotton has been shown to be 98% less than non-organic cotton production”. As a result, organic cotton has a much lower grey water footprint than conventional cotton, which refers to the amount of water required to dilute pollutants in order to reach water quality standards. The other benefit of organic cultivation is that it improves local soil health. Healthy soil absorbs water during floods like a sponge which is especially helpful during periods of drought.
Other ways we’re limiting our water footprint
Our fabric is woven, dyed, printed and finished by our Turkey supplier who is certified STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®. This means the factory adheres to environmental policies, employee health and safety policies and ensures people always come first. OEKO-TEX® has developed a lifecycle assessment tool to help certified factories measure their environmental impact. Specifically, it allows our manufacturer to calculate the water footprint of each process step, the overall process, and one kilogram of our material, so they can develop new innovative ways to meet water reduction targets.
One way they have achieved this is through their use of azo-free dyes. Conventional textile dyeing is water intensive and polluting. Azo-free dyes, by contrast, have a lower impact because they require less water in the dyeing process and do not contain any carcinogenic compounds which would pollute local waterways. This also means the water retains its purity, and can be repurposed again and again.
Did you know that our clothes have always been plastic-free? Why? Because when a synthetic garment - like polyester or nylon - is washed at home, it can shed up to 700,000 individual microfibres. These synthetic fibres enter our waterways, are ingested by fish, are then ingested by us and even end up in the placentas of unborn babies. Microfibres, like plastic clothing left to rot in landfill or at sea, don't biodegrade; its effects will be felt for hundreds of years to come
Our clothing is plastic-free, down to the finishings. Our buttons are made in the UK from eco-friendly Coroza, a sustainably harvested material that supports communities in Ecuador. Instead of plastic-derived elastic, we use organic GOTS cotton and natural rubber which actually has a longer lifespan than conventional elastic, and is eventually biodegradable. Even our care labels are made from organic cotton and printed with azo-free dyes. It’s just one of the ways we’re minimising our water consumption, wastage and pollution!