Organic Cotton: Worth the Investment?

Organic Cotton: Is it Worth the Investment?

When I first found out that I was pregnant, one of the things I was determined to be a stickler about was clothing my child in organic cotton. It’s no secret that the cotton industry is famous for their use of pesticides and is a major contributor of environmentally disrupting chemicals, and this simply wasn’t something that I was willing to subject my child to. However, with more research and thinking, I have slowly changed my tune- and I want to tell you why.

First of all, there is no governing body over what can be called ‘organic cotton’. Much like we face in our quest to eat real food, gluten free, or all-natural, companies can claim organic cotton when that might not be what they are actually producing. Which leads me to the next point: a truly organic cotton garnet is actually very hard to come by. Even clothing from companies that claim to use organic cotton is often dyed using commercial, chemical-based dyes that basically undo any benefit that there may have been to choosing organic cotton in the first place. There isn’t anything regulating this, either- so you may purchase a onesie that is made with organic cotton, but is printed with horrible chemicals, and nobody has to disclose that to you.

Organic cotton may not be all that necessary, anyway. Many of us are familiar with the ‘dirty dozen’ and the ‘clean list’ when produce shopping, which helps us know what fruits and vegetables are worth spending extra money on to buy organic. This is largely based on which fruits and vegetables have the most residual chemicals and pesticides by the time they get to our supermarkets. This has to do with a number of factors, but mostly the makeup of the fruit itself. For example, potatoes and onions are important to buy organic, as they have thin skins and grow underground, and thus absorb whatever compounds are present. In contrast, avocados are not nearly as important to buy organic, as they have thick skins and grow on trees, so it is harder for them to absorb chemicals. Cotton is very similar to the avocado- it is grown above the ground and encased in a hard shell, breaking open only when it is about to be harvested. Thus, the amount of chemicals and pesticides that are in the final product is actually pretty negligible.

What may be more dangerous for our children, instead, are unnatural fibers and blends. Things like polyester, spandex, and rayon, while they are very soft and comfortable, are made of chemical compounds and plastics– the very ones that we are trying to avoid. In contrast, choosing a 100% cotton garment guarantees the purity of the materials that your child will be exposed to. While there may be a negligible amount of chemicals, at least it isn’t composed entirely of them.

Innovations in textile production have enabled fabrics to be made of things like bamboo and even wood, but the processes to make these fabrics are questionable in terms of environmental impact. While bamboo and wood can be sustainably sourced fairly easily, it seems that the final product is so far removed from the original that it probably isn’t as environmentally friendly or sustainable as it may originally appear.

So what’s the answer to this clothing dilemma? For us, it’s hand-me-downs and secondhand stores, followed closely by 100% cotton. Buying secondhand or receiving hand-me-downs keeps us from pouring money into the industries that we don’t want to support- even the cotton industry, which is still a culprit for environmental damage.

Do you have standards that you try to adhere to for your children’s clothing? Or do you feel like it’s too much trouble than it’s worth?

This post was shared with Wellness Wednesday!

Heroes: Big Box Retail Stores

This is actually a pretty difficult Hero for me to pinpoint. For as many bad things there are about Walmart, it is an unfortunate reality that many big box chain stores commit many of the same fallacies, just on a smaller or less public scale. Knowing this, I keep thinking back to a previous post I wrote, in which I asserted that sometimes it is better to bow out of an economy than to stimulate an unjust one. With that in mind, I will officially crown the Hero of retail stores: the local thrift store.

It may not be as glamorous or exciting as a trip to Target (that is what you were hoping for, correct?) but your local thrift store can provide you with many of the things you might go to a place like Walmart to get- clothes, shoes, electronics, decor, furniture, toys, and accessories. The beauty of thrifting is that the prices will likely be much better than Walmart, and not a dime of your purchase is going to an evil box store or a manufacturer making bad ethical decisions or employing children or destroying the environment. In fact, in most cases, proceeds from thrift stores benefit certain nonprofit or go towards beneficial programs within the business, such as Goodwill’s job training programs or, locally, the Westminster Rescue Mission rehabilitation program.

Admittedly, it takes more time and even a certain amount of practice to find the things that you need at a thrift store, but thankfully trends recycle and it’s easy to find something special these days! I completely believe that it’s worth the bit of extra effort to avoid supporting companies and industries that tear down the Kingdom that we are to be building with our money.

Do you have a favorite local alternative store you like to patronize? What other categories do we need a Hero and a Zero for?

Thoughts on Global vs. Local Trade

I have an inner dilemma that I have been battling for a while now: the question of whether to support global economies or focus on local economies. Brands like American Apparel have brought “made in the USA” to the forefront of our shopping brains, particularly in a season when sweatshops and child labor run rampant in most parts of the world. But shouldn’t we try to provide for our brothers and sisters overseas if we can, too?

This debate reached a head for me when I discovered that a shirt that my organization sells is manufactured in Haiti. My initial reaction was negative- we have been active in Haiti and have seen the conditions of work there, and the thought of promoting those environments sickened me. When I raised my concern, however, I was gently reminded that the company that we work with was committed to high ethical standards and that, because the shirts were made in Haiti, we were providing jobs and income to those people that we love, and helping their economy in perhaps the only way we could from a distance. My mind was eased.

My thoughts are further compounded when it comes to food- while I love eating with the seasons, purchasing local foods, and building relationships with farmers and craftsmen, I also really appreciate many foods that don’t grow locally and items that are manufactured in other parts of the company, or even the world. Things like coffee, chocolate, spices, and tea are cultivated well in certain parts of the world that I just don’t live in. As a responsible consumer, do I forgo these things, therefore saving carbon emissions due to shipping and dedicate myself to eating what my local community has to offer, or do I support these global markets, while perhaps putting the global economy on the back burner?

I don’t know what the answer is, but here are a few things that I am confident in:

-If you can buy something local, do it. Especially when it comes to food. Local farmers and culinary artisans depend on their local economy because, for the most part, they can’t export. Plus, you are getting a better quality food that you can be confident in- less preservatives, easier to check on gardening and farming operations, and good relationships with the people you are buying from.

-Fair trade is a beautiful thing. If you can’t get something locally, fair trade is a great way to ensure that your purchase from the global economy is something that you can be confident is building up global individuals and not causing any injustice along the way. There are many fair trade stores popping up now, such as the 10,000 Villages network, that make fair trade shopping feel like a breeze.

-Sweat shops are terrible. If you can’t guarantee that an item you are buying was made without blood on someone’s hands, you just shouldn’t buy it- at least not with a clear conscience. At times, this requires research not only into a store, but also a specific brand- but it is well worth it to know that you are using your money responsibly, and not to cause injustice.

-If there isn’t a good alternative, try making your own. This is especially helpful when it come to things that are really hard to research, such as cleaning products or cosmetics. There are so many ingredients in these items that its hard to say with confidence if a product is manufactured and sourced responsibly. However, there are countless way to replicate these items at home, where you can source the items yourself and be confident n the products you are using.

-Support your friends. Why buy a grocery store card made in who-knows-where when you have a friend that makes them for a living? Why buy a headband at Target when your friend is upcycling pieces and selling them on Etsy? Maybe you have friends that are photographers, or event planners, coffee roasters, stuffed animal makers, or jewelry designers. Show them love, and be loved in return.

-It is better to bow out of an economy than to stimulate a unjust one for lack of a better option. Thrift stores provide a way to purchase (many times with proceeds to a good cause) without giving any money back to the manufacturers. This can be a great place to find things that are difficult to source well, such as shoes, dressy clothes, or furniture.

While I wish that the answers were more cut and dry, I recognize that these thoughts are just part of the journey in being a Christlike consumer, and I certainly have not arrived at full understanding yet. We have to educate ourselves in order to use our money well- each dollar is a tool we are given to build the Kingdom, and we must take that seriously.