Conventional Cotton vs Organic Cotton: Differences & Sustainability

Giada Nizzoli

Conventional Cotton vs Organic Cotton: Differences & Sustainability

Is there really a difference between normal cotton vs organic cotton? After all, cotton is a natural fibre: isn’t that enough to make it organic and sustainable?

Not exactly, unfortunately.

To fully understand the difference between conventionally grown cotton and organic cotton, let’s start by telling you a bit more about each type.

What is conventional cotton?

Cotton is a fluffy fibre that grows in bolls around the seeds of this plant, and the term ‘conventional cotton’ simply refers to cotton grown with traditional methods, especially when used in comparison with organic alternatives.

The benefits of conventional cotton

Sounds pretty dreamy, right? 

Well, here’s the catch.

Conventional cotton crops

The not-so-fluffy problems with conventional cotton

The problems with cotton aren’t really to be blamed on the natural fibre itself, but rather on how it’s grown and produced.

  • Water usage: with traditional cotton farming methods, around 2,700 litres of water are needed to make a single cotton t-shirt;
  • Pesticides & chemicals: cotton uses around 16% of the world’s insecticides and 6% of all pesticides and has an extremely chemical-heavy manufacturing process, often including toxic dyes. These substances are carcinogenic and can have dire consequences on the health of farmers as well as the environment. This also means that the finished product is no longer automatically hypoallergenic;
  • Soil degradation: relying on herbicide chemicals, the cotton weeding process deprives the soil of moisture and nutrients, affecting future crops;
  • Mixed fabrics: cotton is often mixed with synthetic fabrics, which means that these garments won’t be fully biodegradable;
  • Unethical: the cotton industry is not easy to trace and is linked to modern slavery and child labour. The most recent (and ongoing) scandal is the structural forced labour by Uyghurs in the Chinese cotton industry.

Discover more about why cotton can be bad for the environment.

What is meant by organic cotton?

Organic cotton garments

Organic cotton (often referred to as sustainable cotton) consists of the same natural fibre but doesn’t involve any fertilizers or pesticides and is grown in a more sustainable and ethical way, promoting biodiversity.

To be sure that you’re buying organic cotton clothes, you can look for specific certifications. The most famous one is GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard.

Why is organic cotton more sustainable?

Jyoti fair works organic cotton skirt large 

Organic cotton shares all the benefits of conventional cotton, but comes with a few perks that are also the solution to most of the problems associated with the latter:

  • Organic cotton seeds are never genetically modified;
  • No pesticides nor unhealthy chemicals are involved in the production process;
  • Weeding is done by hand, promoting soil regeneration;
  • It involves natural or water-based dyes;
  • Organic cotton fabrics are fully hypoallergenic;
  • Sustainable cotton uses 91% less water than its conventional counterpart and has a lower carbon footprint.

So, what is the difference between cotton and organic cotton?

Organic cotton shirt by the Driftwood Tales

The difference between cotton vs organic cotton is that, even though they use the same natural fibre, they’re grown and produced in different ways.

While traditional cotton farming puts speed and high-demand first, organic cotton employs more sustainable and ethical practices.

That’s why organic cotton is one of the best sustainable fabrics!

If, now that you know the difference between conventional cotton vs organic cotton, you would like to discover garments and brands that rely on the latter, you’re in the right place!

On Project Cece, we’ve gathered the collections of over 400 fair trade brands. Among our practical filters, you’ll find one for the GOTS certification: just make sure you click on it when you look for organic cotton clothing.

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