Everything these days is organic. And yes, clothing too. Most of us have probably heard of organic baby clothes and diapers, but other types of organic clothes we don’t typically see. What makes them organic? Why would we want to buy them? And are they really worth it?
First of all, organic clothing is usually made from one of two materials: organic cotton, or organic hemp. The cotton is grown in the U.S. (sometimes), and it’s important that it’s organic because cotton is ordinarily one of the most heavily sprayed crops. Hemp clothing (or at least hemp fabric) is imported, because it’s not really legal to grow here.
Side note: Industrial hemp, the plant used to make fabric, paper, and other textiles is not the same plant as the type of hemp that is smoked as marijuana. It is a long, ropey plant, not a short, leafy one. It can’t be smoked. It can also be grown very easily with no pesticides. But since it’s such a highly renewable, green resource, it would threaten both the cotton and timber industries, and so is illegal to grow. In the 1940s and 50s there was a huge smear campaign against hemp (the smokable kind, which also is not as dangerous or addictive as the authorities would have us believe), and industrial hemp got lumped in. It was an entirely political move, and does nothing but harm the environment and us. Hemp paper and fabric would be extremely cheap and eco-friendly if it could be produced here. Just so you know.
By choosing organic clothing, you’re avoiding farming practices that contribute to polluting the environment. There’s also the fact that the chemicals are still in the cotton when you buy it, and can be absorbed into your skin. Plus, certain products — like kids’ pajamas — have flame-retardant chemicals intentionally added (which are proven carcinogens), while organic clothes don’t. Clearly, organic clothing is safer.
However, you’ll also pay a serious premium price tag. A single cloth diaper is $25 or more (compared to $15 – $18 for non-organic versions), and a onesie might be $15 (non-organic are about $1/each in a 5-pack). Especially if you’re buying a whole wardrobe (or several, as babies grow fast), it just isn’t feasible for most to buy organic clothes at these prices.
There’s also the issue, though, that pesticides (and flame retardant) can wash out of clothing. This source says fabric is so processed that there’s no pesticide residue left in the first place. However, the clothing is processed with even more chemicals and petroleum-based dyes. Not to mention the effects on the workers who grow and process the cotton and make the actual clothes. A lot of the chemicals likely do wash out in time; 1 – 2 washings is probably sufficient for most chemicals.
What about flame retardant chemicals, though? The general thought seems to be that flame retardant properties come from the fact that the pajamas are polyester, which is a naturally flame retardant fabric (it’s really just plastic). Some think that the extra chemicals can’t really be washed out. It seems safer to avoid pajamas that contain these chemicals, and instead buy soft clothing that is not intended for sleepwear.
For clothing the rest of the time, organic clothing is probably the best solution, but not a very feasible one for most people. If you can find reasonably priced organic clothing, especially if you can find some used; or if people will buy it for you as gifts, by all means, buy organic! Ideally we’d like to make hemp legal so we could all afford organic clothing, though….
What if you just can’t swing it? That would be most of us. In that case, I’d recommend simply buying second-hand clothing. It will have been washed many times, largely removing any remaining pesticide residue, and any chemicals used in processing. It also saves the environment by reusing clothing instead of having to have new. It’s also highly affordable. Used clothing is probably the best situation for most people.
Do you buy organic clothing? Why or why not?