As awareness grows about the importance of sustainable agriculture and organic/biodynamic/permaculture food production, so too does the significance of ethically produced clothing. But does organic clothing really have any health benefits? Well yes it does, both directly and indirectly.
If we take cotton as an example, it is one of the most common textile crops on the planet and about 3% of globally cultivated land is dedicated to cotton production, but that unfortunately means that cotton is also responsible for over 16% of total global insecticide usage! In fact, a great many toxic chemicals are used in cotton cultivation which has a staggering effect on the surrounding ecosystems and the biosphere at large.
GMO cotton may have claimed to have the answer, but genetically modified agriculture has proven beyond any doubt that it doesn’t place any value in ecological sustainability, human rights or health and wellbeing. In reality it is the greatest proponent of large scale monoculture, human slavery, the use of disease-causing substances and the concept of owning the ‘legal rights’ to seeds… Absolutely ridiculous.
Even non-GMO, conventional agriculture causes the soil ecology and natural waterways to become polluted to the point that they can no longer support life. Pesticides contaminate the environment to such a staggering degree that even modest calculations imply that agricultural pesticides are directly linked to at least 220,000 human deaths globally, every year. This includes both chronic long term exposure as well as sudden, fatal poisonings. The quality of life for farmers is also staggeringly low, as they become utterly dependent on extortionate synthetic herbicides, pesticides, insecticides etc that in truth are completely unaffordable. Poverty, disease and suicide amongst cotton farming communities are increasingly more widespread.
Also to be considered is the death toll of innumerable land animal, bird and insect species that are unable to withstand the toxic contamination of their native habitat. This has a corresponding harmful effect on biodiversity and of course pollination. Employing such ‘convenient’ methods ultimately means that we all lose.
Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and dementia have shown to be 70% more likely to develop in individuals that have had long term exposure to pesticides. Developmental defects are also a lot more common when the parents have had prolonged exposure to many agri-chemicals, and male sperm count is notoriously low in men with the same exposure. The dramatic increase of a wide range of different cancers are also inextricably linked to pesticide exposure.
Although the connection with these illnesses is most obvious when observing cotton farmers and their surrounding communities, we are not separate or exempt from these effects when wearing the end product. The concentration of harmful substances is of course dramatically less, but a residue remains within the fibres. While this residue may be very diluted, it can still have a cumulative impact on our health over the long term, although more sensitive people may be noticeably more affected within a shorter timeframe – problems such as asthma and dermatitis can often arise more quickly.
Even once the crop has been harvested and graduates to textile production, many more chemical substances are used to ensure the smooth convenience of the whole process, which is of course accompanied by negative side effects not only for the health of those involved but also the surrounding earth, air, waterways and wildlife. Within the textile industry pretty much all conventional dyes and inks are lead-based. Lead maybe a naturally occurring metal within the Earth’s crust, but it is found in most paints, dyes and inks in such a high concentration that it is extremely toxic to human health and to the natural environment. This is another area where short-sighted greed has overshadowed basic common sense and sanity. There really is no need to use lead in paints/inks/dyes anymore as there are plenty of less harmful, natural alternatives that provide the same or often a better end result. It’s a no-brainer really.
It all seems a bit like a race to the bottom really doesn’t it? So what can be done about it? Well if we choose certified organic clothing, we are instantly negating a lot of what has been mentioned above. Again, using cotton as an example we can see that organic cotton is not grown using chemical pesticides. Emphasis is placed upon enriching the soil and rotating crops so that growth stimulants are not necessary. Much less water and carbon dioxide are needed during the growth cycle of the crop, making organic cotton exponentially more sustainable than its less conscientious counterpart. The need for natural resources is minimised, and the use of toxic synthetic additives is removed. Farmers need not poison themselves or their communities or enter the realm of terminal debt, and biodiversity of the surrounding ecosystem is encouraged. There are also other plant-based alternatives to cotton such as hemp, which can also be grown organically as it is naturally resistant to most plants and insects that may damage the crop, and on average it has a high yield-to-land mass ratio while being less resource-intensive than many other textile crops.
As recipients of the end product, we too can also relax in the knowledge that the clothing we have chosen to wear is not laced with a homeopathic cocktail of lethal substances that may initiate a cycle of degeneration within our health over the course of time. Organic agriculture may not be perfect – there is always room for improvement – but it is lightyears ahead of standard agricultural practices, whether it be food crops, textile crops or otherwise.
Likewise we can choose fair-trade clothing in order to ensure that producers are being valued and respected, and that young children are not being forced into manual labour. This is of course another area where improvements can still be made, but the fair-trade initiative is a foundation on which multi-ethnic equality can be built. Obviously it may not always be possible to discover clothing that meets all of these criteria, but it’s an important vision to work towards, and we can all help to stay on that trajectory. The world doesn’t get better because ‘other people’ start giving a shit.
I’ve always been into t-shirts. I wear them all the time. I’m sure most people do. A well-made t-shirt is comfortable, practical and long lasting, and it can say something. I used to be sponsored by an organic, fair-trade clothing company that was founded on sustainable principles, and their t-shirts were the best. Sadly, as that company evolved it became more aligned with corporate interest and integrity became less of a priority. Ever since starting Nyishar I have wanted to produce a limited edition range of t-shirts that adhered to the kind of criteria I thought were important for our health, with equal consideration offered to the people working hard at every level of the production process, the vitality of the biosphere, as well as being excellently crafted with the perfect cut and maximum comfort. So here you have it – the first run of Nyishar t-shirts!
These t-shirts are 100% certified organic, GMO free, fair-trade certified, printed with lead-free inks and all of the solvents used in the printing process are 100% recycled. The textile production facilities are powered completely by renewable energy, the supply chain is totally transparent and every single member of staff at the printshop (in the UK) rides a bicycle to work. As these shirts are not made from mixed fibres they will biodegrade completely and return to the earth many, many years into the distant future!