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Clothing materials explained: What is cotton?

Cotton is one of the most widely used fabrics in the world. It's breathable, helps your body with temperature regulation and is super soft. It is a naturally occurring crop and its use as clothing is thought to date back to prehistoric times. Although records suggest it dates back to 4000BC, the oldest cotton fabric remnants were found in Peru and date back to 6000BC.

With so many textiles available to us, it can be a little overwhelming when choosing what to dress our children in. Now we are diving deep into the world of cotton to see how it stacks up.

26 May 2021

How is cotton produced?

The cotton crop is grown worldwide, but it is native to subtropical climates, including the Americas, Africa, Egypt and India. Due to its immense water needs, it is best grown in these subtropical climates, but often it is grown in drier climates meaning large amounts of water are needed to maintain the crop. 

When it is ready for harvest, the cotton bolls are stripped from the plant using a specialist machine. Next, the cotton needs to be processed and separated by a cotton gin to ensure that only the clean, fluffy cotton continues to the next stage. This raw cotton then gets processed by another machine, which turns the short fibres into long strands ready for spinning into yarn.

How sustainable is cotton?

Not all cotton is created equal. In terms of sustainability, there are several factors to consider. There are both environmental and social factors, and choosing organic cotton can guarantee the safe treatment of the land the cotton is grown on and the farmers growing it. 

Planet

Cotton has a substantial water footprint of about 10,000 litres per kilogram and, in some dry areas, each kilogram of cotton can use up to 22,500 litres of water. Organic cotton is grown in subtropical climates and is 80% rain-fed, so it uses up to 80% less water than its non-organic counterpart. Further to this, organic cotton is not grown using any toxic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers that, when used, hurt the planet, are harmful to the farmers and can even make their way into our wardrobes. 

People

Organic cotton comes from non-GMO (genetically modified organism) plants. Genetically modified seeds seem like a great idea; they modify the crop to increase the yield and quality of the harvest. However, these seeds are often expensive, resulting in many farmers taking out loans to obtain them, and fresh seeds have to be purchased each season, creating a cycle of debt. 

Further down the production line, we must also consider the labour conditions of the people manufacturing the garment. Choosing certified organic cotton, such as clothing carrying the GOTS label, will ensure that the entire textile production process meets strict criteria designed to protect both the people in the supply chain and the planet. Many designers are now committed to only using cotton from a sustainable source, with designers such as Stella McCartney paving the way and Burberry pledging to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. We ensure that only GOTS certified cotton is used in our Childrensalon Essentials range.

Why choose cotton?

There are many reasons to choose cotton, but for us, comfort is key. Natural fibres such as cotton are much more breathable than synthetic alternatives, meaning they help your body with temperature regulation and keep you cool. Cotton is also super soft and delicate enough for newborns, so it's great for sensitive skin. 

With that said, certified organic cotton comes out on top. Organic cotton has all of the comfort and softness of conventional cotton, but it also has the added guarantee that both the people involved in the manufacturing process and the planet are protected. 

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