Materials Factsheet

Cotton

Background

Cotton is the fluffy down that surrounds the seed pods of the cotton plant. It can be harvested, spun and then woven or knitted into a soft, strong fabric that's breathable, absorbent and washable.

Cotton is the most widely produced natural fibre on the planet, with 26.7 million metric tons produced in 2018. This comprises 24.4% of global textile production, although cotton has been steadily losing market share to synthetic fibres since the early 2000s.

Cotton is a desert crop that's tolerant of salinity and drought, with a deep root system that uses less water than rice, maize, soybeans and many vegetable crops. That makes it ideal for arid climates. But even in those locations, optimal growth still requires dry warmth, sunshine, regular irrigation and protection from pests and weeds, while water is often a scarce commodity.

Six countries – China, India, Australia, Brazil, the US and Pakistan – produce 80% all cotton, with cotton production consuming about 2.5% of the Earth’s cultivatable land.

Cotton production provides income for over 250 million people globally, and employs almost 7% of all labour in developing countries.

It’s 100% biodegradable – unlike polyester and nylon, it won’t still be littering the landscape decades later.

It’s renewable/it can be regrown – unlike polyester and nylon, it doesn’t use up a finite resource.

It needs less artificial energy to produce it than processed textiles – making it less bad for the planet.

It’s available in sufficient quantities – which is necessary to create an industry from it

It can be made in a variety of different better ways - often referred to collectively as Preferred Cotton, many of them certified (e.g. the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton made inAfrica (CmiA), Fairtrade, Organic OCS and GOTS). Each certification is slightly different, but in general, Preferred Cotton:

o  Uses traditional farming techniques, instead of pesticides, fertilisers, other synthetic chemicals or GM

o  Requires up to 71% less water than conventional cotton

o  Respects and protects' farmers and workers' rights

o  Has half the global warming potential, and approximately a third of the energy demands of conventional cotton

It can be recycled into new yarn and garments, which:

o  Prevents cotton leftovers going to landfill as waste

o  Saves water: every 1 kg of recycled cotton saves at least 10,000 litres of water

o  Doesn’t require chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers or GM

o  Requires less processing, saving electricity and therefore CO2 emissions

(One snag, though. There’s not very much recycled cotton available - only 0.7% of total global cotton is recycled - and the quality of is lower, so it often needs to be blended with virgin or preferred cotton or recycled polyester).

Water - it takes 10,000 litres of
water to produce 1kg of cotton
- and reputedly twice that in India due to inefficient water use). This meanings it takes about 2,700 litres to make one cotton T-shirt. That’s enough water for one person to drink for 900 days.

Water - 57% of global cotton production takes place in areas under high or extreme water stress. For example, in India, 100 million people don’t have access to drinking water, yet the water consumed to grow India’s cotton exports in 2013 would have been enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year.

Water - only 30% of the cotton produced comes from ‘rain-fed’ farming. The rest relies on irrigation, with surface and ground waters often being diverted to irrigate cotton fields. This leads to freshwater loss through evaporation, and inefficient water management.

Chemicals - between 4-10 % of all world pesticides, 10-25 % of global insecticides and 6 % of all herbicides are used in cotton-growing. These chemicals threaten the quality of soil and water, impact biodiversity (by killing other animals as well as the pests, promoting secondary pests and building up resistance within the pests themselves), and bring health concerns for farm workers and nearby populations.

People - about 90% of cotton farmers are cultivating smallholder plots of less than two hectares in low-income countries where labour and wage protections are limited, or forced and child labour can be concerns.

Our Position

As a startup, we’re lucky – we can bed good practices into our business model right from the get go. That’s what we’re doing with cotton, given that it’s a hugely versatile textile with qualities that are perfect for furniture and home furnishings.

At now, sit down we will:

Use recycled cotton if we possibly can
Only mix preferred cotton or recycled polyester, and not virgin cotton, in our recycled cotton as far as we possibly can
When recycled cotton isn't available, use preferred cotton as far as possible - ideally from the same preferred cotton certification schemes (although we'll always widen out to other Preferred Cotton certifications if needed to avoid using virgin cotton as much as we can)
Be willing to use ‘in-conversion’ cotton, instead of virgin cotton, given that it helps boost the amount of preferred cotton available in the long run
Do absolutely everything we can to avoid using any new virgin cotton
Keep actively pressing for recycled cotton to be produced in greater quantities - because scarcity is recycled cotton’s biggest problem