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What is the Difference Between Organic and Traditional Cotton?

What is the Difference Between Organic and Traditional Cotton?
By Elena Picci

Cotton! Do you believe you can never be wrong with a white cotton t-shirt? What if you discover that this beloved material is one of the most chemical intensives? But don’t worry there is a solution, it’s called Organic Cotton!


Don’t you love this material for its softness and lightness?

You can never go wrong with a white cotton t-shirt, right?

What if you discovered that this beloved material is one of the most chemical-intensive to grow?

Cotton is one of the most popular crops in the world and sadly, its production impacts human health through contamination of air, water and soil.

But don’t worry there is a solution, it’s called Organic Cotton!

You might be wondering since cotton is a natural fibre, why would organic cotton be more sustainable?

Or simply what makes organic cotton different?

Let’s break down what makes this material so sustainable.

Why is organic cotton better?
Image credit: Neeve

What is Organic Cotton?

Organic cotton grown in a more environmentally and socially conscious way.

It uses less water and fewer pesticides. Companies that grow organic cotton typically ensure that human rights such as fair wages, working conditions are respected at each step of the manufacturing process from the seed preparation to the weaving of the material.

#Seed Preparation

Organic cotton is cultivated with natural seeds and without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).


Organic cotton is grown in healthy soil with natural fertilizer and no insecticides or pesticides. This preserves soil fertility and ensures that the water is not contaminated. This part of the process also promotes farmer and wildlife safety.


The first step is the bleaching of the cotton, which is done by using a safe peroxide rather than traditional chlorine bleaching. The second step is the dyeing, which is usually made with natural dyes with low metal and sulfur content. The final step, the printing, is done with low impact pigments that are water-based instead of petroleum-based (Organic Cotton Plus).

Why is organic cotton better?
Image Credit: Neeve

Why is Organic Cotton Better than Conventional Cotton?

Organic Cotton is definitely more sustainable than conventional cotton, given the environmental and social precautions taken at each step of the manufacturing process. The main advantages of this organic material can be broken down into the following 4 categories:


Conventional cotton made with pesticides and toxic chemicals usually has consequences for farmers who are exposed to them regularly.  Repeated contact with these harmful toxins can result in health consequences that range from asthma to cancer, as some pesticides are carcinogens. The effects extend to the final consumer, as traditional cotton can create allergic reactions or eczema when the garment is worn (Organic Trade Association).

80% of cotton is grown in developing countries (Organic Cotton Plus), where workers are often at risk due to a lack of standard safety regulation and enforcement.

By avoiding toxic substances, Organic cotton farmers and their families are safe and can be sure that their food is not contaminated by chemical runoff.

Organic cotton clothes certified from the Global Organic Trade Standard (GOTS) also ensure that the International Labour Organisation standards are upheld, ensuring that the entire process is safe and ethical for everyone involved.


Organic Cotton requires 62% less energy than conventional cotton ( Textile Exchange). Based on the same study from the Textile Exchange, the global warming potential of organic cotton is also 46% lower than conventional.


Believe it or not, Organic Cotton uses 91% less water than traditional cotton. This is because soils in the organic system capture and retain more water, allowing for increased rainwater absorption and reducing the need for artificial watering  (Textile Exchange).

A single kilogram of conventional cotton requires as much as 10,000-20,000 litres of water to produce (The Guardian).

Save 2700 litres of water by buying organic clothing and ensure help prevent water contamination.


Traditional cotton crops use 7% of worldwide pesticides (About Organic Cotton).

By avoiding toxic chemicals, organic cotton has 70% less acidification and 26% less soil erosion potential than traditional cotton (Organic Trade Association).

Why is organic cotton better?
Image Credit: Neeve

How to find out if cotton is organic?

Greenwashing is powerful nowadays.

In order to market a textile as organic, third-party verification is essential.

#The Global Textile Standards (GOTS)

GOTS is the most famous and stringent certification. It ensures the cotton has been processed in both socially and environmentally friendly ways.

In 2018, 5’760 businesses became GOTS certified (Organic Trade Association)

Any piece of clothing with the GOTS Label “Organic’’ will contain at least 95% of certified organic fibres (Global Standard).

If you have the option, always choose GOTS over other certifications.

Are you looking for the perfect white organic cotton t-shirt?  Have a look at Neeve’sAll of their pieces are made of organic cotton from Tanzania and manufactured in Europe.

#Organic Content Standard (OCS)

This standard allows complete traceability of the raw material. However, this standard does not cover the environmental and social issues in processing as the GOTS certification does. (About Organic) Social issues such as child labour or unsafe working conditions are not investigated.

In 2017, 3’650 businesses were certified OCS (Organic Trade Association).

#Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

Careful with this one!

This initiative does not forbid the use of GMO, pesticides and other toxic materials.

Therefore, BCI cotton is not organic.

However, BCI cotton guarantee that precautions have been taken in order to use less water, less energy and fewer pesticides (Better Cotton Initiative).

It is still better than conventional cotton but if you could choose, go for GOTS Cotton.

Read more about Neeve: Not Your Average Organic T-Shirt: Your Guide to Finding the Best


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