When we think about organic cotton vs. cotton, we tend to only consider the cost to ourselves.

"Why must I pay $20 for an item when I can get it for under $10?"

But we need to start thinking of the bigger picture when shopping for our clothes.

The truth is that cotton uses 10-16% of the world's pesticides. That's more than any other crop!

What does this mean for the farmworkers, their families, the surrounding communities, and most importantly, the environment?

Indian farm worker spraying a crop
Indian farm worker spraying a crop
The soil, water, and wildlife all suffer as a result of agricultural pesticides.

What is the Difference Between Cotton and Organic Cotton?

Cotton field at sunset
Cotton Field

Organic cotton is grown from non-GMO plants without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Organic farming also requires that crops are rotated to maintain healthy soil while enhancing biodiversity and biological cycles.

It is important to note that, in some cases, genetically modified cotton (regular cotton) uses less water and land to produce the same organic cotton yield.

But at what cost?

Since 50% of cotton grown globally gets its water from rainfall, the argument that organic cotton requires more water depends on many factors for it to be true. And again, at what cost?

So, is organic cotton better?

The truth is that there are positive and negative environmental impacts for both organic cotton vs. cotton. As there is with any single crop.

Tractor plowing a field
Tractor plowing a field

But there is a reason why organic farming was implemented and why organic product demand continues to grow.

Organic farming is significantly better in that farmers must manage both the crop and biodiversity.

The fact that organic cotton eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides cannot be overstated. These chemicals have caused so much damage, some of which are irreversible.

GMO crops are engineered to be toxic to certain insects; thus, the non-organic cotton itself is disastrous for the region's biodiversity.

Chemicals Used in Cotton Farming

Pesticides suck sign with bee and flowers

According to the US-based Organic Trade Association, the top 10 pesticides used on US cotton farms include:

  1. Glyphosate (the active ingredient in the infamous Round-Up) - carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor
  2. Ethephon
  3. Acephate - carcinogenic, acutely toxic for humans, highly toxic to bees 🐝😢
  4. Dicamba - acutely toxic for humans
  5. Trifluralin - carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor
  6. S-metolachlor - carcinogenic
  7. Tribufos - carcinogenic
  8. Glufosinate-ammonium - endocrine disruptor, acutely toxic for humans
  9. Acetochlor - carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor
  10. Diuron - carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor

These are chemicals in the United States, where environmental regulation and oversight are significantly better than the world's leading cotton producers.

Who knows what chemicals are being used in other nations!

Organic Cotton Pest Control

So, without all of these pesticides, how do farmers manage pests in organic cotton crops?

Organic cotton growers have access to 25 non-toxic synthetic pest control products (opposed to over 900 for non-organic).

But most use natural, plant-based control substances like garlic, hydrogen peroxide, neem oil, and vinegar. Weeds are plucked (using human or machine labor) rather than poisoned.

Asian farm worker holding organic pesticides
Organic pest control substances are non toxic - Image source: @suwittawat7 via Twenty20

Ultimately, organic farming is about lowering the impact on biodiversity. Long term, this will lead to healthier soil, which, in theory, should allow crops to develop immunity to pests and diseases.

Global Organic Textile Standard

So, is All Organic Cotton the Same?

As with anything, organic cotton labeling is open to fraud and manipulation. If a brand labels its product as organic cotton, how will you know if that's true or not?

In the United States, only Global Organic Textile Standard GOTS-certified organic cotton can be called organic.

GOTS ensures the entire supply chain meets a set of standards (including labor and environmental practices) to be certified as organic.

"From the harvesting of the raw materials, environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing to labeling, textiles certified to GOTS provide a credible assurance to the consumer."

Apart from the environmental regulations, GOTS certified organic cotton mandates fair labor practices, including the prohibition of forced or child labor.

Low-Impact Dyes

Another environmental benefit of GOTS-certified organic cotton is in the dyeing process.

Dyeing cotton fabric requires a lot of water and chemicals.

Worker dyeing fabric
Fabric dyeing

GOTS organic cotton fabric must use low-impact dyes, which reduce water use by up to 70%!

GOTS also restricts the use of heavy metal dyes and other harmful chemicals.

Where Does Organic Cotton Come From?

At more than 50% of global production, India is by far the biggest organic cotton producer. China comes in second; however, they only produce less than 20% of global organic cotton production.

The United States produces around 2% of global organic cotton output.

Most of the clothes we wear, including Fair Wear and organic cotton varieties, originate from Indian cotton plantations.

Honeycomb Hippie Organic Cotton Tees

In 2020, we decided to switch to organic cotton tees.

Unfortunately, COVID hit, which brought our R&D to a near halt (that's a story for another day), so it's taken us a lot longer than initially planned!

As the creator of the original save the bees shirt, we found it to be contradictory to use regular cotton instead of GOTS organic cotton.

Model wearing the original Tees for Bees Save the Bees t-shirt
The Original Save the Bees Tee

We also wanted to make sure every step of our supply chain was ethical, thus insisted on using well-established US-based suppliers for manufacturing and printing.

In Spring 2021, we finally launched Honeycomb Hippie, our own brand of organic cotton tees. Our organic cotton is GOTS certified, and our supplier is a member of the Organic Trade Association.

Honeycomb Hippie tees are made and printed in New York.

Not only do we use low-impact dyes for the fabric, but the inks used for the design are water-based and eco-friendly.

Even though we increased our costs and created a better product, we decided to retain our $29,99 price tag. More value for our customers at the same price!

We want people to know we genuinely care about our product, the environment, and fabulous customers.

In 2021, Tees for Bees also became a 1% for the Planet Member. This means we are audited annually to ensure we meet our commitments to donating a portion of our revenue to environmental causes.

This is just the first step for us. Over the next 12 months, we're going to implement new initiatives to help people and our planet.

Join us on this exciting journey. Even if you don't want to buy our products, sign up to our mailing list and become part of the fam.