What Your Cotton T-shirt is Really Made Of


Posted by Nikki Sequeira

Image by Connor Broadfoot

We tend to think of cotton as a natural fabric, but there’s nothing natural about the way that the vast majority of cotton around the world is grown. Depending on how you look at things, conventional cotton can be considered just as damaging or worse than polyester.

Conventionally grown cotton uses 24% of the world’s insecticides and 11% of the world’s pesticides, making it one of the most chemically-intensive crops in the world. These chemicals not only runoff into the ecosystem, compromising the land, air, water and wildlife, they’ve also been linked to serious illness and deaths of farmers in North America and around the world.

A recent study found that pesticides are responsible 200,000 deaths per year, with farmers, agricultural communities, indigenous people and children among the most at risk.

Can we really accept that kind of harm to human lives for the sake of profits or cheap fashion?


Cotton is also one of the world’s thirstiest crops; it takes about 2700 liters to produce enough cotton for  just one t-shirt. Making matters worse, three quarters of the world’s cotton is grown in warm, dry countries where a lot of irrigation is required, and as a result large scale river basin ecosystems around the world are being seriously damaged.

Though it makes up only a small proportion of the world’s supply, organic cotton consumes less water, promotes healthier, more drought resilient soil, and improves air and water quality. Most importantly, it takes those nasty chemicals out of the equation.

Photo by Sofie Agger

Sitka has chosen to exclusively use organic cotton because, well, we give a damn.

We use Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton, which not only ensures that our fibres are grown organically, but also requires manufacturers to meets internationally recognized standards for social and ecological responsibility at every step of the process.

There may be a lot of hoops to jump through, but we believe GOTS is the gold standard, and hey, we like a challenge. Here are just a few of the requirements that our products must meet:

  • Workers’ rights must be protected to International Labour Organization standards, including safe working conditions, no child labour, fair wages, and reasonable hours
  • Manufactures must monitor their environmental impact and work toward target goals for reducing waste
  • No toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, heavy metals, chlorine bleach, aromatic solvents, flame retardants or azo dyes
  • No GMO’s or their enzymes
  • Organic fibres must be kept separate from conventional fibres and other contaminants throughout the manufacturing process
  • Packaging cannot contain PVC and all paper packaging materials (such as hang tags) must be recycled or certified for sustainable forestry management
  • Finished textiles must meet standards for durability, shrinkage and colour fastness
  • All chemical use, energy consumption, water consumption, wastewater treatment and waste disposal must be monitored and recorded

Now consider that the majority of cotton clothing out there fails on these requirements.

It may not be the most comfortable thing to think about, but the cotton that fills our closets and malls and cities is doing harm on so many levels. By investing in organic cotton grown by forward-looking farmers and responsible manufactures, we can move toward a better future for the industry.