What is sustainable cotton?

Is there even such a thing as sustainable cotton? The short answer is…yes! Sustainable cotton is like regular cotton, but better. Better for the planet and better for people. 

The popularity of sustainable cotton has been rising in recent years as we’ve become more conscious of sustainability issues. Now more than ever we’re increasingly aware of how what we consume affects ecosystems and the health of our world. 

This growing trend towards natural and sustainable products and processes shows how our collective mindset is shifting. More and more people are asking the question: “What is sustainable cotton?” 

In this article, we’ll cover everything you want to know about the sustainability of cotton in detail. What makes sustainable cotton different? Is sustainable cotton the same as organic cotton? How is it made? And what are the benefits? 

Keep reading for answers to these questions and more, and arm yourself with all the information you need to make informed choices about cotton products for yourself and your family…


What’s the difference between sustainable types of cotton and regular cotton?


Cotton is a natural fibre – the soft, fluffy product of cotton plants. But not all types of cotton are created equal. The difference between sustainable cotton and regular cotton starts at the most elementary level, when the cotton is planted by farmers.

Here’s where two key types of cotton come in – organic cotton and BCI cotton. They’re both sustainable, but for different reasons. And the great news is that Brand Threads uses both of them!

What is organic cotton?

Cotton is a delicate material, and is susceptible to pests, as well as to changes in climate and water supply. Before regular cotton seeds are sown, they’ve already been genetically modified and treated with chemicals to repel pests. These steps produce a higher yield that’s more resilient to disease, whereas organic cotton seeds are left in their natural state, without modification.  

Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic chemicals. The crops are rotated and retain water more efficiently because the soil quality is better, which means less water is needed.

Weeds are removed physically, whereas regular cotton is typically weeded using chemical herbicides. In organic cotton cultivation, pests are controlled without the need for toxic insecticides.

What is BCI cotton?

Cotton is often grown in areas blighted by gender inequality, labour shortages and poor farming practices. That’s where organisations like the The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) come in – their mission is to ensure cotton is grown in a way that’s kinder to workers and the environment.

Better Cotton is produced by farmers who:

  • Minimise the harmful impact of crop protection practices
  • Use water efficiently and care for availability of water
  • Care for the health of the soil
  • Conserve natural habitats
  • Care for and preserve the quality of the fibre
  • Promote Decent Work

For example, the BCI trains cotton farmers on how to use water more efficiently, reducing environmental impact. Natural methods like crop rotation are used in cotton farming, instead of practices that can be harmful to the environment, waterways and workers.

In short, BCI-accredited cotton is produced in a way that uses sustainable processes, creating healthier growing environments with care for the planet and for people.


Is sustainable cotton better quality?


Typically, sustainable cotton (like BCI cotton and organic cotton) is softer than regular cotton. There are a few reasons for this – one being the natural way in which the cotton is grown.  

The growing process for regular cotton involves farming practices that work to repel pests and weeds – but these can also damage the quality of the cotton and cause it to break it down. 

BCI cotton is grown with more care, so the fibres remain intact and grow to their optimum potential as a result of more natural and sustainable farming practices. 

Organic cotton is grown without toxic chemicals, so the fibres remain intact and grow to their natural optimum condition as a result of the quality soil.

Sustainable types of cotton are also usually handpicked rather than harvested by a machine. This means that the cotton fibres don’t break during the picking process, typically resulting in longer, stronger threads.


Is sustainable cotton better for babies and children?


At Brand Threads, we believe that sustainable cotton is far better for babies and children. Strong and durable, yet soft and gentle, it is ideal for the planet’s youngest inhabitants, offering maximum comfort.

As organic cotton is grown without the use of chemicals, there’s no need to worry about littles ones breathing in toxins from organic cotton fabric – because it hasn’t been treated with pesticides.

Organic cotton won’t typically irritate a baby’s delicate skin, either, so there’s potentially a lower risk of allergies and skin conditions like eczema compared with cotton that’s been chemically treated.

As well as helping keep kids comfortable, BCI cotton is produced with a zero-tolerance approach to forced labour and child labour. This means not only is BCI cotton better for your child, it’s better for other people’s children. The BCI supports cotton farmers by helping them adhere to local and international laws on working age requirements. The BCI also does not operate in countries where forced labour is condoned, encouraged, or orchestrated by that country’s government. So as your little ones snuggle up in sustainable cotton, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you’ve supported brighter futures for children around the world.


Is it durable?


Cotton is a hardy material but sustainable cotton is arguably MORE durable than regular cotton. Regular cotton can be damaged during every step of the planting, growing and harvesting process. That’s because these processes are usually focused on maximising yields and profits, often to the detriment of the cotton’s quality. Corners are cut, processes are rushed, inefficient tools used – these can all contribute to regular cotton fibres breaking down before they even become clothes.

On the other hand, sustainable cotton fibres remain better intact throughout this process and so tend to be more durable. They can be woven thinner than standard cotton while maintaining their durability. 

In a practical sense, this means sustainable cotton clothing should look good for longer, offering more wear – which means better value for money for you.


How is it made?


Sustainable cotton is made from the fluffy white fibres around the seeds of the cotton plant. 

Once harvested, the fluffy cotton ‘bolls’ are fed into a ginning machine, which separates the fibres from the seed pods and removes dirt. 

The separated lint cotton is then processed in a carding machine to separate the fibres into yarn, which is then cleaned, combed and spun into soft cotton yarn. The result? Durable, comfortable, sustainable cotton clothing that benefits people and the planet.


Can it be recycled?


Absolutely! Both regular and sustainable types of cotton can be recycled, either from unwanted textiles or second-hand clothes. 

Although cotton is biodegradable, it takes several months to begin to decompose – often longer if disposed of on a compost heap rather than underground. 

By recycling old or leftover cotton clothing and textiles, waste is reduced. Recycling cotton clothing and textiles can give unwanted items a new lease of life. Fabrics are chopped up and processed to separate the fibres again so they can be spun into new yarn. 

And because sustainable cotton in particular tends to be softer and more durable than regular cotton, the end result – even after recycling – is likely to be of higher quality than recycled regular cotton. 

We encourage recycling unwanted clothing like cotton t-shirts and pyjamas by giving our customers 15% off purchases when they take old cotton clothes to a local collection point or Red Cross charity shop.

To qualify for the discount, simply install the reGAIN app via our website, scan your shipping label when you’ve dropped off your donation, and enjoy 15% off your next purchase of sustainable cotton t-shirts, nightwear and kids’ character clothing.


Is it worth it?


So, is sustainable cotton worth it? The answer depends on your personal preferences, but here at BrandThreads, we’re strongly of the opinion that sustainable cotton is definitely worth it. 

Why? There are just so many positives..

The upfront cost of buying sustainable cotton clothes may be more than you’d pay for regular cotton, but then doesn’t quality come at a slightly higher price? We believe it’s worth paying that bit more if it means reducing environmental impact and promoting better livelihoods for farmers.

Why is sustainable cotton more expensive than regular cotton? Because sustainable cotton is grown in a way that respects the planet and its people, without sacrificing quality for the sake of a bigger yield.

Sustainable cotton t-shirts, pyjamas, hoodies and other garments last longer and wash well, offering value for money.

Buying sustainable cotton clothing also demonstrates conscious consumerism; it’s a vote for long-term quality products that doesn’t compromise on ethics. 

If you want to make the switch to sustainable cotton, browse our cotton t-shirts, hoodies, pyjamas and character clothing with a conscience with a conscience – and be the change you want to see in the world.