Material Notes: Cotton
The Story of Cotton
Open the doors to your wardrobe and you’ll probably find at least one garment made from cotton. It’s the most popular natural material in the fashion industry and has been the go-to fabric for designers for hundreds of years.
Cotton is made from the natural fibers of cotton plants, which grow in areas with lots of sun and rain and little frost. India is one of the world’s largest producers, and it’s where the material originated way back in 5500 B.C.
While cotton has been valued as a material for millennia, it was during the Industrial Revolution that it truly became accessible to everyone, with advancements like the spinning jenny and mechanical cotton gin hugely reducing the amount of time it took to turn the fluffy fibers of a cotton plant - called bolls - into a workable material.
Nevertheless, the process for manufacturing cotton still involves multiple steps, from harvesting and cleaning the plants to spinning devices that twist the fibers and turn it into yarn, which is then made into fabric.
Why Is Cotton So Popular?
More durable than silk, more comfortable than linen, and more breathable than wool, the popularity of cotton is in part down to the fact that it’s a jack of all trades in the material world.
Importantly, it’s fairly easy to care for, comfortable to wear year-round, and lightweight, which makes it a great choice for everything from jeans and T-shirts to light coats.
Cotton & The Environment
Unfortunately, like many of the world’s large industries, cotton production has a significant impact on the environment, and on the people who produce it.
Cotton production is a big contributor to environmental pollution because it uses large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, which can also have health implications for cotton growers and workers.
This method of mass production using chemicals is referred to as ‘conventional cotton’, and research suggests that up to three kilograms of chemicals are required to produce 1 kilogram of cotton, while it accounts for 16% of the world’s insecticide use.
Conventional cotton production also uses a lot of water. It depends on the country of origin, but the WWF estimates that it takes about 20,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of cotton, which is about the same as two to three pairs of jeans.
That said, cotton does have one or two points in its favor – it’s biodegradable, and it’s also easier to recycle than some materials.
More Responsible Cotton
Wearing your cotton garments for longer or trading them into takeback programs like our Rewear platform are some of the best ways you have of reducing your part in the environmental impact of conventional cotton production.
If you're in the market for a new shirt or sweatpants, look for brands that are members of Better Cotton, or for clothing made from organic or recycled cotton.
Recycled cotton clothing is made from cotton that has had a previous life and been repurposed, while organic cotton is made without the use of pesticides, making these materials a more responsible choice.
Through our membership of Better Cotton, at Les Deux we’ve committed to sourcing 70% of our cotton as more responsible Better Cotton, organic or recycled cotton by 2025.
Better Cotton help to improve standards in cotton farming around the world in a variety of ways, working with farmers and local communities to change the industry.
It’s important to know that Better Cotton is not physically traceable to the products we sell because it’s sourced via a system called "mass balance".
The cotton supply chain is quite complicated, but what mass balance means in practice is that Better Cotton is allowed to be substituted or mixed with conventional cotton, but the amount sold is never more than the amount produced.
As a result, Better Cotton farmers benefit from the demand in the same volumes as those sourced, so purchases from fashion brands that are accredited members of Better Cotton does help Better Cotton farmers and promote best practice in the industry.
How To Care For Cotton
Caring for cotton is fairly straightforward and will help you keep and wear your cotton clothing for longer. It can be machine washed effectively at 30 or 40 degrees – it’s an absorbent material though so you should try to treat more difficult stains as quickly as you can.
One thing to be aware of is that cotton garments can shrink, so it’s best to line dry it rather than using a tumble dryer. Always check the care label in your garments to ensure you’re cleaning them correctly.