Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What's In It?

In my last post I talked a bit about the reasons I have decided to buy thrift store clothes. I mentioned the fact that I couldn't afford organic cotton. I'd love to be able to. Really. I have actually purchased some very inexpensive organic cotton shirts here in France before. I was able to get them on clearance, because, to be honest, they were lacking a bit in the fashion department. Apparently, people who buy organic clothing aren't interested in having anything on their shirts aside from a little organics logo/slogan and a tree or two. Yeah, I'd like to have a little chat with the designers at some of these companies. I mean, I'm no fashion diva. You should see what passes for dressing up around here, but I do have my standards. As my five-year-old daughter would point out, shouldn't there at least be some glitter or something? So, why go through the trouble of hunting down decent-looking organic clothing (yes, it does exist). Incidentally, The Ideal Bite has a nice little list of organic clothing sources.

Before I start into a full discussion about why it's good to buy organic clothing (not just cotton, but hemp, wool and maybe some other fun stuff, too), maybe I should actually tell you what it is. One day, while in the local grocery store, stocking up on organic produce and flour, the cashier asked me what "organic" really meant. I'll admit to being a bit flabbergasted at the question. I've been buying organics for years, so I just take for granted that everyone knows what organic means these days. That's really an assumption I shouldn't make. And, if someone could have doubts as to the meaning of "organic" when applied to foods, certainly they could wonder what on earth it means to call clothing organic.

Basically, organic goods, whether clothing or food are products made from (usually a very high percentage of - but most of the time not 100%) agricultural products that are made without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. That does not mean they are made without any pesticides or fertilizers. There are non-synthetic agents that can kill bugs (certain bacteria that are harmless to humans and most animals but toxic to insects, for instance) or at least repel them (cayenne pepper, for one), and all sorts of things can fertilize your plants (good old-fashioned poop, for example). So, organic cotton, hemp or wool clothing would be made with fabric produced in accordance with organic agricultural standards (which vary from place to place). So, no cancer causing chemicals or animal hormones (where applicable) are used in their production. The dyeing of the fabrics could be another story, so that's something to watch out for, but in most cases, they are not dyed with all the toxic chemicals you find in traditionally manufactured clothes, which is why organic clothing often has those muted colors.

Now that we've got our definition, let's get down to business. Like I've said, I guess I'm not all that picky when it comes to fashion, (perhaps a somewhat sad realization to have come to, but hey, at least I comb my hair most of the time before leaving the house), but the lack of pizzazz of those organic t-shirts isn't the only thing stopping me from buying them. Because, just so you know, I have found that they are often thicker, nicer feeling shirts than their traditionally produced counterparts. I think I might be willing to pay a little extra for that. The biggest problem I have encountered in looking for organic clothes, aside from their limited availability, is, in fact, the price. I sat for an embarrassing amount of time online one day and found all kinds of places to buy organic clothing and fabrics. I found everything from jeans to shirts to unsewn fabrics to yarn and unspun cotton (if you're interested in some of the sites I saw, click here for a nice little directory). And, there were some very nice products to be had. Unfortunately, no matter how cute and tempting the patterns, cotton knit fabric at $15-$20 a yard just isn't in my budgetary limits (By all means, do browse around their site, though, because there's some cute stuff there). The only site I saw with products within my price range was this one. And, who knows? Maybe I'll buy something there some day.

I'm sure you're starting to wonder, though, why it would be so important to me not to buy just regular old cotton t-shirts and jeans, for example. I mean, it's one thing to want to put organic foods into your body. That's understandable to more and more people these days. Who really wants to feed their children pesticides, right? People get that. But, what difference does it make if you're putting organic clothing on their sweet little bodies? Once the clothes are washed, it shouldn't matter, right? Well, maybe not. A simple google search can show you tons of statistics about cotton production. The ones about how cotton subsidies are putting many people in the US and in developing countries in the poor house can be disturbing. But, for many people, that kind of statistic is just too far from home. Always lookin' out for number one, right? So, if financially supporting people you don't even know isn't at the top of your list of priorities, why would it be in your interest to buy organic clothing then? Well, do you or your kids drink milk? Water? Eat fish? Beef? Junk food? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to continue reading.

Reading the long list on this site will show you alarming information like:

"...cotton is the most toxic crop in the world. Cotton uses more than twenty-five percent of all the insecticides in the world and 12% of all the pesticides. Cotton growers use 25% of all the pesticides used in the US. Yet cotton is farmed on only 3% of the world's farmland."


"On the average, seven times as many pounds of toxic fertilizer are regularly used on cotton as are pesticides. Cotton fertilizers have fouled the air and polluted rivers, groundwater basins and aquifers wherever cotton is grown."

Yeah, oops, there goes your drinking water.

(By the way, if you want to know what an aquifer is, take a look here. If you don't care to look, just trust me that it's not something you want polluted with chemicals if you like your drinking water clean.)

What about:

"75% of the cotton and cottonseed in the US is genetically modified."

Not phased by all these statistics? How about the fact that cotton seed is highly used in food products? Don't want to believe a fact sheet provided by a pro-organics website? Just read the ingredients on the foods you're buying. Or how about checking an informational site about US Patents. They've got no particular political interest in telling you about how those little snack cakes you feed your children are laced with cotton seed. Were the cotton seed organic, you could actually claim it's pretty healthy for your body. I mean, take a look at what the Nutrition Data website has to say about it. Not bad stuff. Unfortunately, they don't put the many pesticides used in its production on the nutrition labels. How many calories are in cyanide, anyway? Gosh, I hope it's not too fattening.

Are you sufficiently freaked out now? I guess you can at least see why I try to make homemade, organic chocolate cakes as much as I can (though, I'll admit to being weak enough to grab some junk food from time to time). What can you do, aside from making your own homemade junk food, though? Well, as I mentioned in my last post, people tend to hear really well when you speak with your pocketbook. They'll start to wonder why people are suddenly buying more organic clothing. Look what has happened with the organic food business. Maybe 15 years ago, it was pretty hard to find an organic eggplant. Nowadays, even Walmart wants in on the action. If we start buying up organic cottons like we have the organic veggies, the large companies are sure to take notice. And, one way to be able to afford more organic cottons is to purchase most of your clothes at a garage sale or thrift shop. The amount you aren't spending on traditionally produced clothes at the local department store could either go straight into your savings account or be used to pick up a nice pair of organic jeans online.

See my logic now? I'm really not too crazy, after all. There are a lot of fun organic fabrics and fibers out there on the internet (or maybe near you, if you're lucky), and I intend to try them out (just as soon as I can save up enough money from my thrift store purchases to afford them). In fact, I've already started. See that little ball of fluff up there. Cute, isn't it? I've got three more just like it. A total of 16 whole ounces. What is it, though? I'm sure you're wondering (especially if you like to spin your own yarn). It's 100% organic cotton and sinfully soft. It's even that naturally colored cotton that grows in colors. So, no dyes. This one is called "green" Don't ask me why, because I would hardly call it that, but they say it changes over time, so maybe at one phase it'll turn green. I'm willing to pay to watch that particular experiment unfold. You can get it here. And, check out the recycled jean/organic cotton fiber for spinning (in the cotton blend section). That's got me intrigued, as well. So, now I just need to get to spinning. If I'm lucky, maybe I can make a whole sweater out of this stuff and pair it with some nice organic jeans some day. See how fun it can be to save the world?