Organic Cotton – Everything You Need to Know

Organic Cotton – Everything You Need to Know

We love organic cotton. Naturally, you’re thinking, we would say that. Why? It’s not just because it makes Square Flower organic bedding softer, more durable and healthier to sleep in: choosing organic cotton also shows respect for the environment it’s grown in, as well as the people who grow and sew it.

Of course, it’s easy to pay lip service to eco-friendly ideals, as countless other companies do; it’s much harder to adopt truly sustainable practices. As consumers, we’re increasingly familiar with and invested in the benefits of buying organic food and produce – we are what we eat, after all, and nobody wants to eat something that’s been sprayed with toxic chemicals, engineered in a lab or grown on irresponsibly deforested land.

But we’ve been slower to ‘cotton on’ when it comes to deciding what we wear next to our skin, or to choose clothes made from natural fibres – let alone textiles that are certified organic. So what does ‘organic’ really mean? How easy is to spot greenwashing? What on God’s green earth does GOTS certified mean? And how can you tell if your organic cotton sheets are as ethically made as they claim to be?  

To help you understand the benefits of organic cotton – and the reasons we love what we do at Square Flower – we’ve laid bare the good, the bad, and the ugly of cotton farming (and we’re talking really ugly; but more of that later).

Tell me the good stuff. Why should I buy organic cotton?

Let’s talk about what makes natural bedding a better choice for you. Since you’re going to be spending at least a third of your life in bed, it makes sense to make sure there are no allergens or carcinogenic nasties in the fabric you’re cocooned in. Organic cotton is naturally hypoallergenic, and buying certified organic products guarantees a reduction in the amount of synthetic and toxic chemicals released into the environment – and subsequently your home.

Even if you’re not a die-hard eco-warrior or evangelical vegan, you’ll still get a better night’s sleep in Square Flower sheets. Organic cotton has natural wicking properties, is breathable, beautiful, light and strong, and gets even softer with every wash – providing stylish good looks and unparalleled comfort night after night.

What is Organic Cotton? Why is it so special?

In a nutshell, organic cotton is a natural fibre grown and processed in a highly regulated way, free from synthetic chemicals, to protect people and the planet. It’s not just better for you – it’s better for everyone involved.

Done right, organic cotton farming delivers positive benefits to the environment: it not only prevents poisonous toxins from contaminating the land, air and water supply – and ultimately rivers, lakes and oceans – but also actively boosts biodiversity that would be irrevocably damaged or lost because of the harmful insecticides, defoliants and other persistent pollutants commonly used in non-organic cotton production.

Organic cotton is also GMO-free – releasing marginal farmers and smallholders from the cycle of debt created by buying expensive ‘trademarked’ high-yield but water-hungry cotton seeds each year, and negating the need to use their associated GMO pesticides (many of which are carcinogenic and destroy soil fertility).

It’s a holistic approach, incorporating checks and measures at every step, from seed to sewing, and requiring producers to protect and actively enhance the farm environment. In a way, it’s about people power. That’s why our organic products are Fairtrade cotton, too; we put our farmers first.

How does Square Flower put farmers first?

On our quest to source premium quality, ethically produced cotton, we travelled to India to research the Square Flower supply chain, visiting factories and farms in Odisha. We asked all the questions we knew you would, and we learnt a lot.

100% of Square Flower’s cotton comes from Chetna, an inspiring organic farming collective in India that works with marginal farmers and smallholders to promote food security, crop diversification, natural composting methods, and alternatives to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

farmer in india with basket of organic cotton

Chetna Organic is underpinned by an ethic of empowerment and equality, and alleviates distress and hardship in rural areas through initiatives such as pre-financing the crucial harvest period, and helping to develop community-owned institutions and infrastructure.

So far, so good! Now tell me the ugly stuff. What’s so bad about ordinary cotton?

Cotton may be 100% natural, but conventional farming and production methods are far from it. Non-organic cotton has been described as one of the most toxic crops on the planet, using more pesticides, GMO strains, water and synthetic fertilisers than almost any other industry. And it’s been estimated that conventional cotton production accounts for as much as 25% of insecticides sold globally – leaving the clothes we wear saturated with chemicals, putting farmers and their families at risk of pesticide poisoning, and impacting marine life in waterways polluted by run-off from cotton fields. How’s that T-shirt feeling now?

At present, less than 1% of the world’s cotton production is ‘organic’. And, once harvested, organic cotton can still be treated with all manner of harsh chemicals – including formaldehyde – or blended with man-made fibres. They ugly truth is, mainstream conventional cotton production is anything but “natural”.

What’s the solution? How do I know my organic cotton bedding is actually organic?

At Square Flower, we wanted to be part of the solution, by securing organic certification for every element of our supply chain and driving change in an industry that’s in desperate need of reform.

To qualify to use the globally recognised gold-standard GOTS label ‘organic cotton’, a textile product must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic cotton fibres. By contrast, a product labelled ‘made with organic cotton’ may only contain 70% certified organic fibres. That’s why all of our Square Flower bedding is made from 100% certified organic Fairtrade cotton – because we believe there’s no such thing as half-measures when it comes to doing the right thing.

GOTS certification logo

GOTS Certified – the ultimate organic cotton accreditation

To be certified organic, cotton and products made from it must meet the rigorous Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which includes strict environmental and social criteria that cover the entire textile supply chain, from field to factory, from processing to packaging. Each step in the production cycle is independently certified by a recognised authority. Why does this matter? Because all too often, something already marked as organic is then soaked in chemicals in later stages of the production process.

Furthermore, for cotton to be certified organic, it must also be grown in soil that has been free of prohibited substances for at least three years prior to harvest – in reality this can translate into a farm-certification and residue-testing process taking up to five years.

Chetna Organic – our GOTS-certified cotton supplier – has embarked on a programme to educate local farms, introducing eco-friendly farm-management techniques and alternative, natural pest-control methods. These include crop rotation (to disrupt pest life cycles); companion planting of ‘trap crops’ to lure away cotton-hungry insects; and using composted tea leaves or chicken manure as a natural pesticide.

At the Chetna co-operative farms Square Flower sources from, marigolds are planted alongside cotton fields: not only do they provide a natural habitat for pest predators, including butterflies and ladybirds, they’re a great natural insecticide, deterring cotton pests and disease-carrying mosquitoes – another win for our farmers and their families. It’s amazing how effective what nature already gives us can be!

And – more great news – the social criteria of GOTS certification are set in line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which ensures a safe and fair working environment, promotes equal pay, gender equality and the minimum wage.

marigolds used in organic cotton farm

Natural bedding is better for everyone – including you!

So there you have it. Choosing certified organic cotton sheets really is the best way to get a great night’s rest, knowing you’ve helped look out for farmers, families and the future of our planet, in a bed that looks and feels amazing.

Still not convinced? We reckon you should sleep on it