Well that’s cured me of wandering around the shops in Brighton with my mouth watering.  Yes, Brighton has some gorgeous clothes shops. But they’re honey traps with deliciously appealing clothes at not unreasonable prices. Not that I’ve bought anything new for some weeks now – thank goodness – because I watched Stacey Dooley Investigates last week and was properly brought to a halt with a suitable feeling of guilt and dismay.  Not that I was unaware. I did know. Here’s a post I wrote four years ago on this same subject.

The programme was Fashion’s Dirty Secrets and centred around our love of fast fashion and in particular the impact of cotton on our global environment. If you haven’t seen it I urge you to watch this, as it will change your attitude to cotton for ever. Instead of reaching for a cotton scarf, tee or dress and thinking how lovely and natural that fabric is, say this mantra to yourself – dreadful, dirty, disgusting. And why? Because cotton has wreaked havoc on this Earth of ours and especially around the Aral Sea.

The problem with cotton is that it needs shed loads of water, and when I say shed loads I do mean that – watch the documentary.  And pesticides. That t-shirt, that cotton dress you bought (and I haven’t forgotten those three dresses that I bought this summer) they’re the most unsustainable items you could ever buy. Far better to buy and wear something synthetic made in a carbon-neutral factory with carbon neutral fibre. Or organic cotton if you must, and with this heated up world we live in maybe that’s the way to go. But we have to take a hard look at our selves and our choices as we shop. Because the consequences of our love for cotton has been devastating as it has caused the biggest environmental disaster ever.

The Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the south, was once the fourth largest lake in the world, with lush greenery, ports and fishing fleets which supported whole communities who lived there for aeons. But the diversion of the rivers that fed that sea into Uzbekistan to irrigate its crops and predominantly its cotton crop, has dried it up to nothing. Watch the documentary and/or go google it – the maps tell all. So, while other countries grow more bales of cotton than Uzbekistan (China, India, US, Pakistan, Brazil) the cotton grown in Uzbekistan finds its way into the clothing industry through Bangladesh and China.

What is being done. Well, with regard to the Aral Sea a dam has been built in the north and Kazakhstan is seeing a small increase of its waters. In the fashion industry, there is some hope and yet again, maybe not.

Thing is I’m not going to name and shame because I think that before we buy we all need to do our own research and find out not only who made our clothes but where the cotton was grown, how it was grown, and how and where the item in question (that you’re buying) was made. We do all need to be responsible for our planet.

However. There are some good guys. Do read this report which sets out the Sustainable Cotton Ranking 2017. Partly funded by the governments of the Netherlands and Sweden and researched and written by the Pesticide Action Network UK, Solidaridad and the WWF International the report documents their approach and the research that leads to this ranking. A questionnaire was sent out to 75 companies to assess amongst other things their policy towards cotton (which would include targets for sustainability in cotton), the uptake (are they actually doing anything) and traceability (can they trace where their cotton comes from). The results are revealing, in that there are a few companies doing the right thing.

19 companies have some kind of target in their policies with the top 6 being in rank order: Ikea, Marks & Spencer; C&A Group; H&M, Nike Inc; Levi Straus & Co. The top companies actually doing something are: Ikea; Tchibo GmbH (that’s a German coffee company); Adidas; C&A Group; H&M. And with regard to traceability: Marks & Spencer; C&A Group, H&M are the top three.

Well, in future, I know where I’m going to shop for clothes. If I buy new, that is. Do read this report as there are some companies (quite well-known) who are doing very little. Of course, you know what I’m going to say (!) First is, that we just don’t need all that many clothes, really, and second, it is OK to buy clothes from companies other than H&M and Marks & Spencer if they’re second-hand, charity shopped and/or thrifted.

Yes, charity shop shopping is such an ethical thing way to shop: you’re helping a charity and helping to save the planet. And there are some great outfits and items to be had from these shops and outlets. It does make sense.

That’s all for now – but if you haven’t already do watch that documentary.

With love, Penny, the Frugalfashionshopper




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23 thoughts on “The trouble with cotton

  • 16th October 2018 at 12:51 pm

    But I notice you buy from Primark, surely not good on many fronts……

    • 16th October 2018 at 1:23 pm

      Gosh, I can’t remember when I last bought anything from Primark! I used to buy their jeans, but not any more. But I do buy new from Peacock stores – will have to find out who their parent company is. Thing is nearly every High Street clothing store (apart from the ones I mentioned) are not good – on so many fronts 🙂 Also I have read so many articles about not using/buying in Primark and often there’s a hint of snobbery there – which I don’t like.

      Actually I wrote the post because since I’ve moved I’ve slipped a bit. The documentary was a good reminder to me – just don’t buy from the High Street.

      • 16th October 2018 at 1:44 pm

        Sorry my error, I think my mind had conflated Peacocks and Primark.
        My wider point was, no snobbery intended, that we really don’t know the true origin and ecological cost of many things we buy, from whatever shops, and this holds true be they at the cheaper end of the market or those items seemingly “better” because they are more expensive or have a designer label.
        (By the way, some friends call it Primarché, to be said with a wink!)

  • 16th October 2018 at 1:00 pm

    👏🏻..well said. I haven’t seen the documentary but will watch it now. I know that cotton, whilst lovely to wear, is not lovely to our beautiful planet. There are quite a few online shops that sell clothes (and bed linen) made from bamboo…sometimes mixed with organic cotton. It’s not too expensive and is beautifully soft on the skin.
    We do buy too many clothes, I remember the days when we had a couple of everyday outfits and best for Sunday, all kept in a tiny wardrobe. (It was a little boring though)

    • 16th October 2018 at 1:26 pm

      Yes the small wardrobe that every bedroom had, I remember those well! I am going to investigate and follow up on environmentally sound clothing – like People Tree. Their clothes are beautiful. The documentary was a timely reminder for me, that I just shouldn’t buy from the High Street.

  • 16th October 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Gulp – I’ve just had an on-sale cotton jersey dress delivered from Seasalt (one of my favourites for t-shirts that I do wear for years) but not sure about the label: ‘organic cotton – no GM, keeps soil healthy, less greenhouse gases, more habitats for wildlife, no nasty chemicals.’ It all sounds good but says nothing about the amount of water used in production or the conditions of the workers who produced it.

    I had got into a bad habit of regularly buying clothes, some second hand but many new too, I think as a ‘reward’ for doing without when younger. I am now trying to get back into a good habit from my younger, poorer days of looking through my clothes carefully at the beginning of a new season and deciding what I really do need to replace; then making a list, cutting it down, doing some research, and, once items are replaced, unsubscribing from emails from the shops I like that tempt all the time with special offers (the ease of internet shopping is my weak spot!). I always take unwanted clothes to charity shops but will now try harder to be a more careful consumer (and wear my new dress to death to justify buying it).

    • 17th October 2018 at 9:44 am

      Hello Jo

      Yes, I’ve unsubscribed from several clothes manufacturers and shops – there’s no need for them. Good for Stacey Dooley as it was a timely reminder of the cost to our planet of all this consumption. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this.

  • 16th October 2018 at 5:44 pm

    This is why I try to wear secondhand as much as I can. I rarely buy new. I’ve bought a new cardigan from Primarni and probably won’t buy anything new clotheswise until next year; even then it’s more likely to be secondhand!

    I shall catch up with the documentary; you’re the second person to recommend watching it.

    • 17th October 2018 at 9:40 am

      Hi Veronica

      That documentary was worth watching just to stop me slipping into bad habits – which I was doing. No more new clothes for me.

      xxx 🙂

  • 16th October 2018 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Frugalfashionshopper,

    Thanks for the valuable information on cotton production.
    As a thrifty seamstress, I turned to thrift shopping in the 80’s when fabric prices skyrocketed. Hunting for treasures with abandonment has allowed me to be recklessly creative.
    Mistakes? There are none. Ha ha. Judy @fancified.ca

    • 17th October 2018 at 9:38 am

      Hi Judy – I used to make a lot of clothes especially as a teenager (which was a long time ago!) but it was the thing we did! We met for coffee and then on to the record shop to listen to the latest records in those booths and then the material shop to look at catalogues of patterns!

      Sadly now, cheap and fast fashion has replaced that. Time to make and mend again I think! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • 16th October 2018 at 7:27 pm

    I haven’t bought anything new for months! Only pre loved. I have seen another documentary a few years ago about fast fashion. It makes you think.

    • 17th October 2018 at 9:34 am

      Yes, I saw the documentary ‘The True Cost’ a few years back – it does make you stop and think. From now on no more new garments for me!

  • 17th October 2018 at 7:10 am

    Oh dear! The only clothes I bought last summer were two cotton t-shirts!! In fact I think all my summer clothes are made from cotton, I really love the feel of it against my skin. Wish I had seen that documentary now, but iplayer is only available in the UK.
    Nevertheless I am all for re-using and re-cycling and making the most of the wardrobe I already have, In a book I am reading, apparently during the WW2 American women were proud to say ‘I make do with nothing new’ !! Like another reader I have also unsubscribed from emails from clothing manufacturers that bombard me every other day with special discounts. And………..’I’m making do with nothing new’ !!

    • 17th October 2018 at 9:26 am

      I too have unsubscribed from several emails from clothing manufacturers that were cluttering up my inbox, and do I need to know about their products? No.

      And apologies about iPlayer. There is however a clip of the documentary on YouTube – here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOe_M3GutdY

      Hope that’s readable when I post 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment

      • 17th October 2018 at 3:21 pm

        Thanks for the link Penny!

  • 17th October 2018 at 8:04 am

    There is of course the problem of micro fibres from man made fabrics polluting our oceans and killing the marine wildlife! Nakedness seems the only acceptable alternative – not great!

    • 17th October 2018 at 9:32 am

      Oh gosh, yes. Well the thing is I’ll be very careful now and will ask and/or look at where the cotton was sourced before I buy. There’s the human cost too of those who are part of the manufacturing process. Actually yes, you’re right, all industries in their own way are damaging. Does every artificial fibre have those microfibres? Must find out! As for my habit of going to Peacock stores because it has cheap products (as opposed to Primark) that has to stop. Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  • 17th October 2018 at 12:36 pm

    I wear mostly linen during the summer, this is made from flax and I think is much less harmful to the environment. Also viscose is a greener alternative to cotton, and turning up in a lot of clothes. I do own a lot of cotton t shirts but have had most of them for ages, so from now on if I need to get new ones will at least go to the shops you mentioned. Thank you for the info , Penny !

    • 18th October 2018 at 8:39 am

      You’re right about linen. I’ve just looked it up and read a few pieces about the crop. And phew, actually two of those three dresses I bought new were linen not cotton. What I have to stop doing is shopping for uncertified cotton t-shirts and underwear. Most of my t-shirts still have lots of wear in them so I shall slow down and do my research before I buy.

  • 18th October 2018 at 5:40 am

    Great piece Penny. I’ve bought cotton t-shirts in the past from People Tree (organic) and now I will make sure I only buy new pieces from the retailers who are tackling the issue, or second hand. We have to stop this relentless pursuit of cheap clothes and try to think about where the materials come from, how they’re obtained, how much the people get paid for manufacturing. I don’t want women to have yet another thing to feel guilty about (already seeing a bit of that online) because clothes make us joyful. We shouldn’t feel we have to stop buying as long as we question what we are buying and is it from the right place?

    • 18th October 2018 at 8:45 am

      It was interesting to see that the Instagram and YouTube influencers interviewed for the documentary were shocked not only about the devastation cotton wreaks on the planet but also that so many clothing manufacturers are doing absolutely nothing, nada, zilch. So they felt they could influence consumers not to buy so much, so often. I hope that happens. Because these manufacturers need to be hit where it hurts. Also a bit of legislation wouldn’t go amiss. See Stacey’s face at Michael Gove’s response!!!!!!

  • 21st October 2018 at 1:38 pm

    My comment on your last blog has really covered a lot of this. I’m not a fan or pure cotton or linen because I hate creasing & I think mixed fabrics may be worse when it comes to recycling or reusing. In reality I may need more creative outlets than just in what I wear. need to think about it!

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