Interwoven Histories: Why Cotton Matters

Passion Lilie and other ethical clothing companies in our sphere focus heavily on the use of cotton for clothing designs. Often people are excited by the resurgence of cotton use or may ask, “Why cotton?”

We choose cotton because you can feel the difference—if you are at a boutique and run your hands over a rack of clothes, you can immediately pick out the cotton pieces. Why is cotton so timeless?

The oldest cotton relic in the world are bits found in Mexican caves over 7000 years ago. It was initially grown and developed in Eurasia in 600 BC by Egyptian migrants who settled in what is now Pakistan. These merchants introduced woven cotton textiles to Europe around 80 A.D which opened up the commercial route and public craving for cotton products. It is even recorded that Christopher Columbus found cotton growing in the Bahamas, therefore inspiring the growth of cotton production throughout the United States soon after.

At one point, imported Indian calicos and chintz cotton textiles—cheaper cotton fabrics that were popular in the lower/middle classes of Europe—grew to be so popular that it drove British manufacturers to the brink of collapse. British legislation was passed to ban these imported textiles to allow British industry to revive. This eventually evolved further into Britain importing raw Indian cotton, spinning it into textiles and then exporting those textiles right back to India.

Needless to say, even with an extremely miniature history lesson, cotton was been one of the most contentious and highly coveted commodities of modern times. However, cotton has seen a steady decline in the current state of clothing manufacturing due to the rise of man-made fabrics, such as polyester.

Polyester is derived from coal, water and petroleum. The textile is formed due to a chemical reaction between acid and alcohol. Polyester is often not seen as a valuable textile because it is thinner and less durable than its natural counterpart. Plus, polyester and other man-made textiles are not biodegradable—as in, if you throw away an old H&M t-shirt made of polyester because it became crumpled in the wash, it will never break down in a dump or a landfill. Whereas cotton, the natural counterpart, will biodegrade in a compost pile within weeks.

We don’t often think about the life after our clothes and the importance of supporting natural fibers. We all may not be able to buy environmentally friendly cars or solar panels on our home, but we have a choice in the kinds of clothing we can buy. Cotton does not rely on the further extraction of fossil fuels which contribute directly to climate change for manufacturing. When cotton does need to be disposed of, it can break down in our world naturally.

Next time you are picking out that perfect dress or top for a night out, think to check the tag of the item to see what material it is made from and try to find pieces that are made of cotton. Your money will go farther and the earth will thank you.

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