Tencel Long Tank Tshirt
Your cotton t-shirt cost you $10, but what did it cost the planet?
Long have we at Maria Malo harped on about the benefits of using cotton alternatives in the fashion industry. Why? Because, plain and simple, cotton production is scary.
Here’s what’s up:
Cotton is the world’s most valuable non-food agricultural product. Yeah, maybe read that one more time there for good measure. THE most valuable, in the world. There are a lot of big companies and powerful people invested in the ongoing success and dependability of cotton production (not to sound too conspiratorial, but we feel it’s important to have some context about the scale of the industry).
From an environmental perspective, using cotton is one of the worst atrocities that the fashion industry is complicit in.
It’s an extremely pesticide-heavy crop which, per ton of final product, uses a far greater proportion of chemical intervention than any other crop on the planet. Some of the chemicals used to treat cotton crops, like aldicarb and endosulfan, are known nerve agents and neurotoxins.
According to The World Counts, “It is grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land but consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 7% of all herbicides used worldwide”. It doesn’t take much to imagine the impact on the surrounding ecosystem - the waterways, poisoned earth, and interrupted food chains which bear the brunt of the fallout.
Organic cotton farming moves to answer a lot of these issues, but it doesn’t solve the problem in its entirety - nowhere near it.
Even when organic methods are accounted for, cotton production still contributes to soil erosion, land degradation, deforestation, massive flouting of water resources, and is responsible for more than 220 million tons of C02 emissions globally every single year.
If that’s not enough to convince you to consciously avoid cotton, this next part surely will be.
Cotton production linked to large-scale human rights violations.
In a recent article published by The Guardian entitled “'Virtually entire' fashion industry complicit in Uighur forced labour, say rights groups”, the real state of affairs was revealed.
The article outlined how China, the largest producer of cotton worldwide, sources 84% of its product from the northwesterly province of Xinjiang, where ongoing human rights violations have captured the attention of the world. Some of that cotton is sold directly from the province to global brands, while more are shipped to middlemen in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and other countries before being distributed further (which is an important point to note, we’ll explain why in a minute).
For now, let’s look at the context:
The systemic oppression of Xinjiang’s ethnic population of Uighurs has been in place for decades, though it is in recent years that Beijing’s quashing of the minority has reached new levels of heavy-handedness.
It began with oppression. No speaking your language. No getting jobs without a degree - and no degree without fluency in Mandarin Chinese. No outward displays of your religion, your culture. Dress, act, speak, and live like the Han Chinese.
Then began the murders. The kidnappings. The AIDS needle attacks in the street. The riots, the terrible occurrence in 2009 that rivalled the tragedy of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and yet accrued hardly a scrap of acknowledgement from international media, in comparison (it’s a grim read, but if you’re ready to educate yourself about how the hell things got to this abysmal stage, we highly recommend reading Amnesty International’s fact sheet on the matter).
Today, slave labour, torture, and the forced sterilisation of Uighur women are amongst the atrocities being carried out within the region.
End Uyghur Forced Labour, a coalition of 180 human rights groups, described Xinjiang’s detention camps as the “largest internment of an ethnic and religious minority since the second world war”. And it is within these camps that our attention - as players, producers, and consumers within the fashion industry - must turn.
In spite of the abuses being carried out across Xinjiang, it is estimated that one-fifth of the world’s cotton comes from the region and is produced through a network of state-controlled detention camps and forced labour involving something like 1.8 million Uighur, Turkic, and Muslim people.
The coalition has compiled and published an extensive list of the global fashion brands that source their cotton, yarn, and have ties to factories known to engage in the forced labour of Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Just a few of the names you might recognise: Gap, H&M, Ikea, C&A, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein.
Chloe Cranston, business and human rights manager at Anti-Slavery International, was quoted in the original Guardian article saying “There is a high likelihood that every high street and luxury brand runs the risk of being linked to what is happening to the Uighur people”.
Because of how extensively global brands source their cotton from the region, it becomes impossible to say whether or not a brand dealing in cotton apparel is contributing to the enslavement and torture of Xinjiang’s Uighur population.
Bamboo and Tencel are our most-used and best-loved materials and it makes a wonderful replacement for cotton on a number of levels: They are environmentally friendly, using comparatively minuscule amounts of water; it has the power to regenerate arid soil, making it farmable once again; it’s extremely fast-growing and therefore quickly renewable. Bamboo and Eucaliptus grow naturally without the need for agricultural tending and large diesel exhaust-spewing tractors to plant seeds and cultivate the soil. They are resistant to diseases and pests, meaning the pesticides and other harmful chemicals used in cotton production can be bypassed completely by opting for bamboo, modal or tencel. When spun into fabric form, bamboo rivals the comfort, quality, and durability of cotton; it’s sweat-wicking and antimicrobial too. Most importantly, our supply chain is small and we work directly with those involved in the production from start to finish. We can attest with full confidence that the materials used to produce our garments have been created under fair, safe, and humane conditions - with respect for both the people doing the work and the earth from which the materials have been grown.
Long Sleeve Tencel T-shirts
Check out our full collection of ethically produced, environmentally friendly clothing here.
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