As it happens, very little is pure or natural about cotton when it is raised conventionally. Fully 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals in the United States are used to produce cotton, grown on just one percent of all major agricultural land. Conventional cotton crops in California alone are dusted every year with 6.9 million pounds of chemicals. And research shows that extensive and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers, soil additives, defoliants and other substances wreak terrible havoc on soil, water, air and many, many living things.
There is, of course, an alternative: organic cotton. There are farmers who have been growing cotton without harmful chemicals for years. Their yield is high and the quality of the cotton they grow is equal to or better than conventionally grown cotton. Their methods support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, improve the quality of soil and often use less water. Growing organically takes more time, requires more knowledge and skill, and, for now, costs more. But it's worth it.
Once we had this knowledge, and the counsel of good friends in the environmental community, we believed we had no choice. In 1996, we converted our entire sportswear line to 100% organically grown cotton. We decided never to go back to conventional cotton, regardless of the outcome.
The move didn't compromise quality and it provoked a fundamental change in our attitudes about agriculture. As part of our organic cotton program, hundreds of us took tours of cotton fields, where we could see the dangers of pesticide use and the benefits of organic farming for ourselves. Many of us have since become activists on the issue and have shifted to buying organic foods and clothing for ourselves and our families.