What does it mean for something to be organic?

Dear Stranger,

The conversation about sustainability in fashion has been going on for some time now and the wealth of information out there is sometimes overwhelming. We are told that we should by product that are sustainable and organic, and this got me thinking, what does it mean for clothing to be organic, and why is this important when we talk about sustainability?

At it's most simple definition for something to be organic it must be biodegradable. That is to say, it must be able to breakdown into increasingly smaller compounds until eventually those compounds breaks down into carbon dioxide, water and oxygen.  This process happens when an item (say and organic cotton T-shirt for example) is left in the elements, first bacteria  will start to grow on it as the fibers breakdown, then the fungi will start to grow living of the bacteria and the fibers. This can be simply described as rot. So to summaries for something to be organic means that it can rot.  

So then the question must be which materials can rot? Well, any animal, plant or mineral can breakdown over time. though the length of this process will depend on the amount of processing an item has gone through. The live span of an apple is much shorter than a wooden chair though given enough time both will breakdown. products created in labs cant breakdown because they don't exist in nature so bacteria and fungi cant break them down. In a future post I will talk more about manufactured fibers but for now it is enough to say generally speaking these fibers cannot be broken down. 

This definition of organic you may have noticed leaves out a very big part of the conversation about organic and sustainable clothing and that is the one around GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds and pesticides. I will come back and talk about this in future too. 

So then with all this information brings us back to the beginning, why does it matter that our clothing is organic?  Well very simply its because whilst it will take a long time our cloths will breakdown, which means they will not be taking up space in rubbish dumps forever.  However the Pulse report of 2017 found that the magnitude of impact on the environment for end of use waste was very high. which means that clothing simply being organic is not enough we must also up cycle or recycle clothing in order to try and redress the balance on the environment. 

I imagine this post has raised more questions than answers and I hope to answer those questions in future posts. 

Till next time, 


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