This is why we’ve seen a conscious effort from major brands to invest in organic T-shirt printing but what does exactly mean to be ‘organic’?
According to a study published recently in the UK by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry creates 1.2 tonnes of greenhouse emission a year — that’s more than the shipping and international flights industries combined.
Regular cotton farming uses 24% of the synthetic insecticides and 11% of the pesticides that are sold worldwide which — according to the Organic Trade Association — are made of toxic elements that can end up in the air, water and soil. These do not only pollute the environment but have also been proven to induce asthma and even cancer in the most severe of cases.
Creating clothes can also be incredibly wasteful. It takes approximately 20,000 litres of water to grow 1 kilogram of cotton which is just enough to make one T-shirt and a single pair of jeans.
What is organic T-shirt printing?
‘Organic’ is a hot word right now. It is the go-to term for marketers who want to let the public know that their product is natural and/or was made in a sustainable way. This means the production process took steps to make the supply change be as less harmful to the environment as possible.
Generally speaking, an organic T-shirt is generally made of sustainable materials like organic cotton and/or printed with an eco-friendly technique. But — as with most things in life — things are not so simple and the concept of ‘organic’ may change from brand to brand.
Are ‘ethically sourced’ and ‘organic’ the same?
In short, no. Basically, the first is being good to humans while the second is being good to the environment. In order to answer this question properly, let’s take a look first at what ‘ethically sourced’ and ‘organic’ usually stand for.
Ethically sourced usually refers to:
- No child labour;
- No forced labour;
- No sketchy contracts;
- No unpaid extra hours;
- No hazardous work environments;
- No discrimination;
- And, of course, a living wage.
In contrast organic usually stands for:
- No genetically modified organisms (GMO)
- No synthetic pesticides and insecticides
- Irrigation from weather
- Factories are powered by renewable energy
- Organic waste is reused either as fertiliser or other
- Water is thoroughly treated after dyeing
Ideally, they would go together but that is not necessarily always the case. For example, Fairtrade is an organisation with the goal to not only provide good working conditions to people in underdeveloped countries but also promote sustainable farming. Yet farmers in this program are allowed to use synthetic pesticides (from a very restricted list) which leads to only 19% of all Fairtrade cotton being organically produced.
Why are they so expensive?
One of the most common objections to organic T-shirts is that they’re very expensive. While it is true that they tend to cost more than their synthetic counterpart, many advances have been made in recent years which make the process more effective and less expensive.
Organic materials are more expensive because:
- Natural pesticides and fertilisers are more expensive than synthetic ones and are used in greater quantities which means they need to buy more.
- Manual labour: Non-sustainable processes include spraying toxic chemicals which prevent the growth of new leaves for easier harvesting. Sustainable methods do this by hand which increases the costs of production.
- Often times organic fabrics are made in the same facilities as standard fabrics which means the machines must be cleaned when switching from one type of material to the other. Of course, the cost of this labour is added to the organic material.
- And most important, the reason why organic T-shirts tend to be more expensive is that they’re usually made by people who have better working conditions than those who make the really cheap ones.
Most organic T-shirts are made of organic cotton. Unlike the regular version, this one comes from a seed that wasn’t genetically engineered and is cultivated with natural pesticides.
The benefits of organic cotton
- Doesn’t use synthetic pesticides which have been proven to be dangerous for the farmers and induce asthma and even cancer in certain scenarios.
- Helps farmers become more independent. Without the need for genetically modified (GM) seeds, it becomes easier for farmers to rely on locally sourced businesses instead of big companies.
- Helps farmer prosper. Organic farmers diversify their crops to keep the soil fertile and fight off pests. By doing this, they also diversify their income.
- Doesn’t pollute as much water. By avoiding synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, organic cotton doesn’t pollute nearly as much water as conventional cotton.
- Lowers CO2 emissions. By sticking to natural, local resources, organic cotton farmers produce 94% less greenhouse gas emissions than their conventional counterparts.
The downside to organic cotton
While organic cotton has many advantages, it is not perfect. Recent studies suggest that sometimes it is not the most sustainable option. This becomes obvious when it comes to yield. Average cotton plants produce more yield because they’ve been engineered to do so. In order to produce as much with natural seeds, farmers must cultivate in bigger numbers which take more soil which must be irrigated, ploughed and harrowed.
Water can potentially become a problem as well. According to Cotton Inc, it takes approximately 1,100 litres of water to grow enough conventional cotton to make a shirt but it needs around 2,500 litres to make the same with organic cotton. In tropical countries where there’s lots of rain this is not necessarily a problem but in other places, it is a different story.
Also, natural pesticides have their downsides as well. A recent study suggests that natural ones are not necessarily better than their synthetic counterparts. The research reveals that the first are not as good at killing pests which means they have to be used in greater quantities. In the end, it could potentially create an even bigger negative impact.
Note: Check out the following list of sustainable fashion lines.
Be careful with what you buy
As we mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, ‘organic’ is a buzzword at the moment. One that easily slips out of the mouth of marketers not necessarily for the sake of the environment but because they know that’s what people are looking for right now.
As we witnessed with superfoods like avocado, when certain things start trending and they begin to be massively produced overnight, it can become a hazard. Take H&M, for example, that at the moment proudly boasts that 10% of the cotton they sell is organically produced (by 2020 they vow to use solely organic cotton). Those may not be amazing percentages but when you consider the size of the company, it makes them the biggest producer of organic cotton in the world.
While the fabric may be organic, the production process is not because H&M produces their clothes in South-East Asia and from there, it transports it to all over the world emanating considerable amounts to CO2 to the environment.
Worth mentioning as well is the printing and dyeing process which, at the moment, is the dirtiest part of the supply chain. So much so that it makes the apparel industry one of the most polluting in the world. Dyeing and printing use lots of water which is later thrown back contaminated to rivers and oceans. Thankfully, there are many brands that are aware and are taking steps to designing greener processes.
Sustainable printing methods
Back in 2010, Greenpeace launched the Detox campaign which has the goal to expose the damaging effects of the clothing industry. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have challenged mayor companies to change their ways. Over the years they managed to get major brands such as Adidas, C&A and Burberry to make public commitments to eliminate the most hazardous materials from their productions.
Such moves include moving from screen to digital printing. Screen printing is known for using large amounts of water to clean the meshes. DTG, on the other hand, is a cleaner process. It uses fewer resources and most of the inks* used are water based which are much friendlier to the environment. The only problem is that the second tends to be slower which is why several brands hesitate to make the full switch.
* Here at Printsome we can work with water-based inks** which — according to our sales manager — are safe enough to drink!
** Please, do not drink ink. Even if it’s water based.
This is when we come in
Here at Printsome, we’re proud to work with one of the most ethical companies out there Continental Clothing Co. This brand offers four different lines Continental, Earthpositive, Salvage and Fair Share which all offer great-looking garments and are all 100% ethically sourced and sustainable.
They are so committed to lowering their carbon footprint that they ship their products entirely by sea. Continental Clothing Co. is an active member of International Working Group on the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and it is certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard and the Global Recycle Standard.
Other brands that we work with and also offer organic T-shirts are Anvil, B&C, Babybugz, Jazz Bags, Nakedshirt and Westford, among others.
The clothing industry is one of the most contaminating in the world and important changes must be made in order to prevent further damage. Organic T-shirt printing is a step in the right direction but it is far from perfect. Just because something says it is ‘organic’ on the label it doesn’t mean it is 100% so as different companies have different concepts as to what that entails. Also, just because something is ‘natural’ it doesn’t mean the person who made it was treated fairly.
If you have questions, ask your reseller. Here at Printsome, we’re more than happy to answer your questions regarding organic T-shirt printing or any other kind of printing.
Thanks to our five years of experience in the apparel-printing industry, we are able to offer a service catered towards those who want sustainably made T-shirts. Printsome works with brands that not only use organic materials but also guarantee an ethical treatment of their employees.
From the moment you get in touch, one of our ‘printing experts’ will answer all of your questions and find efficient solutions to your needs. It is our mission to help you and the environment. Thanks to high-quality garments and cutting-edge printing techniques, we can produce almost any design. Printing organic T-shirts has never been this easy.
Why worry about inventory or logistics when we can take care of that? We deal with the boring stuff so you have more time to do what you love. To find out more, simply visit our website.