Although Feather Baby offered organic styles several years ago, we no longer do so, even though sometimes you’ll see the word “organic” associated with our brand in old online postings.
Why did we drop organics? Well for a start, it’s extremely expensive. Organic farming means smaller crop yields. Farmers add pesticides for one reason only, to end up with higher crop yields. Without pesticides, the farmer ends up with less cotton because pests gobble up 28% of the fiber. The result is cotton that costs a lot more and pushes up the retail price of a romper from about 45 bucks to nearly 60 bucks. Gulp! That's a huge difference, far more than most shoppers are willing to pay, even for top-of-the-line Pima cotton.
Secondly, it's very difficult to audit the supply chain of organic cotton, starting with the farmers who grow it, then the cotton gins that clean it, the spinners who produce the thread, and finally to the mills that knit the thread into fabric. At each step, there is little to stop a facility from selling a pile of conventional cotton as organic, then changing a paper transaction certificate to match the larger volume. Inspectors visit once a year only to verify that a facility is capable of following protocol for keeping organic cotton separate — they do not inspect all the cotton moving through.
To turn fabric in clothing, the cotton passes through more hands, including the dyers, printers, and finally the cut-and-sew factory. Even while we lived in Peru, working hands-on with our suppliers, it was nearly impossible to verify organic cotton through the entire supply chain.
Thirdly, with several years of experience in the apparel business, we've become skeptical of a lot of brands that label themselves organic, especially products coming out of India and China. The industry isn't policed well and the incentive to cheat is huge.
At the heart of the problem is an opaque certification system rife with opportunities for fraud. Consumers are assured of “organic” material by brands, which rely on official stamps of approval from external organizations. Those in turn rely on reports from opaque local inspection agencies that base their conclusions on a single planned yearly inspection, according to an investigation by the New York Times.
Moreover, when bamboo clothing brands started calling themselves organic a few years ago, the term became a marketing joke to people like us who've devoted their careers to making clothes from naturally soft cotton. Bamboo is just old-fashioned, synthetic rayon with a sexy new name. Although bamboo trees grow without the need for pesticides, the ugly process of turning bamboo wood into fabric is extremely chemical-intensive, as you can imagine, and uses an enormous amount of energy. Even worse, the amount of water required to clean up bamboo rayon’s chemical mess is obscene.
Lastly, the pesticides farmers use to grow cotton are sprayed on the leaves of immature plants before they sprout cotton fibers. Mature plants with visible cotton fibers don’t require pesticides. Any residue remaining gets washed out of the fibers during the various cleaning processes. Yes, the pesticides can stay in the soil and affect the water supplier, which can be a problem. But compared with the harsh chemicals used to turn bamboo wood pulp into soft fabric, the benefits of cotton seem obvious.
Stick with cotton and wool and stay well informed. Buy high-quality clothes from companies like Feather Baby that won’t pill, will last longer than most others, and can be passed down to your friends and family.