Cotton – soft and cosy but complicated

Maybe like me, you’ve recently bought a new sweater in pretty autumnal colours. Made of cotton, which is what most of us really like. After all, cotton is by far the best material!

Cotton is so soft and cosy, and natural too. But more than 80 percent of all the cotton in the world is still being grown using conventional* methods. The amount of water, energy and fertiliser that these methods require is more than what’s good for people and our planet. Then comes the question of who makes sure that a poor cotton farmer in India actually gets paid and that the farmer understands the health risks of handling chemicals.

So why don’t we simply start growing cotton using organic methods? Then we would know that the cotton has been produced responsibly.

  • The carbon footprint of organic cotton is half that of conventional cotton.
  • Organic cotton only uses one tenth the amount of water for irrigation that conventional cotton requires.
  • No fertilisers or other artificial pesticides are used in the production of organic cotton.

The simple answer is that there is not enough organic cotton available.

Only a tiny amount is organic

Less than five percent of the cotton in the world is grown using organic methods and the process of switching from conventional to organic production is fraught with challenges. In India, where two-thirds of the world’s organic cotton is grown, many farmers give up organic production because of poor pay and low income. Quite simply, they do not get paid for the considerable investment that the move from conventional to organic production entails. The profits are eaten up by middlemen and the administrative hurdles to obtaining certification.

Demand is currently greater than supply, which means it is often difficult to get hold of organic cotton. To help more farmers make the transition to organic cotton production and enable us more easily to purchase organic cotton, KappAhl has decided to join the Organic Cotton Accelerator, OCA.

We are working to speed up development

OCA’s mission is to increase the production of organic cotton by creating a prosperous organic cotton industry that is beneficial to everyone, from the farmer to the consumer. It tackles challenges along the entire chain by ensuring that growers are supplied with seeds that are not genetically modified, that the cotton is produced without the use of chemicals and fertilisers, and that the farmers receive fair wages. Another key aspect of its work is to ensure transparency and traceability throughout the entire production process. Our goal in joining the OCA is to help accelerate the transition to organically-grown cotton. We have implemented training courses and we intend eventually to purchase our cotton without using intermediaries and thus help increase profits for the farmers.

So how far have we come?

Today, 57 (last year it was 53) percent of KappAhl’s range is made from more sustainable materials or is more sustainably produced. More than a third of these are made from organic cotton – all the cotton used in our Newbie collection and all our basics for women and children. Next spring, all our basics for men will be made from organic cotton too. And there is more to come.


Would you like to know more?

* Conventional cotton is cotton that is grown using traditional methods. These methods are not good for the environment or for the people who grow the cotton as they involve the use of huge quantities of water, energy and pesticides. Conventional cotton accounts for more than 80 percent of all the cotton currently produced worldwide.

*Organic cotton accounts for less than five percent of global cotton production. It is produced in a way that brings benefits to the farmers and the environment. It is grown without chemical pesticides or artificial fertilisers and contains no genetically modified (GMO) crops. Organic cotton is checked by an independent third party. At KappAhl, we approve certificates under the GOTS and OCS standards.

* Organic Cotton Accelerator, OCA, focuses on creating a prosperous organic cotton sector that benefits everyone – from farmer to consumer. Its investments tackle the challenges in the sector and realise the benefits that organic cotton can bring for people, our planet and long-term prosperity.

* If you are interested in learning more about the impacts that organic cotton production has on our planet, read this life cycle assessment from Textile Exchange.

* When organic cotton is hard to come by, one alternative is the Better Cotton Initiative. BCI is an organisation that teaches farmers how to produce cotton using fewer chemicals and pesticides and less water, without the certification required for organic cotton. This results in an improved financial situation and better living conditions for growers and their families. As well as better cotton in our clothes. Today, approximately twelve percent of the cotton worldwide is BCI cotton. About 60 percent of the cotton used by KappAhl comes from farms that produce cotton using BCI methods.

*Find out more about the cotton in KappAhl’s clothing:–emissions/cotton/ or watch our video, Make it feel right, about Parvati who farms BCI cotton through a BCI initiative sponsored by KappAhl.

Published by Charlotte Högberg