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Natural and Organic Fibres

Natural fibres are renewable resources, but how they're grown has an environmental impact.

Cotton plants

Organically grown cotton

Cotton is a natural, renewable resource that can be successfully grown and sourced using organic farming methods.

Conventionally grown cotton uses a lot of insecticides and pesticides. Of the world's crop land, only 2.4% is planted with cotton, yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticides and pesticides respectively. Over-application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides has made thousands of acres too barren or contaminated for further farming. Many of the chemicals are highly toxic and bad for plants, animals and people.

These numbers didn't sit well with us. In the mid-1990s, we started converting all MEC-brand cotton clothing to an organically grown alternative. The transition took years and lots of research, but today not just MEC-brand cotton clothing, but all cotton clothing we sell is made with 100% organically grown cotton.

In 2013, we joined forces with the Textile Exchange and 13 other brands, and funded a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study to investigate the impact of organic cotton cultivation. The study looked at producer groups in the top five countries of organic cotton cultivation: India, China, Turkey, Tanzania and the United States. These countries account for 97% of global organic cotton production.

The results of the study were released at the end of 2014. The most significant findings when comparing organic cotton to conventional are:

  • 46% reduced global warming potential
  • 70% less acidification potential
  • 26% reduced eutrophication potential (nutrient leaching from soil erosion)
  • 91% reduced blue water consumption (water withdrawn from groundwater or surface water bodies via irrigation)
  • 62% reduced primary energy demand

This LCA report is an incredibly exciting validation of our sustainability efforts, especially to our materials team members, who work hard to push the bar for our entire industry.

Tencel

Tencel®, or lyocell, is a cellulose fibre made from tree pulp. Trees used for Tencel are typically fast-growing trees grown on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified farms. The process to make Tencel is non-toxic and closed-loop, which makes Tencel an environmentally friendly fibre option.

In addition to being one of the most eco-friendly fibres around, Tencel is soft, moisture-wicking and quick-drying. We recently started using Tencel in some MEC-brand products, and have seen other brands do the same.