Can Vegans Wear Cotton?

Cotton fabric comes from the cotton plant, so if you’re wondering whether or not cotton is vegan, it totally is! Cotton is also biodegradable. Even though producing synthetic fabric like polyester or spandex has less of a carbon footprint than mass-produced cotton, synthetic fabrics take anywhere from 30-500 years to decompose! 

When omnivores are trying to poke holes in veganism, and use that as an excuse to not be vegan and continue exploiting animals, they will use cotton as an example of how vegans are hypocrites because most of us wear cotton and even promote wearing cotton, like I’m doing right now. 

Their argument is that because cotton is bad for the environment,-bugs are killed while growing cotton, and cotton companies exploit workers- vegans who wear cotton are not being vegan.

Like every anti-vegan argument, it overlooks a lot of things, such as why so much cotton is produced in the first place. It also doesn’t acknowledge that mass-produced cotton is still less cruel and environmentally destructive than animal-based textiles like leather, alpaca wool, and silk.

In one year, 25 million tons of cotton is produced globally. Because it is so mass-produced, it is considered one of the “dirtiest crops” due to cotton using a lot of water and also requiring the largest number of pesticides out of any fiber crop. 

These pesticides harm farmers and cotton pickers , and pollute the land and water, which harms local wildlife. On top of the environmental damage caused by mass-produced cotton, cotton manufacturers and even cotton-producing countries like China, use slave labor and child labor to grow and process cotton. 

All this horrible stuff is happening because of how wasteful and exploitative the garment industry is and because these huge companies keep making billions of dollars despite the environmental damage they’re causing and their continuous human rights violations.

Fast fashion has become a huge business, especially with the rise of social media. As of this writing, fast fashion behemoth, Shein is worth $100 billion dollars which is more than Zara and H&M combined! On top of being the biggest fashion brand in the world right now, Shein is also the biggest fashion polluter and garment worker exploiter. Their clothes also have poisonous chemicals which are banned in many countries!

Shein also buys cotton from the Xinjiang region of China, which is known for using forced labor. Cotton from Xinjiang is banned in the U.S. 

There’s no denying that mass-produced cotton is terrible for the environment, terrible for the bugs and other animals that get killed by pesticides, and terrible for the people growing and processing it. Thankfully, more and more big fashion brands like H&M, Adidas, and Nike are using sustainable cotton. Don’t get it twisted, those major brands still exploit garment workers and contribute to pollution, but they are also making it easier for consumers to buy organic cotton. Does the good make up for the bad? No.

The way to stop the destructive practices used in growing and processing cotton is to stop giving money to fast fashion brands and stop wasting and overbuying clothes. Do not support influencers who buy and promote fast fashion. Instead, just buy clothes when you need to and wear those clothes for a long time instead of throwing them away after a month. 

Use vegan, organic, and sustainable fabrics like hemp and organic cotton as much as possible. Also, try to buy clothes from fair-trade and sustainable clothing companies like Terra Thread, Tentree, and Organic Basics

Unlike its evil counterpart, organic cotton does not use pesticides, uses less water, is better for the soil, and does not have harmful dyes and chemicals added to it. Because only natural dyes are used, organic cotton is healthier for you than wearing chemically dyed fabric. This is especially beneficial if you have sensitive skin or allergic reactions to chemicals, which I do. Organic cotton is also biodegradable and does not create microplastics that go into the ocean as synthetic fibers do.

The downside to organic cotton is that organic cotton crops have less yield than mass-produced cotton. Organic cotton cannot fulfill the global demand for cotton, but that just means the global demand needs to decrease since most of that demand is wasteful and unnecessary. 

If fast fashion stopped being a thing and people only bought clothes they needed and only threw away clothes that were old and worn out, there would be less demand for cotton, and the amount of cotton produced in organic farms would be enough.

Cotton can also be recycled to make “low-grade” products like mops and stuffing. There are so many things we can do to stop the excessive production and waste of cotton.

So, does that mean only organic cotton is vegan? No. Mass-produced cotton is still vegan, just like mass-produced lettuce is still vegan. Bugs are killed indirectly, which is not ideal, but it’s still more ethical than directly exploiting and killing animals. 

A bug in a cotton field has a chance to get away and enjoy freedom, but a cow standing in their own excrement and blood in a barren feedlot packed with thousands of other cows does not have freedom at all and does not have a choice to get away when they’re being stunned with a captive bolt gun, hung upside down, and having their throats slit. 

It’s not a requirement for animals to be exploited or killed to grow cotton. It is a requirement for animals to be killed and exploited to produce silk, leather, wool, and other animal-based textiles. 

Also, more bugs are killed to produce wool and leather since the food needed to feed those animals kills bugs. So, on top of the cruelty and exploitation that millions of cows, sheep, goats, and other animals used for leather and wool suffer, there is the additional bug death and environmental damage from the crops that feed those animals. 

In a perfect vegan world, everything that we use and wear would be 100% cruelty-free, bug-death-free, sustainable, and fair trade. Even though we are not there yet, the demand for cruelty-free, sustainable, and fair-trade clothing and other goods is increasing as more people are becoming aware of the environmental and ethical impact of the things that they consume. This increased demand is resulting in more companies offering cruelty-free clothing and products.

You do not need to be perfect to be a vegan. All you need to do is not eat, use or wear animal products. If you’re able to be 100% organic with everything you eat, wear, and use, awesome! If you can’t, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be as sustainable as possible and should just keep exploiting and eating animals. Remember, that every day you’re vegan, you save one animal’s life. So even if you don’t think you’re making a difference, you totally are. 

Follow this link if you’d like more information on what constitutes cruelty-free clothing 🙂

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Fashionista. Film-maker. Digital nomad.

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