The classic white T-shirt is the very basic of apparel, with almost all of us having one in our wardrobe. And then, we have many other T-shirts too – coloured, casual, fancy, and more. With every wardrobe having one or more T-shirts, annually more than 2 billion T-shirts are sold across the globe, making cotton T-shirts one of the most common garments worn in the world.
So, how are these T-shirts made to satisfy the growing demand for these most common garments? There would be a hundred countries manufacturing them to satisfy the huge demand, wouldn’t there? This is what you may think. But no! You would be surprised to know that T-shirts are manufactured basically only in three countries – America, India, and China. Yes, it’s true. The process of manufacturing a cotton T-shirt begins its life on a farm in any of these three countries.
Cotton T-shirt manufacturing – The Process
Now let us learn the process that goes behind manufacturing a simple cotton T-shirt. The process begins with cotton seeds being sown in the farms and irrigated to grow fluffy balls. These puffs are then harvested with self-driven machines, after which an industrial cotton gin mechanically separates the fluffy balls from the seeds, the cotton lint then being pressed into 225 kilogram bales to be transported to the manufacturing facility. China and India are the two main countries that have spinning facilities, where high-tech machines blend, card, comb, pull, stretch, and finally twist the cotton into snowy ropes of yarn. These yarns are then sent to the mills, where huge circular knitting machines weave them into sheets of rough grayish fabric. This grayish fabric is very raw, and thus, is treated with heat and chemicals to turn them into soft white cotton fabric. Also, the cotton is dipped into bleaches to make them shining bright white, or azo dyes to turn them into the desired colours.
The dangers of manufacturing cotton
First and foremost, cotton plants require lots and lots of water and pesticides. On an average, the cotton used to make one average T-shirt requires almost 2700 liters of water, which is enough to fill more than 30 bathtubs! Also, around 25% of the Pesticides and Chemicals used across all industries are used to grown cotton, more than what any other crop would require; and these pesticides could be carcinogenic, which harms the health of field workers, and also damage surrounding ecosystems. All the bleaches, dyes, and other chemicals used to whiten or colour the cotton may also contain cancer-causing cadmium, lead, chromium, and mercury, which are very hazardous, and are ultimately released into rivers and oceans. So, you can imagine the amount of danger we are spreading into the environment by manufacturing these cotton T-shirts! But, this doesn’t end here!
Once the fabric is made and sent to factories to stitch garments out of them, lots of human labour is required, but these human labour are given very low wages for the hectic work that they do. Also, after stitching, when the T-shirts are sent to other countries through trucks, trains, and ship, there is a lot of carbon footprint. Apparel production accounts for 10% of the global carbon emissions. Finally, in the consumer’s home, the T-shirt is worn, after which is needs to be washed and dried. This process again requires washing machines and dryers, which again use gallons of water and lots of energy.
All in all, cotton has significantly cost the environment, the health of farmers, and human labour practices.
What to do?
So, what are we supposed to do then? Quit wearing cotton, the most basic asset? No, we wouldn’t ask you to do that. But, we would suggest that you make a small shift – a shift from wearing such chemically produced cotton to wearing the more environment-friendly organic cotton. Organic cotton is that which is grown without any sort of pesticides. It is grown using methods and materials that have a very low impact on the environment, without the use of toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. So, you must take a pledge today that you must quit chemically fertilized cotton, and opt for organic cotton instead. And, to help you, EarthyWorthy has come up with 100% organic cotton T shirts for men in Bangalore, where you are given the flexibility to customize and create your own T-shirt, by choosing your artwork from world class artists based on your interest.