Why Is It Impossible to Find an Organic Cotton Bra?

 

Written by April Dávila for the Earth Island Journal

When we get dressed morning, most of us probably don’t think much about the biotech giant Monsanto. But chances are that much of what you are wearing was created in one of the company’s top-secret labs: More than 70 percent of the cotton grown in the United States is a Monsanto-developed, genetically engineered product, and nearly 90 percent of the cotton grown in India (a fiber powerhouse) is genetically modified, much of it by Monsanto.

Farmers’ initial embrace of GMO seeds is starting to turn into a backlash. Here in the US, an increasing number of growers complain that reliance on GMO Roundup-Ready seeds have led the evolution of “superweeds.” And in India, poor farmers’ reliance on GM seeds has increased farmer debt, pushing many to the brink of despair and contributing to a horrific epidemic of farmer suicides that you might have read about here or here.

Shocked by the reports of Indian cotton farmers committing suicide and also concerned about how GM seeds reduce biodiversity and could lead to even more pesticide use, I wondered what it would take to end my financial support of Monsanto’s cotton wares. Like other consumers, I wondered if there were any alternatives. So as an experiment in compassionate shopping, I committed to avoiding Monsanto fibers for one whole month.

To prepare for this impulsive endeavor I was forced to set aside my usual aversion to shopping to track down two pairs of affordable organic cotton pants, two organic cotton shirts, two pairs of organic cotton panties, and a pair of hemp sneakers. (Because the US organic standards prohibit GMOs, buying organic would automatically make my clothing free of the Monsanto taint.) It wasn’t an exciting wardrobe, but fashion be damned — this was an experiment of the most passionately informal kind. But there was one thing I couldn’t seem to find, and simply would not go without: a bra. It seemed like I had more shopping to do.

I called up my good friend Miranda Valentine, who works as a fashion writer and stylist, and who always has energy for shopping. We agreed to meet in Venice Beach, where my online research had turned up three organic clothing boutiques. I circled each of the stores on a map. It like a military mission: Operation Organic Bra.

Our first stop was a long, narrow store with sparse racks of clothing and cement floors. It was immediately clear that the place sold no feminine delicates, but the shirts were cute, and so was the struggling actor behind the counter, so we stayed to do a little browsing. In the changing room I glanced at the price tag of the adorable purple shirt I had just slipped on — $60. I cringed and realized that this was the exact moment, in dressing rooms across the country, where social and environmental consciousness usually lose out to finances.

A study done in 2009 by the US Department of Labor showed that the average American household includes two and a half consumers (which they depict as a man, woman and child), with a household earning of $63,091 a year before taxes. On average they spent $1,881 on “apparel and services.” I would love to say that we were more frugal than that, but sometimes it seemed that our “point-five” of a child grew faster than a Roundup-resistant weed, and keeping her in clothing was no small task. I feared that buying all of our clothing in organic cotton would double our clothing expenses.

I stepped from the dressing room to show Miranda the shirt. She advised against the bright purple and steered me instead toward a grey top with a simple black design, on sale for $30. The neutral color would match more of my small organic wardrobe and the 50 percent discount didn’t hurt any either.

We checked out the other two boutiques on our map, but both were out of business. It seemed to me that most people generally tried not to spend $30 to $60 on a shirt they could get at Old Navy for $10.99.

With just one new shirt and no bra to show for our day’s shopping, Miranda and I arrived at our final stop: Patagonia. There were no signs screaming about organic fabrics or sustainable cotton farming, so with great skepticism I turned the tag on a blue and white striped dress. “100% organic cotton,” it said. Then I spotted a display in the center of the store. Delicately arranged over two concentric circles of shelving, lay a stunning collection of bras and panties, all in organic cotton.  I let out a little squeak of excitement and dove right in.

In the dressing room I tried on a soft beige bra. It fit perfectly. True, it wasn’t as sexy as some of my Victoria’s Secret under things, but it was quite respectable. It even had a little girly, pink accent line along the cup. Very cute.

When I finally made my way to the counter to make my purchase I was struck once again by the underlying dichotomy of modern day shopping. Consumers either make their purchases based on price alone — in which case they are almost assuredly supporting companies with questionable practices such as hanging farmers out to dry and paying slave labor wages to unfortunate workers half a world away. Or they are exceedingly well-informed, and probably pretty affluent, and able to spend more money on products for idealistic reasons. Socially and environmentally responsible shopping, it seems, remains a luxury.

Striding back to the car with Miranda, I wasn’t yet ready to consign myself to such a discouraging conclusion. There had to be a way for my compassionate heart and bill-paying brain to happily co-exist.

In the weeks following I discovered that organic cotton is a booming industry, growing at a rate of 35 percent a year. Though often featured in expensive boutiques, organic cotton is no longer exclusively for the rich. Patagonia has been a pioneer in clothing with a conscious, but it’s not alone. In 2006 Wal-Mart became the world’s biggest purchaser of organic cotton. One need only search amazon.com for “organic cotton” to find thousands of options for any budget.

My Monsanto hiatus is officially over, but the lessons I learned will stick with me the rest of my life. My closet is less cluttered as I learn to use my dollars wisely and to invest in fewer, high quality articles of clothing. These days the outfits I consider fabulous not only flatter my figure, they remind me that I am part of a global community, fighting the good fight to make the world a better place.

This post was originally published by the Earth Island Journal.

 

Related Stories:

Anonymous Activists Shut Down Monsanto Website

Design for Life: Sustainable Clothing From hessnatur

Take That, Monsanto: GMOs Not Sustainable

Photo from origamidon via flickr creative commons

58 comments

Diane K.
Diane K.3 years ago

Your kidding right? Your "Monsanto hiatus is officially over..." Wtf? I've started shopping sales diligently to get more organic clothing. It might take time but I'm taking more than just a hiatus. I'm ridding them from my life as best I can.

Max M.
Max M.4 years ago

I buy all organic food and enjoyed reading the article. However, it is a fact that all farmers use water and no, it's not filtered. That means that everything contains pesticides, heavy metals and all other pollutants, to varying degrees. All I can do is hope that it's less than non organic produce, meat, etc.

Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago

thanks

Adrienne C.
Adrienne C.4 years ago

For really pretty, organic bras try FaeriesDance. They have a huge selection in their intimates section.

www.FaeriesDance.com

Cindy M.
Cindy M.4 years ago

Organic or not, cotton is the fiber that needs the most pesticides to produce a crop, therefore the most important to buy organic. BUT, and this really is a HUGE but, cotton also needs the most water too. This is ridiculous since there are other sources that provide nice materials, if we could only have access to them. Hemp, for one, doesn't need any pesticides and uses way less water. Sure that hemp dog leash won't last as long as the nylon one, but neither would a cotton one. We need to get our politicians to legalize hemp growing in this country.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.4 years ago

Cool and interesting article. Thx.

Kika V.
Kika V.4 years ago

I stopped reading Laure H.'s message mid-sentence and ran to de-bra myself. Good thing I work at home!

Thanks for the info. I'll share on FB immediately.

Laure H.
Laure H.4 years ago

I bought an organic cotton top at Walmart once....just to say "attaboy, now you are getting it."

It shrank after the first cold wash, changed shape, and became unwearable for anyone who isn't into showing their belly button (me).

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I try to go bra-less for at least 12 hours a day - helps keep the lymphatic system moving, decreasing the risk of breast cancer. Read about that in "Dressed to Kill," if you haven't done so already.

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If we keep asking for nice, soft, organic cotton bras - writing and writing to companies, asking at stores - it will happen. If you build the demand, they will come.

Laure H.
Laure H.4 years ago

Jane R, there is indeed organic cotton being grown in the U.S.A. My cotton nightgown was grown organically in my own state, a joint venture between farmer and seamstress/designer who markets here wares via her website and by traveling to events where she holds store throughout the year. She picks up her organically grown crop from the farmer, takes it to be milled and then preshrinks it before cutting the patterns (fancy that) and sews everything beautifully, using flat-felled seams.

Yes, I paid a lot (about $70 USD) for my lovely, voluminous organic cotton night gown (and I could wear it as a costume if I wanted to). This new gown is only 2 years old so far, but it should last a long time if my last nice night-gown is anything to go by...it is 26 years old and counting (just needs some repair on the trim). I've flirted with synthetic fiber lingerie from time to time over the years, but I keep going back to the breathable wonder of cotton...now, organic cotton. The per-use cost on the first one was fantastic....I can't remember the cost, so I think it might have been a wedding shower gift, but for 26 years of enjoyable use, it would have had to cost a fortune to be considered extravagant.

Dianne Robertson
Dianne Robertson4 years ago

Thanks.