National Geographic documentary makes the case for organic cotton farming

Cotton represents one of the most complex sustainability challenges of our time – approximately half of all clothes are manufactured using this versatile and historically important fibre, and tens of thousands of livelihoods depend upon it. However, this crop is notorious for its heavy dependence on chemical insecticides and pesticides. A shift to more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in the form of organic cotton farming could provide the ultimate benchmark for sustainability – both for this valuable crop, and our invaluable environment.

organic cotton farming india

In a documentary coming out later this month, Alexandra Cousteau – a globally recognized leader on water issues, and yes – descendant of Jacques-Yves Cousteau – teams up with National Geographic and sustainability experts at global fashion giant C&A to present ‘For the Love of Fashion’, which provides a window into more sustainable cotton practices and aims to show that more sustainable cotton has significant advantages for both people and the planet.

You can watch the trailer here:

The 60-minute film follows Alexandra, who has been involved in over 100 award-winning short films on global water issues, in her travels across India, and her interviews with sustainability experts in Germany and the USA emphasizing the global need for more organic cotton. She meets with local cotton farmers in Madhya Pradesh, India, whose lives have improved considerably after changing from conventional cotton farming practices to more sustainable methods of production:


While 2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton, it accounts for 24% of the global sales of insecticide and 11% of the global sales of pesticides. Deborah Armstrong, Executive Vice President of National Geographic Partners Europe noted: “National Geographic believes in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world. How clothes are produced has an impact on our environment in a way that few people think about day to day.  ‘For the Love of Fashion’ will highlight this impact, and potential solutions, in a manner that engages our audiences all around the world.”

organic cotton farming documentary

And while changing the ingrained habits of such an established industry is of course hugely challenging, increased demand from consumers is slowly but surely getting the message to suppliers that organic production can in fact increase their profits too; and in 2014 the Organic Trade Association reported the largest increase in acreage devoted to organic cotton farming for 20 years.

“It’s not easy to grow organic cotton,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. “These latest numbers show the genuine commitment of organic growers to produce cotton in the most environmentally friendly way, and to respond to an increasing desire by consumers for organic fiber. Today’s consumers want to incorporate organic not just in the food we eat, but in the clothes we wear, the sheets on our bed, and the mattresses on which we sleep.”

Sales of organic cotton have grown significantly in recent years as consumers increasingly seek out sustainable, chemical-free fibres; and organic textiles are now the largest non-food organic category in the market, with organic fibre sales in the U.S. closing in on $1 billion in 2013 – promising numbers.

With educators such as National Geographic, passionate spokespeople such as Alexandra Cousteau, an increasingly educated public and big business all on board, the potential for moving to cotton which is truly sustainable is beginning to look more and more achievable.

C&A representatives share their aspirations for sustainable cotton:

Sources and further reading: