H&M - organic cotton, or not?

Organic cotton? Maybe.I was shopping a few weeks ago and came across H&M's organic cotton line of loungewear and pajamas. Score! This was exactly what I'd been looking for! Some comfy sweats and a soft top for hanging outside by the fire or working from home and a super cute, lightweight night gown. Seemed too good to be true.

Was it? Well, according to reports earlier this year, as much as 30% of the organic cotton tested from the store's apparell came from genetically modified seeds (not organic). The company blames the supplier and the supplier blames the organizations responsible for organic certification. All this finger pointing, but what it really comes down to is sometimes it seems impossible to do the right thing. It can be very discouraging. There are opportunists out there who will take advantage of "organic" claims until it is illegal and costly to do so (the cosmetics industry offers another example).

Organic cotton is better for the environment because it is grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. In the U.S., federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically modified seed for organic farming. There may be similar laws in India, where 60% of the world's organic cotton comes from (and the cotton sold by H&M). But clearly somewhere there is a disconnect.

What can we do? It seems sometimes we should just give up on trying to do good. I mean, if it's not fair trade, what's to say workers weren't exploited anyway? Right? Why even bother? I admit, sometimes I feel that way. But, I'm trying to not feel so down about my sustainable shopping FAIL. Actually, I'm not even sure if it was a FAIL, since the report came out in January and I purchased the clothing in September.  Either way, at least 70% of the cotton in the H&M clothing I purchased was organic. It could have been 0%. Good enough will have to do.

This lesson reminds us though, that being truly socially responsible starts with buying less of everything. We are consuming way more than we need. Not only are we destroying our planet and harming people and animals in the process, we're personally going into debt for these items we feel we just have to have.

I've done a good job of cutting way back on my purchases, and I try my best to buy quality items (often more expensive) that will last me years and years. For the most part, H&M does not fit the bill. Most of their clothes are produced to be cheap and last long enough for a fashion cycle before you chuck it out and replace it. When shopping, I still think it's great to look for organic or recycled products. But it's also important to ask ourselves, "Is this something I really need?" and "Will it last for several years or longer?" That's truly the most sustainable way to shop.

Chel Rogerson