Tag Archives: cotton

But is it Kosher?

Last night, when I saw the news about the alleged presence of genetically modified cotton in 30% of H&M’s tested “organic” garments, I had some questions about genetically modified crops. I emailed my former professor, the food writer Fred Kaufman. 

I was thinking of “The Nucleotidal Wave,” a piece he wrote about visiting the UC Davis Plant Transformation Facility, where  he watched scientists shoot DNA at fruits and vegetables with a gun he described as a cross between a “1950s gas pump and a mini fridge.”

I assumed Fred would invoke some nucleotidal knowledge, but he actually sent me to “The Secret Ingredient,” a different, but no less entertaining, story he wrote for Harper’s about the kosher certification process, suggesting the kosher model might be applicable to GM cotton. I downloaded it from the sidebar of his website, and laughed out loud several times as I was reading it, but in the end I was a little troubled.

It seemed to me that the kosher certification process turned out to be a highly marketable myth based on little more than, well, faith.

Then this morning I read Julie Roads‘ comment on my original post on the topic:

…and I also think that, like most things, organic was very special at first, but it’s become so mainstream that people are now using it as a buzzword – obviously – to sell. They’re selling organic out which basically sucks.

Same thing is happening with food. The flimsy rules around what can be labeled ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ or ‘all-natural’ will make your head feel like cauliflower. And that’s just not pretty.

In the end, what do we get? The destruction of trust and, sadly, we end up not caring as much about ‘going organic’ anymore – because we have no faith in what it stands for.

So while I’m not entirely sure if this is what Fred meant when he sent me to “The Secret Ingredient,” I think both he and Julie are right: a lot of this is about faith. 

We can’t go around testing our organic cotton clothing any more than we can taste whether our non-GMO grapes have been spliced with jellyfish DNA, or know for certain that our kosher Oreos are indeed kosher. Honestly, I still can’t quite figure out exactly what that means, much less what it’s worth.

But, as Julie wrote, it would be a shame for the manufacturers to sell out “organic” without even giving customers the chance to believe in it.


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H&M Busted Again

I got this dress at H&M a couple of summers ago. It’s got a little inverted pleat in the front, a nice wide hem at the bottom, a woven pocket on the chest, and it’s made of the blackest black knit cotton–the tag says it’s organic. But after the news that a German lab found genetically-modified cotton in 30% of the garments H&M labeled as organic, one has to wonder whether it’s quite so black and white.

I was wearing it one sweltering day at Ellen, a great little vintage shop on the Lower East Side, when the owner complimented me on it, and, as any curious clothier might do, asked where I acquired it.

“H&M,” I said. “It’s part of their organic line,” I added, attempting to justify my guilty foray into fast fashion.

Ellen is the type to smoke incessantly in her store, fawn over you if she likes what you’re wearing, and say something like this if she doesn’t:

“Oh, I am so f—ing sick of that shit.”

Oh! My friend and I were done browsing and struggling to stifle our giggles, so we left without pursuing the conversation. But it seems Ellen was onto something. That day I assumed (never wise) she was sick of would-be customers like me patting myself on the back for my “responsible” choice–vintage might have been better. But maybe it was a witchy ESP of something rotten in…Sweden, although the news broke in Deutschland.

But what exactly was rotten? 

Well, according to the federal regulation of the National Organic Program, to which cotton is subject:

A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology).

Which is to say, if it’s genetically modified (ie: injected with a gene to make it resistant against herbicides or bugs), it ain’t organic.

According to the Organic & Non-GMO Report‘s interview with Terry Pepper, an organic cotton farmer in Texas, contamination can occur fairly easily if organic cotton is processed at the same gins that work with genetically-modified cotton. (Sounds like the disclaimers about peanut in M&M factories, no?) Pepper made a distinction between GMO free and non-GMO, telling the Report that, “GMO-free is not possible, but we can maintain non-GMO with some work.” 

If Terry Pepper in Texas can maintain non-GMO, it seems H&M should be able to do better than 30% for a line they label organic. But who’s at fault when a Swedish company that manufactures clothing from supposedly organic Indian cotton in a factory god-knows-where (not checked the latest labels in the organic collection) to be sold in 35 different countries mislabels their goods?What link in the supply chain should be required to test and prove the cotton is indeed organic, and by whose standards?

And why are everyone’s conventional cotton panties in a bunch over the alleged fraud? Is it because we’ve been lied to? Paid more for an item that might not be all it claimed to be? Just like to see big chains like H&M get busted? Or, are we, as Ellen said, just sick of this shit?

And here I thought it was just a little black dress.


Filed under closet case study, news

Entranced by Cotton

I started reading Stephen Yafa’s book, Cotton, in bed this morning (wrapped in cotton sheets) and when I reached a part about the simple genius of the spindle, a tapered wooden stick that allows tangled cotton fuzz to be spun into thread, I was reminded of Sleeping Beauty, cursed to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and sleep for many years. 

Cotton‘s not putting me to sleep, but the history of the stuff is certainly casting a spell on me, and I’m holed up here in my little Brooklyn castle as a result.

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I Mean Business

This news made the front of The New York Times’ Business Section today:

“Although world trade declined this year because of the recession, consumers are demanding lower-priced goods and Beijing, determined to keep its export machine humming, is finding a way to deliver.”

photo from Reuters, Jianan Yu via The New York Times


David Barboza reported that American imports of Chinese knitwear (think tee shirts, sweatpants, sweaters)jumped 10% in July while imports from other developing countries plunged.

“One reason,” he wrote, “is the ability of Chinese manufacturers to quickly slash prices by reducing wages and other costs in production zones that often rely on migrant workers. Factory managers here say American buyers are demanding they do just that.”

It’s worth reading the whole article, to learn about what some of those “other costs” are. What are trade-offs are we demanding when we insist on cheaper Chinese imports?

One economist suggests the Obama administration can’t afford to speak up about China’s weak currency or trade imbalances while Beijing foots our bill by buying up U.S. debt.

The administration might be in a tough spot, but what about American consumers? Do stories like effect our choices? Do you care where your tee shirt was made?

For my part, I’m realizing the tank top I’m wearing as I write this has no tag in it. I bought it at a street booth in Rio de Janeiro, and it’s knit cotton. There’s a good chance it was made in China though I can’t be sure. (The ladies there customized it for me on the spot with that iron-on.)

Please, leave a comment–because unfortunately it seems The New York Times didn’t offer the opportunity at the end of this particular story. I would love to know your thoughts…and where your tee shirt was made.

Two related recent stories, in case you might have missed them:

There’s definitely more to discuss here. My hope is that we’re just getting started.

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The Denim Diaries: Part 1

I know I’m the consumer here, but sometimes I find myself completely consumed by the process. I’ll give you an example: jeans. Finding the perfect pair is no new obsession of mine. Actually, the first article I ever published was devoted to the topic. To me, jeans are very personal, and because they’re the mainstay of many an outfit, I’ve got to feel absolutely comfortable in them. And I don’t just mean that the fabric feels good against my skin, though that’s important too. I’ve got to feel like they look good. But let’s be honest, there are enough articles devoted to that topic.

What concerns me today is the question of durability.


Exhibit A: Loomstate jeans purchased at Steven Alan in the fall/winter of 2005

Jeans, in my mind, are sort of like the Golden Retriever of one’s wardrobe. They should be loyal, comfortable, handsome, tough, and love you unconditionally. (Some fortunate souls may have even found these qualities in a mate, but let’s not lose focus.)

I favor clean dark jeans, with no “designer” stitching on the back pockets and no pre-manufactured crease-lines on the front (in the business they call those “whiskers”). That’s what I had in mind when I purchased the above pictured Loomstate jeans a few years ago. I had been searching far and wide for a dark subtly bootcut pair and settled on these–partially because I liked what I had read about Rogan Gregory, the company’s co-founder, and their use of organic cotton. This was before I worked for Rogan at Edun and shared an office with the lovable folks at Loomstate in 2006, and it was also before Steven Alan was my friend–full disclosure here, folks.

Believe it or not, those babies were once a uniform dark indigo, sort of like this pair. All those whiskers were hard-earned, as were the rips in the knees…and these in the crotch. (If anyone knows a more attractive word for crotch, I’d love to learn it. Leave a comment.)


Although I would have preferred that they last an eternity without ripping, I was sort of okay with the way they wore. I’m hard on my clothes, especially shoes, jeans, and bags. This is New York, folks. And when I’m not here, I often find myself on farms, and the jeans go there too.


As instructed, I refrained from washing them too often, though I didn’t wear them in bathtub–that’s just silly. I dried them in the sun when I was in New Zealand, and in the dryer when I was in New York.

The denim got really soft, and they faded and broke in in such a way that some people pay extra for. So, for about $168 at a local retailer I got a pair of organic cotton jeans, made in the U.S.A. (of imported fabric–more on this later) that stayed dark and a little dressier for about a year before they began to decompose into the very casual pair you see today. I’ll have to get that latest rip in the knee patched if I’m going to keep them going through the winter, but there’s a question here about when to let go. Maybe when the patches outweigh the original pants, it’s time.

This was only Chapter 1 in a long denim diary. When these jeans ceased to fill my dark denim requirement, I set out searching for another pair. More to come.


Filed under closet case study, denim diaries, Uncategorized