Cotton Panties are Bad for the Environment.

Posted January 27th, 2009 at 11:03 am

Morethanprettyknickers aim is to see standards raised at every level of production from growing to sewing, from cotton to bottom! They want to see fashion become a sustainable business driven by the demands of well informed shoppers who give a damn about where there stuff comes from.
The film with the intention of raising awareness will follow, and consumers can and should change the face of the fashion by choosing where their money is spent.

The humble pair of pants is the flagship garment, by finding out what it takes to make them we discover some uncomfortable facts about what goes in to our underwear; from the toxic sludge that poisons rivers to the dark and dingy carbon footprint, it might make your knickers feel a bit tight…

Cotton panties are environmentally unfriendly

Cotton panties are environmentally unfriendly

But before you run to whip them off please read on!

Every year the people on this planet spend more than half a trillion pounds buying clothes. That’s a lot of money that could do a lot of good! We want to encourage consumer responsibility not only by exposing the problems but also by discussing solutions. We’re NOT expecting folk to go commando. On the contrary we’re hoping the fashion business will become a leading example of an industry that can pull people out of poverty and protect our environment. All without losing the core principles of making people around the world look and feel fantastic.

It’s a lot to take in we know, but change starts with the shopper so please stay with us to find out just what exactly is in your knickers.

If Youtube removes the video because ……..Oh shock horror it does contain cheeky bottoms I will convert it to a Windows movie and make it available for download, let me know if that’s the case.

Most people’s pants and in fact all textiles used for clothing, furniture, bedding and towels are produced using shocking amounts of toxic chemicals, poisonous to the environment and the people who work to produce them.

Here is some info about cotton and other materials that are particularly unsustainable in their production.

Cotton is the most common natural fibre used in clothes today and has covered our naked bodies since the time of the ancient Egyptians and beyond. Today world cotton production is around 25 million tonnes a year, that’s the equivalent of 18 pairs of pants for everyone on the planet.

Such a massive industry has a substantial effect on the world, here’s a few facts about the cotton in your clothes that you need to know.

Cotton is extremely susceptible to a large variety of extremely damaging pests which dramatically reduce the yield of the crop. Therefore, a vast range of pesticides and GM crops have been developed to overcome these pests and maximise profits for the farmers. They might improve the crops but the costs to health are horrendous. In the developing world, crops are sprayed with highly sophisticated machinery which protects people from these poisons (just one drop of which on your skin can kill).  However, in many developing countries there is no such protection with the result that approximately 1 million farmers are hospitalized each year with severe illnesses due to pesticide use. Today cotton farmers spend around $2billion per year on pesticides and in India you will find 1/3 of the world’s cotton farmers (10 million people) who cultivate about 5% of India’s farmland for cotton production but use 55% of all pesticides used in India.


1. Poison the land so that it cannot be used for cultivating food.

2. Poison the farmers and their families if they cannot afford protective clothing.

3. Poison the food chain when it’s washed in to rivers through run off and is fed to cattle through the
   cotton seeds.

4. Are very expensive, adding to the costs of production for the farmer and the profits for multinationals
   who insist farmers who sell to them use their own brand.

GM CROPS are seen as a potential solution to the problems posed by excessive use of pesticides.  
It is claimed that they can reduce the need for pesticides by 80% which would mean that they are almost as friendly as organic. 

Today, GM cotton is widely used in the US – 73% – and Australia – 80%. 

However the main problems with GM crops (without entering into the ethics debate) are that they are owned by the multinational corporations who earn excessive profits from their use. This may work in rich countries but in countries like India, it means that:

1. Farmers cannot save seed for replanting.

2. Farmers are prohibited from supplying seed to anyone else.

3. Farmers must pay a very expensive technology fee, plus the legal fees of the corporations if they
   violate the contract.

4. Farmers must carry all of the risk of the crop but in effect do not own the crop.

5. Natural variety and biodiversity of cotton is diminished.

In essence GM crops leave small scale farmers without power or control of their own lands.
Polyester is a man made fabric which comes from oil. Aside from the fact that we are fast running out, it is made using heavy industrial chemical processes and is totally un-bio-degradable. So unless you are planning to keep the item forever, you should think what happens when you throw your polyester garments away. Just think of the landfill site.

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC, is the third most widely used thermoplastic polymer after polyethylene and polypropylene, it is one of the most valuable products of the chemical industry.
It can be made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers and is widely used in clothing either to create a leather like material or at times simply for the effect of PVC.  PVC clothing is common in Goth, Punk and other alternative fashions as well as in Fetish wear. PVC is cheaper than rubber, leather or latex and so it is more widely available and worn.

These plasticizers known as additives can leak out of the PVC at any time and are particularly poisonous to human health, the state of California is currently considering banning PVC as it has such strong links to cancer.

Leather is mostly tanned with Hexavalent Chromium 3 or 6. This is a carcinogenic heavy metal which poisons the ground for miles when the effluent from the tannery is not disposed of and managed properly. The cheaper the leather the more likely it has been produced using poor animal husbandry.

Acrylic based fabrics use a chemically produced substance called acrylonitrile, which is also used in the production of plastics. Acrylonitrile tends to break down easily in the environment, though there is some argument on this point. High levels of acrylonitrile exposure might be considered toxic, but the quick break down often keeps acrylicfabric marketed as environmentally friendly. We don’t recommend it as a healthy, happy fabric.

Corn starch (PLA – polylactic acid) – corn starch based materials are man made textiles which are being suggested as a more sustainable replacement for polyester. They are made from a much more renewable resource compared to oil based fabrics and biodegrade much quicker. However the farming that produces the corn is all done by massive agricultural conglomerates that have a poor environmental record and put profit before land protection. The crops are usually genetically modified.

Devoré designed items designed items are made from a process that burns one part of a dual fabric e.g. a silk viscose blend. The problem with this process is that it uses a highly toxic chemical which is highly polluting to the people involved in the process. This devoré technique is often found in scarf design.

Unfair trade
From the first textile mills in Lancashire to the sweatshops in Bangladesh and China, the problems
are very similar; the people at the top make too much money while the people at the bottom make too little. In developing countries farmers must also deal with unscrupulous middlemen who pay as little
as they can to make maximum profit at the expense of the producer.

Power to the shoppers!

Now you have had an introduction to the problems with textiles here is what you can look out for when you shop:

What to buy and why:

Organic and fair trade cotton still uses a lot of water in its production to cultivate the fields, but organic cotton farming on rain-fed land or using drip irrigation can reduce the water consumption buy 80%. Using natural pesticides means that the water can be re-used in the land, and people can farm without risk to their health. If you don’t ask where it comes from, they won’t tell you…

Hemp and hemp silk are sustainable fibres. Hemp is also known as ‘weed’ because of its ability to grow rampantly without the use of chemical fertilisers and other pollutants. Hemp fibre products are
fully biodegradable and fast becoming a popular choice for many eco-textile consumers. Hemp
requires minimal water to be cultivated. Only low impact bleaches (hydrogen peroxide) are used. 
No bleach is used in the silk of this fabric. Hemp silk is 60% silk and 40% hemp, it’s mostly produced
in China as this is one of the only places in the world where hemp has been allowed to grow,
although it’s now cropping up in the UK for everything from clothes to insulation.

Organically produced silk is produced naturally using organic compost, resins and berries. The sericin (a natural protein bi-product) is removed by boiling the thread in lye, the main ingredient of traditional hand-made Indian soap. They make their own lye by running water through ashes collected from outdoor cooking and dying fires. The whole process supports small groups of women in India and China. IMO Control (Institute for Marketology) is a Swiss based group specialising in organic certification, who are the only people to have a silk producer certified in China.

Vegetable tanned leather is a tanning process uses the bark of the oak tree instead of the heavy metal chromium. Leather can be sourced sustainably from free range and organic meat farms, a bi-product of the food industry and vegetable tanned using traditional methods. Don’t forget to ask!

Bamboo is a hand (and increasingly, machine) spun, light, silky natural fibre with an ivory glow. Bamboo is grown without the need for agro-chemical interference. Bamboo fibre has natural anti-bacterial properties; it is biodegradable, breathable, cool and offers superior water retention properties.

There are two ways of producing bamboo fibre:

1. Mechancial spinning which creates a linen style fabric – this is not soft enough for lingerie

2. Solvent process
Bamboo feels amazing and as it is in the early stages of development as a fabric are not ready to dismiss it even though the production techniques are not yet perfect. What is important to us is that bamboo is highly renewable and does not use pesticides and fertilisers and is soft and fine. Bamboo is a huge improvement on using: polyester, nylon, acrylic, cotton, lycras and polyamides.
Soy based fabrics are pretty environmentally friendly, they are a fiber made from tofu manu-facturing waste. One process to make soy textiles is to liquefy the waste and then form it into long, continuous textile fibers that are then cut and processed like any other of today’s textile fibers. It’s incredibly soft and feels similar to cashmere. 

Soy fabrics are known as vegetable cashmere, soy is much rarer and softer than organic cotton, Soybean fiber is a renewable resource and a byproduct of the food industry. Some soy fibers are organic, while others are not.

The organic soy fibers are greener than those from traditionally grown soybeans, but all soy textiles are better for the environment than most fabrics. Soft and smooth with a silky luster, soy textiles are becoming the first choice for the fashion industries sector that specializes in sustainable clothing.


Sheep are native to the UK and produce a strong, durable, warm and soft fibre that has a great diversity. Like all intensive farming, sheep farming on a massive commercial scale has issues with animal welfare and sheep dip is frankly horrible for the farmers and the sheep. But farmed in a sustainable way where over grazing is avoided and the intensity of the animals is decreased which in turn reduces the need for artificial parasite control, wool is one of the most sustainable of British fabrics.

Look for designs with…

Digital Printing uses far less water than traditional silk screening, is efficient with fabric quantities and material wastage.

Laser etching uses a laser to burn off the top layer of a fabric. It only uses a small amount of energy, no water and no chemicals and you get beautiful, creative and sophisticated designs. You can play with the pressure of the laser to created different effects with the same pattern.

Embossing is a great way to design without using any chemical process or dyes at all.

Fair trade is an internationally recognised certificate that is all about paying a fair wage for products or services wherever they come from. It means that a social structure to help educate and empower people working within these industries is put in place.

It is a way of improving the quality of lives of people at the same time as allowing and encouraging them to work and trade with the global community.

The 10 IFAT Fair Trade Standards are:
1. Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers – alleviating poverty and encouraging sustainable development.

2. Transparency of all business management and commercial relations.

3. Fair Trade relationships provide continuity, during which producers and their marketing organizations can improve their management skills and their access to new markets.

4. Fair Trade Organizations raise awareness of Fair Trade and the possibility of greater justice in world trade. They provide their customers with information about the organization, the products, and in what conditions they are made. They use honest advertising and marketing techniques and aim for the highest standards in product quality and packing.

Morethanprettyknickers has one aim: to change the textiles industry for the better!

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