“Organic” may be an on-trend term for marketers and manufacturers for everything from grocery store produce and cleaning supplies to cosmetics, but what does it actually mean? An organic label refers not only to a product, but how its ingredients are grown and processed—technically, without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. While the term “natural” can appear on any product label without third-party verification, an organic product must be certified. To qualify as organic, cotton must be certified by The Global Organic Textile Standard.
Women’s fashion brands Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher incorporate organic cotton within their collections, as does Patagonia for its outdoor-focused apparel and accessories. And just as conscious parents prefer organic cotton clothing for themselves, they’re equally enthused about organic cotton clothing for their children.
Further emphasizing the importance of organic cotton clothing for babies, Gervaise Gerstner, MD, a New York dermatologist, emphasized the delicate, sensitive nature of babies’ skin in a Reader’s Digest article: “Babies have a higher ratio of skin surface area to body volume, which means that they absorb chemicals more easily. Their skin is actually 30 percent thinner than that of adults, too.” As such, babies can easily absorb harmful additives and synthetic chemicals via non-organic, commercially produced fabrics.
Organic cotton in particular maintains strict requirements in the United States. Aside from GOTS certification, The National Organic Program mandates that organic cotton must be 95 percent free of chemicals and pesticides. “Some chemicals, such as orthophosphates, endosulfan and methamidophos can cause skin irritation and rashes. It’s debatable whether or not they cause cancer, but high doses are thought to cause endocrine disruption,” Gerstner explained.
While recommending organic cotton clothing, Gerstner also suggests avoiding synthetic materials entirely for newborns, infants and toddlers. “Synthetic fibers are made with PVC, petrochemicals, esters and other substances, which are known to be linked to immune disorders, behavioral issues and cancer with high exposure,” she said. “Sustainable fibers and non-toxic dyes are a good start.”
A 2014 study demonstrated a link between the use of ethers—commonly found on mass-produced children’s and baby clothing—to the onset of early puberty, hormonal disorders and myriad other health issues. In addition, flame retardants commonly occur on almost all international shipments of clothing; if apparel is produced overseas and lacks organic certification, it’s likely to have been sprayed with flame-retardant chemicals. Beyond a pesticide-free lifestyle approach for millennial moms and conscious parents in general, it’s no wonder organic cotton clothing for babies continues as a growing trend.