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Naturally Colored Cotton Could Regain Popularity as Companies Seek More Sustainable Solutions

It’s one thing to cultivate organic cotton and use more environmentally friendly dyes to color it, but if the cotton is never dyed at all, it could be entirely more organic.

One way to avoid dying cotton? Grow it in color.

Naturally colored cotton used to be part of farmers’ crop rotations until the trend toward the off-white type took over and farmers were asked—sometimes even paid—not to produce the colored variety.

But Organic Cotton Colours is trying to bring naturally colored cotton back into fashion.

[Read more on cotton developments: Researchers Develop a New Fiber Made From Recycled Cotton]

The Spanish company is cultivating cotton that grows in natural colors like brown, green and taupe. Because the colors are natural, they are subject to emerge in varied tones and change color with washes and when exposed to the sun. The cotton comes from smallholder farms in Brazil, where every grower owns his or her own land and uses only biodynamic growing practices to produce the cotton.

Cotton seeds are free from any genetic modification and the fibers are never dyed or chemically treated in processing. OCC says it uses just one washing process to remove the vegetable fats derived from the weaving process, nothing more.

“We are used to having a fabric and giving it 20 to 40 different treatments,” Santi Mallorqui Gou said during a talk at Texworld Paris last week. From spraying to coating to softeners, anti-crease treatments, anti-microbial treatments, antiseptics and enzyme treatments, there’s so much added to fiber and fabrics during finishing stages. “All those processes have chemicals on them and how they interact we don’t know.”

Taking its “only what’s natural” commitment through the entire process, Gou said only animals are used to till the fields, rather than machines and whatever pollutants they introduce, and only rainwater is used for cultivation.

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“It’s a completely pure, biodegradable garment,” Gou said. The company’s website goes on to add: “You can leave any of our products on the ground and it will end up completely decomposing and forming part of our planet once again.”

Once OCC’s natural cotton is ready to be made into yarn, it gets imported to the company’s Barcelona spinning factory and then most of the yarn goes to Portugal where the fabric is made.

The 20 percent of waste collected during the process—which consists of fibers that are too short to use for yarn—gets turned into paper or accessories for brands, ensuring the loop is completely closed.

OCC cotton goes into fabric for men’s, women’s, children’s and baby clothing, plus bed linens and towels, intimates and mattresses. Because of its clean composition, Gou said garments made from the company’s cotton can protect sensitive skin from rashes, allergies, dermatitis and eczema, even helping wearers who suffer from fibromyalgia.

The company has received GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification for every phase of its process, from spinning to weaving to manufacturing and distribution. Its OCCGuarantee label provides transparency for brands and ensures that the company has supervised the entire production process, from planting the seeds to manufacturing the garments.

“In this way we obtain truly pure organic cotton in the natural colors of the Earth, purchased through fair trade, in complete harmony with the environment, and with the utmost respect towards the growers who tend the plants and the people who wear our clothing,” OCC notes.