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Organic cotton: soft and chemical-free

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Those $150 jeans you're wearing (or used to wear, pre-recession) come with extras, and it's not just the additional stitching: Three-quarters of a pound of toxic chemicals—pesticides, herbicides, etc.—were used to produce the cotton used in those designer duds.

Even cheap clothes carry a chemical burden: It takes about a third of a pound of chemicals to produce the cotton used to make a 10-buck T-shirt.

Unconvinced? Consider the environmental impacts of conventional cotton: pesticides loom in field runoff, in the air and soil from spraying, and in the lungs and on the skin of the workers who harvest the plant.

Many eco-conscious shoppers are switching to products made from organic cotton, which, like fruits and vegetables, must be USDA certified. These goods include not only clothing, but bed linens and cotton puffs, diapers and towels.

While India is the largest worldwide producer of organic cotton, you don't have to sacrifice your small (and getting smaller, hopefully) carbon footprint. In 2008, U.S. acreage devoted to organic cotton increased for the second consecutive year, according to the Organic Trade Association. This year, experts project there will be 12,000 acres allotted to organic cotton, an increase of 29 percent over 2008.

Although a cotton-growing state, North Carolina doesn't have huge tracts of organic cotton farms. However, Parkdale Mills, whose corporate headquarters are near Gastonia, is among the largest organic cotton buyers in the U.S. The 93-year-old company deals in conventional cotton, but also makes yarn from the organic version, which they buy from farmers, co-ops and merchants. The economic downturn has hit Parkdale as well; of its 20 plants, the Gastonia facility is closing this month and cutting 75 jobs.

The blog www.treehugger.com has an excellent discussion of organic cotton, with links to resources, designers, etc. The Organic Trade Association has information at www.ota.com. The How Stuff Works Web site has an interesting discussion on organic fibers, including cotton: tinyurl.com/d52zum.

Read more about eco-fashion.

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