The story of

Cotton T-Shirt How natural is it really?

10% of global emissions can be attributed to the apparel industry, which is beaten only by oil. What’s the story behind the shirts in our wardrobe?


This is a generic product profile, all data is based on averages. Actual data will differ based on origin, means of production and more.

The story of a cotton t-shirt

Cotton farming


The largest consumer of water in the apparel supply chain is cotton farming. To farm the cotton necessary to produce one t-shirt takes up more water than you drink in a year.

India is the world’s biggest producer of cotton, followed by the United States and China. Most of the cotton is used for their respective apparel industries. Since 1980, Africa’s share in the cotton trade has also doubled.




The biggest farmers of cotton are also the biggest producers, which include Bangladesh, India and China.



Finished fabrics usually make their way to Europe on ships or planes, before being loaded on trucks for store delivery.




It’s biodegradable and regrows, but still, cotton is only natural in theory. In practice, cotton production is highly unsustainable, which is why it’s important to reduce one’s fashion consumption where possible. Washing & drying also accounts for 30% of emissions in a shirt’s lifetime.

Buying second-hand is a great way to extend the life of fashion items. If you do need to buy new, make sure to buy items that last for a long time. Organic cotton is good in theory, but in practice often uses more water than regular cotton. Materials like hemp are often touted as more sustainable alternatives, but the most sustainable fashion item is the one you don’t buy.


Reuse & recycle

A shirt that’s no longer worn is still a valuable resource. Give it to a friend, resell it, upcycle it and make something new from it or donate it locally to people in need, thus extending its life and making sure the resources were used efficiently.


The Impact of a Cotton T-Shirt – WWF
Forbes Are cotton T-Shirts sustainable products?
Cotton on Wikipedia

Even though we conduct careful research, errors are possible. The content on this page is provided without guarantee.

This page was last updated on 12.10.2021.

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Ecular makes production processes transparent, for a more sustainable and circular economy. Displaying data points like cost, greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint, involved producers, locations and more, we make the story of products accessible. Ecular is currently in public beta, with new product stories added every week.