Is Organic T-shirt Printing The Answer To Fast Fashion?

A Guide to Organic T-Shirt Printing, including the Advantages and Disadvantages

Generously contributed by the team at A.M. Custom Clothing

Whether it’s corporate branded T-shirts for staff or for casual wear, T-shirts have become a staple in peoples’ wardrobe. However, the environmental impact of manufacturing, wearing, and laundering these garments is often overlooked.

As the world is waking up to the negative environmental effects clothing can have, there has never been a better time to push for improvements in the manufacturing of the humble T-shirt.

Many brands have addressed these issues by creating and producing sustainable products. Tees made from organic material (cotton, wool, or linen) are becoming mainstream and slowly beginning to become the norm on the highstreet, making them accessible for the masses.

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What Is Organic T-shirt Printing?

There are 2 main elements to consider when talking about organic T-shirt printing, the fabric and the ink.

As mentioned previously, it starts with the raw materials, and when it comes to T-shirts this is usually cotton.

As the name suggests, organic T-shirts are made from cotton that is grown organically.

When certified by external organisations like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), you can be assured that every process has been scrutinised and that your cotton T-shirt is 100% organic. Organic cotton also comes with the added benefit of requiring over 90% less blue water compared to conventional cotton, no GMO’s are required and they have a softer hand feel.

When it comes to the ink it’s not quite as simple and there is no silver bullet. It would be easy to simply say water based organic inks are more eco-friendly, but it’s not quite that straightforward.

While they are more eco-friendly in their composition, they require far more energy than conventional plastisol inks to dry, and work on a more limited range of fabrics. With that in mind, there is to some degree a compromise to be made, whichever option you go with.

Organic T-shirt Printing Guide: Cropped man hand choosing samples catalog multicolor T-shirts palette film membrane. Marketing advertising business textile fabric clothes production. Printing house, office, manufacture. Close up

The Environmental Footprint Of T-shirt Printing

As mentioned, the mass production of T-shirts requires a lot of resources A typical conventional cotton T-shirt is expected to emit 6.75kg of carbon dioxide during its manufacturing and sale. One T-shirt is estimated to use up to 120 liters of water every time a person wears it and emits 0.01 kilogram of CO2 annually.

Aside from T-shirt production and use, dyeing is another environmentally taxing process in the mass production of tee shirts. The procedure consumes large amounts of energy, water, and dyes. This process also produces sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions and wastewater, which is why intervention and innovation for an eco-friendlier option are widely considered necessary.

Organic T-shirts and Printing In Mainstream Fashion

The demand for organic T-shirts and eco-friendly dye has increased over the years. Many websites, blogs, and influencers now advocate wearing organic shirts because they are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Consequently, it can make a statement that fashion and caring for the environment can coexist. Organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, and soy fabric are just a few of the materials used to make these shirts instead of synthetic materials made in factories.

Fast Fashion And Demand For Inspired T-shirts

Since social media and the fashion industry overlap so greatly with celebrities now becoming the new fashion gurus for trending styles, fast fashion has grown significantly.

Fast fashion is affordable, trendy clothing that samples ideas from events such as catwalks or photos of famous people. These cheap garments are available in the market to be purchased by many people. Though it is impactful in the manufacturing sector, it also poses a significant threat to the environment due to the carbon footprint involved in the process.

This phenomenon is why organicT-shirts are essential in fast fashion and dyes that are more eco-friendly than our standard printing techniques. With these, we can accommodate the trends on printed tee shirts while not negatively impacting our planet and our depleting resources.

Advantages Of Organic Cotton in Comparison to Conventional Cotton & Polyester

Organic cotton vs Conventional Cotton

While conventional cotton may seem like a good sustainable option due to the fact it’s sourced from plants, unlike synthetic fibers, it can actually be an incredibly unsustainable crop. Conventional cotton is often exposed to toxic chemicals throughout the supply chain, which can damage the health of the cotton farmers, pollute waterways and even be harmful to the wearer. These chemicals typically come from pesticides used on the fields, the dyes used to colour the garments as well as the inks used to decorate them.

Conventional cotton also uses up to 11,000 litres of water for every kilogram of cotton produced, and can use as much as 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans.

This is where organic cotton comes in. Below are a few of the benefits to organic cotton.

  1. Better for the planet

With lower energy demand, global warming potential and less blue water required, organic cotton is undeniably a better option. Alongside having a reduced impact on the environment, it can also help improve it, organic farming sequesters carbon in the soil, which helps to contribute to the efforts against climate change.

  1. Better for people

Organic cotton is by far the more ethical choice; it puts the control back into the hands of cotton farmers. This helps farmers to support themselves, their families and to give back to their communities. Organic cotton is not only sustainable on an environmental level, but also on a personal financial level.

  1. No hazardous pesticides

Cotton is famous for being one of the most chemically intensive crops and occupational pesticide poisoning is widespread amongst cotton farmers. Cotton farmers even use the herbicide, glyphosate, which is categorised by the World Health Organization as a “probable carcinogen”. By removing the use of these kinds of chemicals and pesticides, we can protect cotton farmers, their local ecosystems and end consumers, through ensuring no one is exposed to these chemicals.

  1. Softer feel

An added benefit is that it’s super soft, say goodbye to that cheap scratchy T-shirt, and hello to organic cotton!

Organic Cotton vs Polyester

With the rise of athleisure brands, polyester is quickly becoming the fabric of choice for casual and sports clothing. As well as being used in other products like coats, fleece, shirts and even soft toys. We’re at a point where synthetic fibres make up about 60% of the material used in clothing worldwide.

So why is this a problem? It starts with what polyester is made from.

Polyester is made from the most common type of plastic in the world – polyethylene terephthalate (PET). So ultimately, polyester is plastic. And plastic comes from crude oil, a fossil fuel and significant contributor to climate change.

The thing is it’s not just polyester that’s the problem here, synthetic fibres like nylon, acrylic and others are all forms of plastic. And these synthetic fibres are found everywhere.

In a world where the public are rallying to reduce plastic use, the opposite is happening in the clothing world.

We are starting to see brands move in the right direction with recycled polyester, BUT, that is far from perfect. It’s important to remember that it’s still made from plastic and that recycled polyester products still release microplastics into our environment.

While it may seem obvious to avoid polyester, let’s look at some of the benefits organic cotton holds over polyester clothing products:

  1. No microplastics

Microfibers make up as much as 85% of man-made debris on global shorelines.

Organic cotton comes from plants, not from plastic, so you completely remove the risk of plastic and microplastics entering our eco-systems.

  1. Made from plants not crude oil

As we now know polyester comes from crude oil, a fossil fuel that can cause significant harm to the planet and the people living on it. Organic cotton comes from a plant, making it much more planet friendly.

  1. Better for people and the planet

Whether it’s to make garments wrinkle free or to dye them there are numerous toxic chemicals used in polyester clothing. While this is generally only harmful to end users in higher concentrations, these toxic chemicals can wreak havoc on local ecosystems and the environment. When it comes to organic cotton you can rest assured that no toxic chemicals have been used.

  1. Biodegradable

Plastic takes decades to decompose and leaches lots of chemicals and micro fibers in the process. Whereas organic cotton is biodegradable and will decompose at a much faster rate without the chemical leaching you’ll find with polyester.


Ultimately as buyers we need to consume less and demand more. With recycling, and buying second hand increasing in popularity we’re heading in the right direction when it comes to fashion.

Where you do have to buy new garments, organic cotton and eco-friendly inks are the best options when it comes to protecting people and the planet.

While polyester can’t be entirely ruled out as some products simply require it, we should strive to use it less, and increase the education around what is in our clothes, as odds are if everyone was aware that polyester was plastic they would be less inclined to buy it.