Sustainable cotton

For the last five years, we’ve been working to transition our entire range to sustainable cotton. This year, we hit 99%, and now all new products are made exclusively with sustainable cotton.

Cotton is a great natural resource but conventional cotton production has serious environmental and social consequences. The cotton industry is responsible for 24% of the world’s insecticide use and 11% of pesticides. At the same time, it takes on average 10,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton, or between 2,600 and 2,700 litres of water to produce a cotton t-shirt.

The social effects beyond this are acute. The Aral Sea in Central Asia was once the world's fourth-largest lake. Heavy use of the lake for cotton irrigation caused it to dry up completely, releasing toxic chemicals from its bed into the air (43 million tons of pesticide-laden dust is blown into the air every year). The region around the Aral Sea has the highest rates of throat cancer in the world.

For the last five years, we’ve been working to transition our entire range to sustainable cotton. This year, we hit 99%, and from September 2019, all new products will be made exclusively with sustainable cotton.

Make the switch to sustainable cotton

We source a mix of organic, Fair Trade, recycled cotton and cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to make up our sustainable cotton mix.


Sustainable cotton breakdownSustainable cotton breakdown


Better Cotton Initiative: a better way

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) makes up the largest part of this portfolio. BCI is a global initiative that aims to find more sustainable solutions for farmers, for the environment and for the future of the sector.

BCI’s results show that, in the 2015/16 season, BCI farmers in India used an average of 9% less pesticide whilst achieving 20% higher yields than those not using BCI techniques. These results really are better — better for farmers, better for the environment.

In 2018, more than 1 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton went into the world’s supply chains. Better Cotton was grown by 2.2 million farmers in 21 countries and made up 19% of global cotton production. 

Our sustainable cotton journeyOur sustainable cotton journey

Recycled cotton beats all

'Recycolor' cotton is now part of the range. Along with BCI and organic cotton, we’re on track to rid our range of conventional cotton by 2020.

To make Recycolor cotton, scraps are gathered up from factory cutting tables, sorted by colour, and then fed into huge stripping machines that break the fabric back down into their original fibres. These broken down fibres are usually too short to spin, so they are mixed with virgin cotton to create a stronger finished yarn. The resulting fabric has a distinctive marle-look that needs no dyeing while the recycled cotton portion of Recycolor fabric uses about 70% less water.

Water use is cotton’s biggest environmental impact, so the water savings is the biggest win for recycled cotton.

Kathmandu Textile R&D and Responsible Materials Manager, Manu Rastogi

Cotton uses water in growing, production, and dyeing. Conventional dyeing has other negative effects, too. In China, where around 65% of the world’s clothing is produced, the World Bank estimates 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment.

Less waste, less water use, less pollution and a lower carbon footprint - Recycolor cotton is a new string to our sustainable cotton bow.

“We’re aware that water is one of the world’s biggest environmental priorities - so we’re making it one of our priorities, too,” says Manu.

Man and woman wearing 100% cotton t-shirtsMan and woman wearing 100% cotton t-shirts
Recycled cotton forms an increasingly fundamental part of our sustainable cotton initiative

What does this mean for you?

Those who are looking to buy from Kathmandu can be assured that they are helping move global farming away from water-intense and unsustainable practices. In 2019, Kathmandu became a Certified B Corp, which means customers can trust that we meet the highest standards of verified positive social and environmental impact. Our work to incorporate 100% sustainable cotton into all of our related products has been a large part in achieving this certification.