The "Why" Behind Our Switch Into Organic Cotton
TRIGGER WARNING - CANCER
Before I start this blog, I want to be unmistakable in saying, this story is about our personal journey, it's not about being right or wrong, or any other person's perception, it's 100% about my path based on the circumstances I found myself in and the decisions we made for our personal lives and for Reer Endz as a business.
We didn't always produce our men's undies from organic cotton, in fact for the first 6 years we manufactured all of our underwear from conventional cotton, it was what we knew, 20 combined years of working with underwear in product development we had no reason not to...until one fateful day back in November 2018. My wife & I had just tossed in our jobs, sold our house, and we're getting ready to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime trip around Australia with Reer Endz.
Our plan was to take inspiration from the places, people & nature that we discovered along the way while spreading the word of Australia's comfy undies "Reer Endz" to independent stores around the country. We had no end date, we hoped to be "out there" until we were ready not to be "out there" or until we ran out of money, whichever came first.
Some called us crazy, some called us courageous, the real answer was somewhere in the middle either way we were excited for the next chapter in our life.
It was a Wednesday 7th November 2018 & were sitting in Traffic on the spit bridge in Sydney, bumper to bumper, chatting about how relieved we were this would be one of the last times we would have to make this trek. It was about 10 am, and we had only just started work at a client's house, It was my final weeks as a landscape/gardener when I got the call, it was from the office of my GP, the receptionist had told me that I needed to come in right away as my doctor needed to see me urgently, I naturally told her "no chance", I was in Mosman working and to go back through traffic to Newport was impossible, she ignored that part and repeated herself that it was urgent & I needed to come in right away. So we packed up and went, I still hadn't really thought it was going to be anything too serious. We got there & I told Tammy to wait in the car I would not be too long...how wrong was I.
In a nutshell, my G.P had just told me that I had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma & that I would need treatment like yesterday....naturally there would be a rollercoaster of emotions from getting the news to not knowing the full extent of everything, and then having to tell our family & friends.
I'd heard of NHL but didn't really know much more, as I sat there with my doctor explaining, reassuring, and showing me how many variants there were of NHL...as he was taking me through it all he said, "you know this is the one associated with Roundup" I had been using roundup for the last 7 years almost daily, never questioned it really, although I did have a few clients who would not allow me to use at their property as they believed it was toxic to humans, I never thought it was a threat as at the time there was no real reason to think it was.
After telling Tammy her emotions went from disbelief to anger, she had already grabbed all the Round-Up from our house and thrown them in the bin. She then aimed her anger at me saying how stupid could I be to use this without gloves or a mask, I told her I thought it was perfectly safe to use, there were no warnings on the bottle (apart from don't drink it) naturally, like all good wives she didn't believe me and went back to the bin pulled the bottles out and read the labels back to front, yep like I said no warning or suggestions to mask up or wear gloves as since I had nailed the don't drink it part I assumed it was ok.
I will deliberately not go into in-depth detail surrounding prognosis, emotions or treatments as I know how sensitive it can be for other people reading this blog.
Along the way some people told me that I was lucky because I had gotten the "good cancer", let me tell you there is nothing lucky about getting cancer & there is no such thing as "good cancer", they all have the ability to end life as you know it.
The next weeks were nothing short of horrible, I was well advanced & needed treatment ASAP & I got it. I do feel fortunate that at the time we were still based in Sydney so we had access to more hospitals than some people who live in regional towns, I had the benefit of private health cover that also expedited the process of getting treatment, having said that there were several weeks between initial findings and my first appointment with my wonderful hematologist.
The next 6 months were intense R CHOP, which is a form of chemotherapy, all of our plans were put on hold and we were fortunate enough to move in with Tammy's dad where we could focus on just getting better. I won't lie, I questioned my mortality all the time.
So how does this lead to organic cotton, well it starts with a call Tammy made to a dear friend, whose mum happened to be a naturopath. Like a good old fashion Aussie Bloke, I hadn't really had much to do with "naturopaths" however Tammy had been seeing them for years and convinced me it couldn't hurt. If you had asked me back then I would have told you it was all voodoo and sorcery magic BS.
Again I would be wrong, Trudy set me up on a plan for a transition into a "Paleo Lifestyle" with supplements, reducing as many chemicals as we could (that included cleaning products) & of course switching all of our food to you guessed it "organic" food.
Tammy & I both didn't really understand what paleo meant, we had heard of it but again never really looked into it. The purpose for this transition into chemical reduction was not meant to be some magic cure for cancer but it was to ensure my body would receive as many nutrients as possible whilst chemo was doing its job of killing cancer and as collateral damage all of my good cells along the way.
You see organic foods are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides (like round-up) & they are higher in nutrients & they are also significantly lower in nitrates and pesticide residues.
Once again somehow our choice to switch to this newfound lifestyle was met with some criticism and all I have to say to that is it was my life on the line & I was willing to do whatever it took for my best chance of survival.
Switching to organic and learning about the use of chemicals coupled with the belief that round up could actually be carcinogenic, we decided to delve deeper, we knew that conventional cotton uses a lot of pesticides in the growing & farming side. We instantly felt sick, well I was already feeling sick from chemo but the different kinds of sick that we would actually be contributing to disease and polluting the ecosystem just to make some cotton undies.
Cotton is a heavily sprayed crop. The most heavily sprayed to be exact. This ruins the soil and deprives it of the natural replenishment of nutrients. Runoff pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals result in massive water pollution.
Cotton farmers are exposed to chemicals that can be deadly. Such pesticides poison farmers all over the world. Factory workers too have to breathe in their fumes during the manufacturing process. According to the World Health Organization up to 20,000 deaths, each year are caused by pesticide poisoning in developing countries.
Conventional Cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop due to its heavy use of pesticides. Worldwide, cotton covers 2.5% of the cultivated land and cotton growers use 16% of the world's pesticides. This cotton is grown next to our food supply and communities which can be affected by water pollution from chemicals.
Not to mention the impacts on the environment, conventional Cotton is a very thirsty crop. Each cotton plant is estimated to need around 38 kg of water to maximize its yield. This equates to somewhere around 20-30 inches of water for the full season, when in the right climate.
That was enough for us, we felt guilty and were guilty of contributing to this unsafe environment and we had to stop.
We made the call and ceased all conventional cotton production and made the switch to organic cotton, GOTS certified organic cotton. To learn more about the benefits of organic cotton check out our blog 7 Benefits of Organic Cotton Underwear
We also took another step to change the dyes we used for our garments we made the switch from TPX Pantone colours to TPG Pantone colours, the latter of which matches global standards for sustainable manufacturing protocols, which removes the harmful chemicals like chromium and lead making them the greener option.