For all of the amazing utility of the cotton t-shirt, it is still a knitted cotton garment subject to the forces which define the modern global economy. Importantly, there are real sustainability concerns with cotton production and farming, with the bulk of the world’s cotton coming from China and, although the crop doesn’t fly first class, it does still need a ticket. The carbon footprint behind cotton production does add up after a few trips across continents, between production plants and factories and, eventually, to your local retailer. Do you know where your cotton t-shirt comes from and the kind of cotton-karma it carries? Do you know what its carbon footprint looks like before you put it on? We’ve thought long and hard about Spectra USA’s carbon footprint and where our Carbon-Karma is headed.

The Old & New Kings of Cotton

There was a time in the early part of the 20th century when the United States was the undisputed king of cotton production, but these days China and India both outstrip the US in the race to service a cotton-hungry global textile market. China and India are currently locked in stern competition, vying for ascendancy as the top two producers and, they typically produce around 10,000 metric tons of cotton between them. In China alone there are around 10,000 farmers actively cultivating cotton, farmers who protect their crops from pests with the industrial application of pesticides and fertilizers in a fight to stay economically relevant.

Cotton has been a feature of Indian agriculture since the days of the earliest human cultivation of the Indus Valley. This balmy sub-continent typically accounts more than 6 million kilos of cotton annually and, with cheap production facilities in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh the Indian textile industry is well-positioned for these cut-price garment manufacturers.

In the United States production is slightly lower with around 2,500 to 3,000 metric tons produced per annum. Here we harvest cotton through modern, mechanized processes and the farming of this crop is fairly well regulated by both environmental concerns and federal watchdogs. However, agricultural fiber production comes at an environmental cost. There are many factors contributing to this, such as field preparation, as well as maintenance and harvesting, each of which has an impact on its own (consider pest control, weed control, industrialized irrigation systems, etc.) Furthermore, synthetic fertilizer use remains one of the principal contributors to environmental impact–with one metric ton of nitrogen enriched fertilizer contributing up to seven tons of greenhouse gases. When added up over a decade of cotton cultivation, you can see how quickly this kind of thing starts to add up.

Cotton may be thirsty, hungry and environmentally contentious, but its cultivation pales in contrast to the impact of the manufacture of synthetic fibers. T-shirts often include any number of synthetic additives such as rayon, nylon and polyester, the production of all of these starts with fossil fuels, which are chemically altered, through the use of extremely high levels of energy to make these polymers. The energy needed to make a ton of spun, synthetic fiber is considerably higher than that required to produce the same ton of spun cotton or other cotton alternatives such as hemp fiber.


One of Spectra USA's Baja Factories

Spectra’s Impact

At Spectra, we are acutely aware of every aspect of the impact of our business on the environment. With this in mind we have carefully chosen the location of our sewing and production factory (in beautiful Baja, Ensenada) to be as close as possible to our centrally located warehouse facility in Chino California. Furthermore, all of Spectra’s fabrics, yarns and specialized, proprietary fibers are created in within the North American continent. This means a smaller carbon footprint on all our products because they have fewer miles to cover to both our warehouse and to our factories. Similarly, our headquarters in Chino, California acts as a central distribution point which allows Spectra to easily warehouse some six million garments at any one time, and efficiently distribute and deliver them across our great nation.

Being environmentally conscious, and acting on our conscience hasn’t always been an easy choice to make. Competition is tough and fashion remains one of the most highly competitive and cut-throat industries around. Many of our competitors, in an effort to stay relevant and profitable, simply source their textiles from China and India now, racking up immense carbon footprints en route. They assemble their products in Bangladeshi, or Pakistani sweatshops to keep their labor costs as low as possible and then import them into the US for resale and the maximum profit margin which they can leverage. The carbon-footprint, or as we call it at Spectra, “The Carbon Karma” for these items is immense and, quite frankly, not sustainable in any way. Where today’s consumers may save a few dollars on a “bargain” item from these manufacturers, it is a price we see being paid by our children and grandchildren and something which Spectra USA is firmly against.

One of Spectra USA's Baja Factories

Spectra’s Carbon-Karma

Spectra is quite proud to say that we will never offer the cheapest t-shirts in the market.. Our t-shirts cost a fraction more because there’s a Karma premium associated with the extra mile we go to ensure that our apparel is made with the smallest carbon footprint possible. We avoid sweatshop-labor by employing a fine, full-time team at two designated production sites in Baja–people we know personally, whose welfare we care about deeply. After our shirts have been created in Baja, it’s a short drive back to our facility in Chino California where we store and distribute what we like to think of as the world’s best fitting t-shirt, not only because it fits like a glove, but because it also fits a few other equally important criteria like our carbon-karma, our refusal to use quick-buck sweatshop slavery and our need to do it better, cleaner and smarter than our competition. These are the kind of elements we think belong in a world-beating t-shirt, made with love, great care, integrity and good karma, the Spectra way. When you use ingredients as great as ours, the result always smacks of success.