the Regenerative Cotton Challenge

Posted by Jennifer Coronacion on

Actually, Scissors and Things is my side gig.  Until it grows large enough to require my full-time attention, my main business is fabric sourcing for fashion brands.  Normally, I don't speak up and share my thoughts about fabric sourcing with people outside of the industry.   I could get boring fast.  But there's one topic that I would like to share with anyone interested.

Regenerative agriculture could significantly reduce carbon in the atmosphere, if these processes are used by farms on a large, global scale.

The apparel industry can make a positive impact on the environment by using cotton grown in farms that use regenerative agriculture processes.  The problem is, regenerative cotton is not easy to source.

Cotton is a commodity, bought and sold in large quantities.  U.S. cotton, for example, is sold by the container load, which holds 88 bales or 44,000 lbs of cotton (the equivalent of 100,000 yards of jersey or 100,000 tees).  Not too many brands can commit to these high quantities. 

In addition, many designers and clothing brands that we know and love are not likely to have access to and control over the way their cotton is grown.  Their primary relationships are with fabric mills and sometimes yarn suppliers.  Unless a fabric mill proactively shares its raw materials sources, or a brand strongly commits to overseeing their sourcing processes throughout the entire supply chain, traceability to the roots (literally and figuratively) of materials are not readily accessible.

Demand at all levels of the supply chain could change the accessibility of regenerative cotton.  If enough consumers ask their favorite brands for it, enough brands would ask their fabric mills, and enough mills would ask their traders and spinners for it.  Then a handful of global cotton and yarn suppliers would take positions on large quantities of regeneratively grown cotton, and the ball would start rolling.

As a side note, organic is a great option for shoppers looking for sustainable, non-harmful cotton.  Organic cotton grown using regenerative farming practices is a highly sustainable form of cotton.  The difference is that the term "regenerative" only applies to the way cotton is grown, while organic cotton requires the non-use of certain chemicals throughout the entire manufacturing process - knitting, weaving, dyeing, printing, finishing, manufacturing, washing.  

Organic certification requirements could be restrictive for designers and brands, whose products are sourced and produced from mills and manufacturers that are best suited to execute their creative and original product visions.  Organic certification might be too prohibitive for some of those suppliers and manufacturers.  Regenerative cotton products would also need to be authenticated and certified, but only through the early stages of the supply chain.

By switching to cotton grown using regenerative farming practices, the fashion industry could have an enormous positive impact on the environment.  And for that to happen, we all need to speak up.

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