It is admirable that the apparel industry is gradually increasing its level of investment toward sustainable fibers such as organic cotton. Not only is organic cotton more beneficial for the end wearer (i.e. better for “next to skin” contact), but it’s healthier for our planet’s soil, water and air — present and future. There’s only one problem: There’s not enough organic cotton to go around.
As if aligning supply and demand in the apparel industry wasn’t challenging enough, the growing interest in organic cotton textiles has made procuring organic cotton increasingly challenging and competitive.
“Cotton is the most widely used fiber in the world, and only the smallest fraction (less than 1 percent of world cotton production, according to World Textile Exchange) is grown fully organic,” said Mou Nath, CMO and sustainability strategist at ZXY International. “Demand for organic cotton has increased dramatically in recent years to the point that, without a plan to convert more conventional acreage to organic acreage, brands may not be able to secure a future supply.”
There are two solutions to increasing virgin organic cotton supply: one, encouraging new farmers to grow using organic practices from the outset, and two, encouraging existing conventional cotton farmers to switch to organic farming methods. To transform how their cotton is sourced, ZXY along with its partner brands has developed a model to gradually convert traditional farming of cotton routes over the next three to five years, aiming to be fully organic by 2025.
“Committing to the farmers and encouraging them to work with organic farming practices reduces the production cost and benefits their future crop, increases soil fertility and enhances biodiversity,” said Srinath Reddy, ZXY’s global head of sustainable sourcing. To provide confidence and transparency, ZXY is also working on 100 percent traceability from its farmers, ginners and spinners to measure its organic sourcing solutions and reduce their dependency on conventional methods.
The above initiative is in motion: ZXY has started working with farmer’s association groups in India for their cotton supply route for their Bangladesh, India, Egypt and Turkey production hubs.
In-conversion organic cotton, also known as transition cotton, is any output coming from farms during the first three years of an organic certificate. Any land must be free of GMO seeds, synthetic pesticides, and fertilizer for three years to cultivate organic cotton. At year four, the cotton can be certified organic. This solidifies the supply base to procure three years’ worth of cotton, which can be marketed as “in-conversion organic cotton” by certification standards and endorsed through the supply chain.
And while this process benefits ZXY’s partner brands and retailers by securing the longevity of product and supply, it also benefits the farmers who can better control the selling prices of this long-term investment. This also helps level things out, circumventing dips and fluctuations in cotton prices and availability.
Working with an apparel partner like ZXY helps mitigate the risks. “The reason why many farmers don’t do this on their own is that conventional cotton crops have a faster turnaround,” said Nath. “It’s also quite extensive and expensive for them to do the conversion — certification cost without any advance commitment themselves if they don’t have the supply guaranteed at the end — so we’re kind of ring-fencing and helping them with that supply.”
Balancing with recycled cotton
The third method for procuring cotton to meet supply demands that ZXY encourages is for brands to divert a portion of the virgin business to recycled cotton.
“Alongside our organic targets, we are conscious that there is only a limited volume of virgin cotton available in the world at any one time,” said Nath. To that end, ZXY has begun simultaneously working on a recycled sourcing model. Its Innovation Team is working with existing post-industrial (pre-consumer) cotton waste to continually innovate on new bases that are durable and commercially viable.
Looking at its entire cotton supply from its affiliate farms, ZXY has divided what it can provide to clients into three areas: 100 percent Organic cotton, Transitional (In-conversion) organic cotton and Recycled cotton (mechanically recycled).
“We cannot expect to meet our organic sustainability goals if we all don’t invest at the beginning of the supply chain,” Nath said.
ZXY International, a member of Textile Exchange, is a global apparel partner to leading international brands and retailers. They have over 40 years of apparel and textile sourcing experience, giving them the expertise, knowledge and latest technology developments that positively impact their customers, people, and environment. Their operations are based in Bangladesh, Turkey, India, Pakistan and Egypt.
“Over the years, we have developed our business toward a sustainable and environmentally friendly model. We are now seeing the fruits of this labor, with our clients and partners trusting us to deliver ethical and commercially viable solutions for their brands and businesses,” said Abby Jamal, managing director, ZXY International.
Click here to learn more about sustainable apparel and how ZXY can help your brand convert to preferred fibers.