We recently shared with you how we currently source our raw materials – primarily 100% natural long-spun cotton yarn – and about our goal of sourcing fibers grown using regenerative agriculture practices. We follow up this week with some of the challenges we are facing, what we are learning and some options we are exploring. We hope this provides some insight into the process of finding responsible sourcing solutions for small businesses that are trying to do things differently.
The cotton industry is owned and operated by big textile industry players, making the price of entry prohibitively steep for small brands like ours.
HERE IS A BIT OF WHAT WE'VE LEARNED
Certifications – Certifications aren’t everything. Industry gold standards for sustainability like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) include many certified cotton farms that rely on monoculture, an industrial agricultural practice that is not sustainable despite its claim of being less harmful than traditional methods. It upsets the natural balance of soils, increases the risk for disease and pest outbreaks and depletes bodies of water due to high levels of irrigation. The most sustainable practice we have found is to source fibers from practices that regenerate soil through crop diversification, ensuring healthy living conditions for cotton-growing communities.
Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ’s) – For most cotton purveyors, the MOQ is 1 ton per yarn type. That’s 1000 kilos of yarn. In the last year alone, the cost of 1 kilo of organic cotton yarn has doubled and, based on current trends, is set to keep rising.
We need 2 types of yarn count to weave a fouta on our looms: one for the warp (the side that has fringes on the end), and one for the weft. To make a collection with more than one color, we need at least one more yarn type. That’s 3 tons. Not many small businesses have tens of thousands of dollars to invest in raw materials during their early years, or large warehouses to stock such a large number of yarn cones. It presents a huge barrier to entry and can create even more waste if not managed properly.
Carbon footprint & geography – Ideally, we would be making foutas with cotton grown in Tunisia. While that’s not possible, due to local climate and soil conditions, there are many African countries where high quality organic cotton is grown, such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Egypt. We dream of a 100% African fouta, however uncharted trade routes, import/export policies, complicated transportation options, and MOQ’s are just a few obstacles that stand in our way. Wherever we find our cotton partners, we would like to avoid going too far to get our cotton, or getting Tanzanian cotton that is spun in Portugal before making its way back to Africa, or any other complicated routes that will inevitably contribute to a higher carbon footprint.
Dye – In addition to working with organic cotton and other sustainable fibers, we want to make sure these yarns are colored using chemical-free dyes that do not pollute nearby water sources, do not harm your skin and body or of those who work with it. Today, there are various chemical-free and environmentally conscious innovations around yarn dying, in addition to natural plant dyes.
SOME PATHS WE ARE EXPLORING TOWARDS THE IDEAL COTTON
Identifying regenerative agriculture practitioners on the African continent and in Brasil who grow, pick, seed and spin their own cotton
Building partnerships with small brands with similar needs to purchase raw materials collectively and to keep exchanging knowledge
Finding reliable partners in Tunisia already importing sustainable cotton yarn
Experimenting with other natural fibers that can be spun and woven, like linen, a plant with less impact on the environment.
Every day we learn more about this complex world of cotton. And the more we learn, the more hopeful we become that small businesses like ours can have a positive impact on our communities and can influence future entrepreneurs to follow a similar path. It will take a lot of work, and we’re here for it. We promise to be transparent and communicate our progress with you here.