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Circular Catalyst: Wrangler’s Circular Journey Begins with Farmer Education

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The pandemic may have caused some to cut corners in terms of quality and sustainability, but for Kontoor Brands-owned Wrangler, 2020 has been a year dedicated to mastering the details.

Though Wrangler signed on as a member of the Jeans Redesign program earlier this year, circular design was not a new consideration for the brand. Becoming a member was a continuation of its circularity and regenerative agriculture efforts that began years ago. The brand’s circular strategy is organized according to the program’s three principles of a circular economy: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems.

To tackle the first goal, Wrangler continuously increases its use of recycled and sustainable fibers, with a goal to use 100 percent sustainable synthetics by 2030 and 100 percent sustainably grown or recycled cotton by 2025. But its greatest efforts are focused on regenerative farming, which has been a top priority since 2017 when it launched the Wrangler Science and Conservation Program, an alliance of industry experts, farmers and nonprofit partners that sponsors research, farmer workshops and promotes soil health farming practices.

Wrangler’s own research found that combining certain farming practices can drive three times the amount of carbon into soil than conventional farming, and can increase yields and decrease the needs for inputs like water and fertilizer—and products created using these principles have already gone to market. The Wrangler Rooted Collection features traceable cotton grown with regenerative agriculture practices and the Indigood Foam Dye process that uses 100 percent less water in the dyeing process than conventionally dyed denim.

According to Roian Atwood, Wrangler’s former senior director of global sustainability, sustained progress requires a universal understanding of the supply chain. “For a truly circular economy, education will be needed throughout the supply chain, from the consumer all the way to the farmer growing cotton,” he said. “When you can provide consumers with information from the farm, the mills, the manufacturers, then, you’ll be able to have an informed discussion.”

Most recently, the brand announced a project calling for the world’s most regenerative cotton, which will be used in an upcoming Wrangler Retro Premium “Regenerative Jean” collection. It’s working in partnership with the Soil Health Institute to ask farmers around the world to show documentation of improved soil health and environmental benefits resulting from their adoption of regenerative agricultural systems.

Though full circularity is a lofty goal, Atwood is confident that it can be achieved. “The denim industry has a complex, global supply chain and it can be difficult to manage the variability of knowledge and systems across regions,” he said. “But, we’ve also seen an incredible number of suppliers who want to collaborate on sustainable innovations. We’re excited about this cross-industry momentum and the push toward sustainability and circularity.”

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