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Levi Strauss Partners With Artistic Milliners on Organic Cotton

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) will team with Artistic Milliners to directly source organic cotton from Pakistani farmers, it announced Tuesday.

Though Milliner Organic cotton will comprise “a small portion” of the denim giant’s overall material volume, the company said the partnership—coordinated via the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA)—will help its teams “learn firsthand about sourcing organic cotton through a more direct method.” These lessons could “help inform future efforts,” it added.

According to LS&Co., 95 percent of the cotton it sourced in fiscal 2021—the 12-month period ended Nov. 28, 2021—was organic, recycled or Better Cotton. It intends to reach 100 percent certified or “preferred more sustainable cotton” in 2025, while at the same time diversifying its portfolio to include “more sustainable and less resource-intensive alternatives to conventional virgin cotton.”

“Our strategy to reach this goal includes supporting organic cotton agriculture, using more post-consumer recycled cotton when available and sourcing pre-consumer recycled cotton,” LS&Co. told Sourcing Journal.

LS&Co. joined the Organic Cotton Accelerator in April, just two months before Artistic Milliners’ Milliner Organic project harvested its first certified in-transition organic cotton crop. At the time, Artistic Milliners managing director Omer Ahmed dubbed it “the first of many to come.” Bestseller’s Jack & Jones label became the first to debut Milliner Organic denim in December. Artistic Milliners will supply organic cotton to H&M as well.

The Pakistani denim supplier launched the Milliner Organic project in 2020 in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. After beginning with 1,000 farmers in the 2021 season, the initiative expanded to 1,600 a year later and 2,000 for the 2023 season. Partners receive non-genetically modified, organic cotton seed, as well as training and support to transition their farmland.

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Artistic Milliners plans to “sustainably grow” the farming area and make it economically viable for farmers to grow organic cotton without outside financial support, it said. It also intends to bring in regenerative certification through the Regenagri standard.

“This project is special to us, as not only do we support farmers as they switch to organic cotton farming methods, but we also get to bring innovation and ingenuity to the farming communities,” Ahmed said in a statement. “We connect all players of the supply chain to map our product’s journey from farm to fashion with blockchain-enabled traceability. This level of transparency is vital to raising the bar in collaboration and fostering strong partnerships.”

The supplier developed the Milliner Organic initiative in partnership with WWF Pakistan and the Government of Baluchistan. The former has provided insights into the community, while the latter used its organic farming expertise to get farmers up to speed and certified, Artistic Milliners said.

WWF Pakistan, it noted, also helped the company support farmers in the aftermath of last year’s devastating monsoon season. The flash foods left the farming communities’ homes “extensively damaged,” washed away cattle and flooded many crops for days, Artistic Milliners said. When the rains subsided, the final damage to the crops came to around 15 to 20 percent, it estimated, “far better than previous estimates, but still a lot for the farmers, who would not be able to make profits with this crop.” In addition to providing food packages to the farming community, Artistic Milliners worked in partnership with WWF Pakistan to raise funds for the “rehabilitation of the community.”

“Working with the Milliner Organic project, Levi Strauss & Co. is able to secure organic cotton directly from participating farmers who have the support they need to increase yields and provide for their families and communities,” Jeffrey Hogue, LS&Co.’s chief sustainability officer, said in a statement. “It is through partnerships made available to us through OCA that we can work together to not only support the longevity of cotton, but also make sure the way we do it best supports the communities where the cotton is being grown.”

According to the OCA’s most recent annual report, the multi-stakeholder organization worked with 22,146 farmers during the 2020-2021 farming season. Together, they farmed 22,388 hectares of organic cotton, with an average organic cotton net income of 635 euros, or $693, per hectare. It estimated these farmers earned a net income 21 percent higher than their conventional peers.