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Denim Experts Discuss the State of Cotton at Kingpins Amsterdam

Denim trends come and go, but cotton is the constant common denominator for most jeans.

During a panel discussion at Kingpins Amsterdam Wednesday, experts from cotton-growing regions discussed the current state of affairs in the global cotton business.

From the debate on what’s sustainable, to cotton-growing initiatives that are finally taking shape, denim experts shared their perspectives on the current cotton market.

Scaling sustainability

If there’s hope for scaling sustainability, pressure to advance in the are will have to come from outside and inside sources.

“When you buy something from a company, you expect a certain behavior,” Kingpins founder Andrew Olah said, and companies will have to show they stand for something.

Offering Ikea as an example, Olah said the Swedish furniture company showed that it stood for something when it decided to switch to 100 percent sustainable cotton in 2015. Now Ikea only uses cotton that’s either recycled or grown with less water, chemical fertilizer and pesticides.

“They didn’t care what anyone else said or did,” Olah said. “They just did it.”

More than that, brands need to hit suppliers where it hurts the most. “The most important thing is that we need the brands to ask for sustainable cotton,” Besim Ozek, strategy and business development director for Turkish textile company Bossa, added. “You should push us.”

It pays, it seems, to give suppliers ultimatums.

“You should tell us, ‘Hey guys, if you’re not going to do this in a 100 percent sustainable way, then I’m not going to buy anything from you,’” Ozek urged.

Organic cotton in Pakistan

The WWF and C&A Foundation recently celebrated the first bale of organic cotton to be produced at scale in Pakistan. The project includes 4,000 farmers growing organic cotton.

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“The results have been extremely positive,” Artistic Milliners executive director of Omer Ahmed said. “And the government is really behind this project.”

Pakistan denim manufacturer Artistic Milliners, is depending on this initiative, and according to Ahmed, the mill has secured half of the production.

“Our goal is to make organic cotton more affordable,” he said. “For us, being in Pakistan, price is an extremely important factor for our customers.”

speakers at kingpins
Speakers at Kingpins Amsterdam Angela Velasquez

The whole picture

Brands and retailers are reacting to sustainability, but in different ways.

“Some companies are in it to do the actual right thing, whereas others are doing the minimum required to give consumers a feel-good feeling,” Olah Inc. managing director Robert Antoshak, said.

Artistic Milliners, for one, takes a 360-degree approach to sustainability. From cotton, water recycling, energy conservation and the company’s CSR activities, Ahmed said the goal is to always take the sustainable path.

“As a producer, it’s our responsibility to be taking care of these things,” he said. “The good news is the whole ecosystem is more conscious about [sustainability]. More than it’s ever been.”

Organic or not

An organic cotton farm, Antoshak said, works 10-times harder than a conventional cotton farm using the latest technology for growing cotton.

“Organic is not sustainable, period,” he said, adding that it requires more inputs and is harder on the environment.

However, even if denim wants more organic cotton, there are larger players in the field. The cotton market, Antoshak said, is moved by the home textile industry.

“They can be great marketers all they want, but the reality is that the market will dictate what the results will be,” he said.