Panda Biotech, president
Dixie Carter
Panda Biotech, president

Deep Dive

Believing “the pace of fashion is unsustainable,” Dixie Carter is capitalizing on recent legislation that legalized industrial hemp as an ordinary agricultural commodity, like cotton.

As the denim industry continues to seek out alternative fibers and fabrics, Carter’s company, Panda Biotech, wants to be go-to for all premium industrial hemp. To fulfill this commitment, Panda Biotech is currently constructing what it says is the largest hemp facility in the world at more than 500,000 square feet in Wichita Falls, Texas. The first facility will begin operating in March 2022, with the company saying it is developing machinery will process approximately 10 tons of industrial hemp per hour.

Carter believes that hemp will play a pivotal role in the future of the industry, particularly as businesses begin to make more aggressive commitments to sustainable production. Under Carter’s tenure, Panda Biotech already has entered partnerships with major denim brands such as Kontoor’s Lee and Wrangler, as well as AGI Denim, to help the brands scale their use of more sustainable materials.

As such, Carter knows that the burgeoning hemp market will need more traceability to ensure that all hemp is authentic, so that customers can know where it was grown, farmed and processed. Most recently, Panda Biotech began collaborating with Oritain to use forensic science to trace the origin of each products.

What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?

It would be a misconception to assume that there is a single "biggest misconception" about sustainable denim. The mindsets of Gen Zs, millenials, Gen X and boomers are stretched across a vast continuum of product experiences and progression of expectations such as traceability, manufacturing practices in foreign lands, labor issues and the use of natural resources and impact on climate change. Above all, today, the conscious consumer is concerned about the pollution and environmental damage generated by the production of denim fabric and the laundry process of denim jeans. The efforts of the industry to establish sustainability and circularity need to become more tangible for the consumer. Panda Biotech will offer a transparent, traceable, environmentally friendly, sustainable solution through its investment in U.S. grown hemp fiber processed using renewable energy and recycled water. This cottonized hemp fiber can be blended with other natural or man-made fibers, reducing denim's carbon footprint.

What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?

During the pandemic, we saw mountaintops, or other views, that had been blocked by smog from decades of environmental abuse. If months of quarantine could provide such drastic environmental improvements, how can we as a planet go back to business as usual? Post-pandemic recovery offers an excellent opportunity for product reset, revival and renewal. Rolling out new environmentally friendly fibers like hemp would also present an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. spinning and textile mills. Hemp uses a fraction of the water compared to cotton, is resistant to drought and pests, and is the most carbon-negative forest or commercial crop on Earth.

How can denim retail improve?

The denim industry needs to employ traceability throughout all phases of the supply chain. We are in the midst of a monumental shift in business and manufacturing. Companies now need to focus on environmental and social impact, as well as economics. This should be paramount for the textile industry.

Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?

Denim has become so universal in its wear, from casual to cocktail, skinny jeans can become a new staple if styled correctly, especially if they are a sustainable, durable, comfortable, stylish American cotton-hemp denim.

How many pairs of jeans do you own?

I own more than 30 pairs of jeans. While most of my jeans are not blended with hemp...yet, I tend to hold on to them longer, even if they don't fit recent trends.

Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?

First of all, feeling confident and comfortable in jeans is most important. I always try to find a way for them to be styled for any occasion. The right top, shoes or boots, and jewelry always make a great pair of jeans look even better. Bootcut and straight leg have replaced skinny as my go-to jeans, but I find some outfits still call for skinny. While baggy jeans are growing on me, my 16-year-old daughter lives in them.