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Cotton Groups Tout Fiber’s Ability to Battle Polyester

Cotton organizations battling polyester for market share and consumer image are pushing the natural fiber’s benefits and environmental footprints harder than ever.

“Polyester has gained roughly 52 percent market share and cotton’s market share has drifted below 25 percent,” said Jeffrey Silberman, professor and chair of the Textile Development & Marketing Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, introducing a panel at FIT’s Summer Institute on Wednesday.

Silberman said the purpose of the seminar was how various cotton-based organizations can work together in this market share battle against synthetics—particularly polyester.

Mark Messura, senior vice president of global supply chain and marketing at Cotton Incorporated, said when people talk about cotton or synthetics, “In our view, the latter is not a sustainable alternative.”

Messura said Cotton Inc. has several initiatives aimed at making cotton a “clean industry” throughout the supply chain, including VSEP technology, a filtration system that cleans waste water through the use of a vibrating membrane. A Cotton Inc. case study indicated that close to 100 percent of recovered indigo dye can be reused in the dye bath and 70 percent of treated waste water can be recycled and reused at the rinse stage.

“If consumers don’t have confidence in cotton, they will close another fiber, usually polyester or nylon,” Messura said. “All levels of the supply chain should take responsibility for educating consumers about the environmental impact of what they are wearing. Textiles is the only industry in the world that can say everybody in the world uses their product.”

Messura said brands choose their fibers and fabrics based in three main factors: Marketing, economics and technical performance, so it’s up to the cotton industry to stress the attributes and continue to innovate in each area.

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“We believe there is no truly sustainable fiber because it’s a journey,” LaRhea Pepper, managing director at Textile Exchange, added.

Located in 25 countries, Textile Exchange’s mission is to inspire and equip people to accelerate sustainable practices in the textile value chain.

That’s why the industry and companies should always be in a “transformation mode.” This includes creating a cotton strategy of where a company wants to buy its cotton, what groups such as the Better Cotton Initiative or Cotton Made in Africa they want to work with and where the want to manufacture their goods.

Darren Abney, membership engagement manager for BCI, said the organization’s goal for 2020 is to have 5 million farmers in its fold, which would represent 30 percent of the world’s cotton growers. In 2016, BCI had 1.5 million farmers in 24 countries, working 3 million hectares of land, producing 2.5 million metric tons of cotton, enough to make 25 billion pairs of jeans.

“We use a continuous improvement metric for our farmers,” Abney said. “Our mission is to actively pursue production of Better Cotton in the supply chain.”

Brent Crossland, head of fiber development for Bayer Crop Science, discussed the company’s cotton seed-based e3 Cotton program in which growers sign a sustainability agreement to commit to grow cotton more efficiently and without harming the environment. The program certifies bales of cotton using a Fieldprint Calculator audit.

The e3 cotton originates with Bayer CropScience’s inspires and equips people to accelerate sustainable practices in the textile value chain.

The e3 cotton originates with Bayer CropScience’s Certified FiberMax or Authentic seed that can be traced from the farm to the gin right through the merchant, mills, and retailer to the consumer.

“Certified e3 Coton is grown with care by producers striving to improve their sustainability in productions of high quality cotton,” Crossland said.

Eric Henry, president of TS Design, said his company’s montra is “Dirt to Shirt in 600 miles.” He showed a map of how the vertical production of his company’s cotton textiles that has a “completely transparent supply chain” that employs 500 people in the Carolinas, from farm to finished product.

In the end, Pepper said brands “must have a fiber strategy that stresses more positive impact and less negative impact.” She said the perception of cotton “comes from consumer awareness and informing the consumer about the value of cotton and the impact it has on people’s lives.”

“We need a long-term involvement and investment in educated brands in how they source fibers,” Pepper added.