As the industry and public commemorate World Cotton Day, Sourcing Journal discussed its impact and the broader state of the cotton sector with Kim Kitchings, senior vice president of consumer marketing at Cotton Incorporated.
Cotton Incorporated, funded by U.S. growers of upland cotton and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, is the research and marketing company representing upland cotton. The program is designed and operated to improve the demand for and profitability of cotton.
Sourcing Journal: Why is World Cotton Day important, especially now, for Cotton Incorporated?
Kim Kitchings: World Cotton Day is in many ways an extension of Cotton Incorporated’s mission, to increase the demand for and popularity of cotton. It’s an opportunity to remind consumers of all the reasons they love cotton, and to shine a light on the importance of the global cotton crop to economies and industries around the world.
SJ: How would you describe the state of the U.S. cotton industry today?
Kitchings: The U.S. cotton industry is, as always, using the present to secure the future. Cotton does not stand still, especially with respect to growing efficiencies, the relationship of those efficiencies to sustainability, and the many ways cotton fiber can be used in textiles and other product categories.
SJ: What strides has U.S. cotton made in the area of sustainability and crop management?
Kitchings: Crop management and sustainability go hand in hand. Thanks to a solid communications infrastructure and an eagerness of U.S. growers to embrace education and technology, U.S. cotton growers have significantly reduced the environmental impact of growing cotton. Tools such as water sensors and practices such as precision agriculture have contributed to a decline in irrigated water applications, insecticide applications, and an increase in fiber output per acre. Additionally, the industry has set sustainability goals to achieve by 2025 and is implementing the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a traceability platform to inform the industry and identify areas of additional sustainability focus.
SJ: What is being done to improve cotton’s standing among consumers?
Kitchings: Cotton is already in good standing with consumers. They consistently tell us that cotton is their favorite apparel fiber to wear, and they rank it highest as far as sustainability. That said, we dedicate considerable resources to remind consumers why they love cotton—its softness, comfort, ease of care, and durability. In recent years, as consumers have become more aware of microplastic pollution, and the comparatively fast degradation of natural fibers such as cotton—we have elevated that messaging; to increase awareness and preference further in the minds of eco-conscious consumers.
SJ: What would you say are the most important things that can be done for a healthy future for cotton?
Kitchings: There are a few things. Chief among them is separating facts from fiction about cotton from a sustainability context. Our cottontoday.com website is dedicated to making those science-based environmental facts about cotton accessible to all. Given the consumer interest in predominantly cotton apparel, and the increase in online apparel shopping, easily located and accurate fiber content information on e-commerce sites would really help consumers find the cotton and cotton-rich items they are looking for, and help the retailer close the sale.