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Outerknown’s ‘California Series’ Shines a Spotlight on Domestic Farmers and Producers

Outerknown’s forthcoming capsule brings together California cotton producers and local manufacturers, representing the California brand’s first Made-in-America line.

Set to release in June, the California Series features men’s and women’s sweatshirts, shorts and sweatpants made from climate-conscious cotton grown, milled into fabric and sewn in the state.

Outerknown is among the foundational brand partners of California Cotton & Climate Coalition (C4), an initiative started in 2020 by Fibershed, White Buffalo Land Trust, Torus Circularity and Materevolve in response to a historic loss of carbon stocks, which sequester and release carbon within the state’s rangeland soil. The coalition promotes the use of “Climate Beneficial” cotton, a designation created by Fibershed to denote fibers grown within operations where soil carbon capturing is being actively enhanced.

C4 counts 2 California farms as members, and the group aims to bolster the Golden State’s rural jobs sector while promoting responsible land management. The group has sought participation from companies across the value chain, counting brands like Reformation, Coyuchi, Carhartt and Mate and material innovators including Natural Fiber Welding and Circular Systems among its early members.

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Outerknown committed to purchasing cotton from two C4 member growers, Tony Azevedo of the San Joaquin Valley’s Stone Land Company and Cannon Michael of Bowles Farming Company in the Central Valley, for the California Series. The Climate Beneficial cotton sourced from the farms is ginned nearby, then transported to Hill Spinning in North Carolina—the only rung of the supply chain located outside of California. Yarns returned to L.A. are milled by Laguna Fabrics, and cut and sewn at nearby Studio 9D8.

The collection's cotton is grown by C4 member farmers in California.
The collection’s cotton is grown by C4 member farmers in California. Courtesy

With this release, Outerknown exploring how to tighten its supply chain and shrink its carbon footprint, according to Dylon Shepelsky, the brand’s senior manager of product development. “We’re a West Coast, California-based brand and we wanted [the collection] to be made on our soil,” he said. “We created a completely new supply chain at Outerknown specifically for this program.”

While the spring 2023 line contains just five garment-dyed, cotton-terry styles, “Year over year, we’re looking at how we can expand that and what other product categories we can expand into,” he said at a meeting at the Laguna Fabrics mill on Friday. Denim is a category that could be manufactured entirely in the Western U.S., Shepelsky said.

The California Series features garment-dyed terry-cotton staples.
The California Series features garment-dyed terry-cotton staples. Kate Nishimura / Sourcing Journal

Outerknown is also considering feeding its U.S. cotton stock into its global supply chain, which includes Peru-grown Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) Pima and Tanguis cotton and a new ROC program in India. It manufactures in Sri Lanka and produces its hero product, the Blanket button down, in Portugal. Following the production of the forthcoming collection and some styles made in recent seasons with Climate Beneficial cotton, Outerknown has committed to continuing the relationship with its farm partners, who have earmarked more acreage to the project.

Both Stone Land and Bowles grow fruits, vegetables and grains in addition to cotton. This hampered their pursuit of ROC certification for the cotton crops, as around 70 percent of land would need to be converted to regenerative agriculture to earn the distinction. The challenge of finding an in-state spinner led to the cross-country collaboration with Hill Spinning. While the California Series makes up a small part of Outerknown’s offering, Shepelsky said the brand aims to “lift this project off the ground and start to scale it in a big way.”

The partnership shows promise for Laguna Fabrics as well, and the country’s first GOTS-certified mill is among the founding partners in C4 and the Climate Beneficial cotton initiative. Laguna has used environmentally conscious fibers, from Tencel lyocell and modal to Texloop’s RCOT recycled cotton, organic cotton, Supima, hemp and linen throughout its 37-year history, with about 70 percent of its raw materials considered low impact.

Laguna Fabrics in Downtown, L.A. Kate Nishimura / Sourcing Journal

The mill can control a lot of the environmental impacts from the raw material to the material formulation stage, Andrew Schulenburg, the company’s marketing lead said. “That’s where we can really offer solutions to the customers looking to lower their impact,” he said.

Interest in sustainable fabrications and responsible sourcing is growing across the apparel sector, and especially among the local brands that manufacture in Los Angeles. The mill recently moved its operations from the nearby city of Vernon, doubling in size to 50,000 square feet with a 40-person workforce. Laguna operates 38 circular knitting machines 24 hours, five days a week.

“We started out as a sounding board to give advice, and slowly we got dragged into [the C4 initiative],” Laguna president David Roshan said. “When [Outerknown] first approached us it was just a concept.”

Though it’s still early days for the coalition, “I’m so impressed by what they’ve accomplished in such a short period of time,” he said.