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The Farm to Closet Movement: Connecting Cotton Sourcing to Consumer Storytelling

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It’s no secret that fashion has piggybacked on the storytelling strategy started by the farm-to-table movement.

Consumers have moved beyond asking what’s in their food and now want to understand what’s in their closet. Motivated by a need to get to the source of who we are, and where our products come from, humanity’s internal awakening parallels the industry’s need for transparency. Unsatisfied by surface interaction, people want more meaning in every aspect of their lives.

This thirst for transparency has evolved the way we think about our products and their lifecycles. Through the lens of design, we can connect people to the story of our products in a manner that brings everyone closer together—not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally, too. Our designs are an extension of ourselves. When we maintain a holistic view of the economic, environmental and social aspects of business, our products have a more profound purpose. Embedding that story into product design adds both value and values, validates transparency and empowers consumers to vote with their dollars.

The facts

The current state of making textiles is both challenging and disconcerting. Most brands and companies do not own their supply chains, so what happens in the farming and milling of their product is conveniently out of their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, this is often where some of the worst human rights offenses take place. Then there are issues like subcontracting, where a supplier cannot meet the demands of its overseas client, so it farms out some of the work to local factories that may not have the same code of ethics.

Undocumented overtime, worker abuse, and fire and safety code non-compliance are just a few more of the issues plaguing fashion’s supply chains, exacerbated by time and money constraints. Fashion’s supply chains are much more complicated and spread out than the food industry, which is perhaps why transparency is more difficult. But our clothes tell a deeper story, one of dedication, science, craftsmanship and culture.

When it comes to fiber, mainstream consumers often view conventional cotton as “natural,” not realizing its agricultural and social impacts. The dark side to conventional cotton involves excessive water use, GMO and chemical dependence, pollution, and heartbreaking stories of farmer suicide. Because many farmers rely on bank loans against their land to afford expensive genetically modified seed and pesticides, the pressure to keep up with rising costs can feel like running on a treadmill that keeps getting faster and faster. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is not only better for soil and human health, and less dependent on water due to greater resilience and a productive relationship with rainwater, but it is also truly better for farmer livelihoods.

Symbiotic solutions

After being asked repeatedly by brands and designers how I have managed to achieve visibility throughout supply chains, I decided to share the love and make sustainability “easy” by creating MetaWear in 2013. MetaWear is a turnkey, vertical solution provider, connecting the dots between farmer, mill, dyehouse, manufacturer and distributor. My long history of building organic cotton supply chains from the ground up drives both authenticity and transparency—from farm to finished fashion, while creating win-win-win opportunities to lift vulnerable smallholder farming communities in India.

MetaWear recently launched a new project called RESET (Regenerate Environment, Society, Economy thru Textiles). RESET aims to educate and empower cotton famers in India’s tribal cotton belt to convert to regenerative farming practices. This type of low-cost, low risk farming can sequester atmospheric carbon (a key solution to climate change mitigation), while restoring soil health and ecosystems. RESET can save conventional cotton farmers from perpetuating damaging and unsustainable conditions, by showing them that there is a viable alternative—demonstrating the potential for true industry transformation. But that’s not all: this initiative is also an example of a powerful story, that once translated to the shelf, can empower consumers to take action, with little to no added effort. As they have done in driving the success of companies like Tom’s shoes and FEED bags.

Positive storytelling

It’s not fair to bombard people with doom and gloom if we can’t arm them with the tools to affect positive change, by sharing the narratives of those doing well by doing good. The more we communicate our journey to the source of our supply chains, especially stories of the long-term benefits of innovation and redesign, the more customers will expect being a part of solutions—even demanding that their products have a meaningful purpose

Just like knowing that the origin of our food can literally make it taste better, bringing the stories to the forefront of fashion makes our style feel better—touching us on levels beyond the surface. The farm to closet movement is defined by this shift, as fashion is no longer one-dimensional. Sustainable style makes us look good, feel good and do good as global citizens.

We are entering a new era of fashion—from source to story, where we can wear the change we wish to see in the world.

Marci Zaroff coined the term “ECOfashion” and is an internationally recognized ECOlifestyle expert, educator, innovator and serial ecopreneur. Founder/CEO of leading sustainable fashion manufacturer MetaWear

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