“I see that there are three different groups of buyers right now,” said Brent Crossland. “One group simply wants to know that the cotton they are using is grown sustainably. A second group wants to take it a bit further. They want to talk about some of the inititaives and advancements that sustainable cotton farmers are doing. Then there’s a third group that wants something where they are more ‘invested’. They want US cotton that is certified as sustainably grown by farmers who are dedicated to that. They want to meet the farmers and they want to collaborate with them to jointly market the continual improvements being made in cotton growing,” he tells Inside Fashion.
Mr. Crossland, who previously was Head of Fiber Development for Seeds at Bayer Crop Science, a sustainable cotton program that’s part of Bayer Crop Science, is now an independent consultant working with brands to help them to develop a more sustainable supply chain, using US grown cotton – something which he feels also has an important story that can be told at retail.
An Odd Couple Creates an Interesting Story
In what might be seen as an unlikely pairing, Mr. Crossland is looking bring farmers and brand owners together.
“We’re working with brands to build a cooperation between them and US cotton growers where the brand has a strong stake in sustainability.
“There’s a great story, one that would make consumers feel really good about buying and wearing garments made from US cotton,” he said.
One key initiative has the brand or retailer donating a small percent of garment sales to support US cotton growers to become more sustainable.
“Even a contribution of 2 cents per pound on upland cotton, which the farmer would then re-invest in improving cotton growing practices, would be very impactful. The costing on the retail price of a pair of jeans would only be about $1 per pair. Jeans that retail for $50+ could easily afford this,” said Mr. Crossland.
“It’s a great story of how a brand can work directly with farmers to make meaningful and measurable steps towards more sustainable apparel. And it can be easier for brands to implement than developing their own programs.
“It’s an opportunity for a brand to create a story, and genuine action plan, that contributes to sustainability,” he said.
Satisfying the Eco-Aware Customer
Sustainability is still not a top priority for most consumers. People like the idea of it in a general way, but fit, style and quality are what drive sales – even more than price these days.
While the target market is that niche consumer who is committed to sustainability, it’s a growing segment. The good news is that customer is willing to pay a premium for what they believe in – but they need to feel that the sustainable aspect of a garment is real, and not merely ‘green washing.’
For these consumers, it’s important now not only to be more sustainable but to position your brand as taking a leadership role in sustainable garments. And this project is a lower cost then other initiatives where brands are developing their own fabrics.
Simplifying a Sustainable Supply Chain
“The cotton supply chain is extremely complicated. There are a lot of steps from the field to the retail selling floor,” said Mr. Crossland.
With everything else retailers have on their plates, there’s often little time left to manage a sustainable supply chain. Also, frequent executive changes mean that new people are coming on board who now need to learn about procuring sustainable products.
One of the things Mr. Crossland does is to help brands and retailers figure out which cotton initiative suits them best, and then get involved to help them put that supply chain together.
“There have been huge developments that are happening that the farm level to grow more sustainable cotton. I’ve been able to see at ground level the amazing technology at the ‘farm gate’ that have happened in the last five years. The advancements have been profound,” said Mr. Crossland.
“In the areas of water use, we’ve developed technologies that are 98% efficient. This is an important story that needs to be told,” he added.