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Wrangler Wants to Increase the Supply of Sustainable U.S. Cotton

By Leon Kaye

Wrangler plans to expand a pilot program to boost the supply of more responsible cotton in the U.S., the company announced during the Sustainable Brands conference in Detroit this week.

The program started with an Alabama cotton farmer last year, and Wrangler aims to expand the initiative to all American farmers within its supply chain.

Moves like this are important as cotton has long exacted one of the largest environmental footprints on the planet. WWF estimates that only 2.4 percent of the world’s farmland is planted with cotton, but the crop accounts for 24 percent of worldwide sales of pesticides. Then there is the water footprint: WWF suggests it takes almost 5,300 gallons (20,000 liters) of water to produce the 1.6 pounds (or 1 kilo) of cotton needed to make a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

Wrangler’s announcement follows up previous efforts, including a drive to increase the supply of fiber certified by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). The North Carolina-based company says it has invested about half a million dollars as a fast-track member of BCI since 2013 in order to boost supplies from China.

But at a time when the political climate is imposing pressure on American companies to source and make more goods in the U.S., Wrangler’s program sends cotton farmers a signal that they can depend on a steady stream of business while showing that their operations can become even more sustainable. And the fashion industry is hardly immune from these trends

Wrangler says it sources about half of its cotton from U.S. farming operations. And although American cotton farmers are generally far more environmentally responsible than their peers overseas, there is always room for improvement. To that end, Wrangler’s partnership with farmers will include a focus on soil health -- including research on the best way to implement and expand no-till farming, crop rotation and cover cropping.

More apparel companies are jumping on the sustainability bandwagon as they grapple with the reality that more consumers want more environmentally responsible products – without having to pay a premium.

Fast fashion brands, including H&M, were among the first companies to increase global supplies of sustainable cotton. The German athletic apparel giant Adidas is also a leader on this front, surpassing its BCI sourcing goals two years ago. Last year Timberland, which along with Wrangler is owned by VF Corp., pledged to source all of its cotton from BCI-certified, organic, or American farms by 2020. And Gap, Inc. announced its own set of 2020 cotton sourcing goals last month.

Image credit: Wrangler

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye