By Samuel Northrup
We all have our favorite pair of jeans—you know, the ones that you wear the weekend or to casual day at the office. But, have you ever stopped to wonder about how the cotton comprising your prized dungarees was grown and sourced?
One of the largest manufacturers in the denim apparel space wants you to know.
Healthy soil is at the center of all cotton-based products, so Wrangler went back to the drawing board to help its supply chain of U.S. growers produce sustainable cotton.
“We’re seeing changing consumer preferences from millennials, Generation Z and from emerging consumers,” said Roian Atwood, director of sustainability for Wrangler. “So, I think those are important signs that times are changing and we need to adapt and, ultimately, build more sustainable products and tell the story around it.”
On Earth Day 2018, the denim giant elaborated its strategy to conserve and promote the health of its producers’ fields, starting with three key practices: implementing cover crops to naturally increase soil nutrients; conservation tillage to reduce land disturbance; and crop rotation to better manage disease and pests.
According to the first volume of the company's science and conservation papers, “Seeding Soil’s Potential,”the results can lead to reduced costs for growers, higher crop yields and higher soil and water retention, creating a clear benefit for growers and their most valuable asset.
“Their motivations, while they first appear to be economic, they often think about leaving healthy soils to future generations,” Atwood said. “The growers that we partnered with, they see their soils as almost a bank account for their future, [so that] family members will continue to work the land, and a bank account of nutrients for a healthy, biological community.”
The soil health initiatives are part of a long-term plan -- which takes into account the demands a rapidly growing human population puts on global farmlands and waterways. It is a plan that leads Atwood to envision an agroforestry approach that causes minimal damage and repairs farmland, like a “living, biological ecosystem.”
“Our growers are really trying to advance this continuous improvement to create a better world in agriculture, and there’s a lot of amazing technology that is being disseminated right now that is going to change our agricultural growing systems,” Atwood said. “They’re in the middle of their own ‘dot-com revolution.’”
Now, the company is engaging customers to tell an impactful story—their favorite pair of jeans don’t begin and end in the store, they start from the ground up.
The strategy, Atwood explained, favors conveying the human element behind the growers and the sustainable cotton they produce, as opposed to other data-centric methods being explored by players in the agriculture industry. This idea culminated in a 60-second short posted to YouTube prior to Earth Day.
“Part of it is people just do not understand agricultural systems and how they work, the challenges that growers face and what is the ‘business as usual’ versus this new land stewardship practice and the meaningful difference,” Atwood said. “It’s a lot to convey in 60 seconds, but we challenge ourselves to try, and we put that message out there and continue to advocate for this platform.”
Photo: YouTube / Wrangler