Clothing giant Primark has launched its first line made from sustainable cotton; because identifying the source of materials such as cotton can be difficult, Primark will only use certified sustainable cotton in a single line of pajamas, for now. But as it slowly increases its use of sustainable cotton, the company will be reducing risks associated with potential declines in cotton production in coming years.
Primark has partnered with agricultural industry experts CottonConnect and with the Self-Employed Women’s Association to help the company develop its supply chain for sustainable cotton.
Like so many companies in the apparel industry, Primark says it will increase the use of sustainable fabric in the future and plans to use only sustainably sourced cotton at some point in the future. More than a dozen clothing and textile companies, in addition to Primark, have pinpointed a date by which time they will no longer use any cotton that is not sustainably sourced. Through the CottonConnect REEL program, companies that have pledged to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 include ASOS, Eileen Fisher, Greenfibres, H&M, IKEA, Kering, Levi Strauss & Co., Lindex, M&S, Nike, Sainsbury’s, F&F at Tesco and Woolworths Holdings.
CottonConnect says it connects brands and retailers to farmers to create a transparent supply chain and trains farmers in agro-economic practices.
Say, That’s a Lot of Cotton (and a Lot of Risk)…
Cotton accounts for almost 40% of global textile production, but just 12% of the world’s cotton is currently classed as sustainable, CottonConnect says. Integrating sustainability into the cotton supply chain is important for a number of reasons: by streamlining their cotton supply chain, companies gain efficiencies and cost savings; by sharing the “sustainability story” companies have new opportunities to engage with consumers; and operational risk is reduced when a steady future supply of cotton is ensured.
The risk for the apparel industry associated with an unsustainable cotton supply is apparent when you look at the numbers. Cotton is a thirsty crop, requiring 2,700 liters of water – what one person drinks in two-and-a-half years – to make a single cotton shirt. In areas already facing water stress, cotton production can be particularly damaging. In Central Asia, for instance, the Aral Sea has nearly disappeared because cotton farmers draw excessively from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. The world uses 1.3 trillion gallons of water each year for fabric dyeing alone, wrote Deborah Drew and Genevieve Yehounme in a blog post for the World Resources Institute last month.
A study by MIT climate scientists, economists, and agriculture experts released last month found that, by 2050, certain areas in the country will experience severe reductions in crop yields due to water stress. Production of cotton in the Southwest, and in southern Arizona in particular, will drop to less than 10% of the crop yield under optimal irrigation conditions, the study found (via ScienceDaily).