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The Effectiveness of COTTON LEADS

Tommy Horton

By Tommy Horton, Editor

Several years ago, I attended a press briefing at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences to hear about a new venture called COTTON LEADS, and it was an intriguing concept, to say the least. At the time, it sounded extremely ambitious, and many attendees wondered if such a project could achieve its goal of bringing together the U.S. and Australian cotton industry as well as retail partners – all in an effort to promote best management practices and traceability in the cotton supply chain. It also was deemed an important initiative to help cotton regain market share.

Here we are today, and nobody can question how successful this venture has been in such a short time period. More than 300 participants are now on board, and it’s an interesting group that includes yarn spinners, textile/apparel manufacturers, brands and retailers. What makes this program so unique is that there is no cost or certification attached to it. Partners voluntarily participate because they see the need for cotton to tell its story to a global audience. Many objectives can be achieved by COTTON LEADS – and that in itself is the beauty of the process.

Although the market numbers for cotton might not be immediately noticeable, we are already hearing about apparel and textile manufacturers gradually returning to cotton. Somehow, the message is starting to get out, and much of this initial turnaround is at least partially due to COTTON LEADS.

If an apparel manufacturer had any doubts about U.S. cotton production’s environmental stewardship, these facts should be considered from the past 30 years:

  • 30 percent less land used.
  • 60 percent reduction in lost soil.
  • 75 percent reduction in irrigation water use.
  • 31 percent reduction in energy.
  • 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

You can find an additional explanation in NCC President Gary Adams’ Cotton’s Agenda column in the June issue of Cotton Farming.

The ultimate goals won’t be achieved overnight. They never are in a volatile global cotton market where numerous factors can affect U.S. cotton’s market share. But if you’re looking for a program that is a win-win for all parties concerned, this is it.

Yes, it can be confounding to see how so many factors have worked against cotton such as China’s reserve system, which has accumulated more than 50 million bales. And don’t forget about cotton’s price run-up a few years ago that scared away many global mills. Those situations have had a serious impact on cotton’s share of the market. But, if I have learned anything in being a part of this industry for the past 30 years, it’s that cotton always finds a way to make a comeback.

My own frustration occurred recently when I walked into a Steinmart store in East Memphis in search of a cotton golf shirt. I couldn’t find one anywhere in the men’s department near the front of the store. Eventually, I found some tucked away in the back of the store on a rack with other marked-down shirts. In casual conversation, I asked the clerk why there weren’t more cotton shirts available. He was very courteous and couldn’t give me a clear explanation, but he did offer to order one for me. I politely declined and kept wandering around the store in search of more cotton golf shirts. Still didn’t have much luck.

I can remember when the situation was completely different for a customer walking into a men’s clothing store. Everywhere you looked, you had plenty of choices for shirts made of our favorite fiber.

But, alas, I am not a pessimist. I haven’t given up. Better days are ahead, and I truly believe that cotton is on the move. There will come a time when I’ll find more cotton golf shirts at Steinmart.

And when that moment occurs, everyone will look back and have an even greater appreciation for the COTTON LEADS program.