Cotton Scrubs Project Benefits Farmers, Rural Communities And U.S. Textile Manufacturing
It’s October. A nurse who works at a rural hospital in a South Georgia community looks at the clock as it ticks steadily toward 5 a.m. With a few minutes left to finish her morning routine, she finds her scrubs and sneakers to get dressed.
She welcomes the soft material of the cotton scrubs on a day she knows will be hectic. As she pulls out of the driveway, her lights shine across the clay road into the cotton field, illuminating the bright white bolls in the still-dark morning.
When the nurse comes home that afternoon, the cotton picker is rolling through the field, harvesting six rows of Southern snow one pass at a time. She knows the hard work and hours the farmer puts in to provide a comfortable garment for her and her fellow healthcare workers, while she also puts in long hours helping patients.
And they all like the extra layer of protection provided by ProTX2 AV, an anti-microbial technology, added to the material during production. Knowing American grown and made is on the rise again and started right here in her home state brings a smile to her face.
The Cotton Project
An initiative from Field to Closet is making the concept of American grown and made 100% cotton scrubs a reality. The long-term vision for this action is bold: Bolster the U.S. cotton farmer, increase domestic demand for cotton, and reshore — bring back to America — textile manufacturing.
The kick-off project, featuring scrubs woven with cotton grown in Georgia and crafted entirely in the United States, highlights the possibilities for achieving the initiative’s far-reaching goals for both the grower and the textile industry.
The medical scrubs project, spearheaded by Field to Closet, is the result of collaborative partnerships with America Knits, Deltapine seed, Helena Agri-Enterprises LLC, Nutrien AgSolutions, Georgia’s Rural Center and HomeTown Health. To spotlight the venture, 15 hospitals in rural Georgia will receive sets of the scrubs at no cost this summer.
“We are so excited to share the success of the project with hospitals in rural Georgia by providing scrubs,” says Victoria Kopyar, vice president, market brand and innovation, Field to Closet. “With frontline healthcare workers wearing scrubs made from Deltapine cotton grown in the region where they work, the project truly comes full circle.”
Farmer GiveBack Program
The initiative recognizes the rebirth of a U.S. cotton garment industry simply isn’t possible without the grower. Therefore, Field to Closet established the Farmer GiveBack program to address a fundamental issue in the garment industry in which the brand or end seller realizes the most significant profit. Farmer GiveBack is designed to ensure the grower is included financially by sharing in the profit of the goods sold.
“Field to Closet was founded to work with brands and retailers to increase the use of cotton in the products and change the economic distribution of the supply chain to include the farmer,” says Ed Jernigan, founder and CEO of Field to Closet. “It also allows people access to sustainably produced, 100% natural cotton fiber with traceability to the farm where the Deltapine cotton was grown. It’s incredible to be part of a process that connects people and brands to the farm, along with increasing awareness of creating garments from beginning to end in the U.S.”
Neil Lee, vice president of operations, Lee Farms, Bronwood, Georgia, says, “Right now, three-quarters of the cotton grown in the U.S. is shipped overseas for production in other countries. Anything that increases cotton demand domestically is positive.
The economic impact extends far beyond the farm with a ripple effect into the entire community.
“That’s why initiatives like these are so important. Creating infrastructure for a U.S. supply chain is both exciting and achievable.”
Deltapine cotton product manager Keylon Gholston says he has been asked, “Why is Deltapine involved in the project? You sell cottonseed.”
“For us to be successful, our customer, the American cotton farmer, has to be successful,” he says. “Our commitment is not just to bring the best cotton varieties to market; our commitment is to help cotton farmers be more successful in the end.
“We spend a lot of time talking to growers, ginners, mills and spinners to see what the future of the cotton industry is because that’s what we have to bring forward today.”
The project also spotlights the textile and manufacturing opportunities available in the United States using cotton grown in America.
As the U.S. textile industry makes strides toward reshoring American manufacturing, America Knits is already making it happen in rural Georgia. The company serves as the final step in manufacturing the medical scrubs. It focuses on providing prosperity for rural, smaller communities and creating quality, environmentally sustainable products made in America.
“This initiative is exciting and goes to show when people work together, extraordinary things can happen,” says Steve Hawkins, CEO of America Knits. “There was a time when an end-to-end U.S. supply chain for cotton garments would have been considered a pipe dream. We’ve shown with hard work, dreams do come true.”
Field to Closet partnered with America Knits in Swainsboro, Georgia, to source Georgia cotton grown from Deltapine seed.
They also selected industry partners Parkdale Mills in Rabun Gap, Georgia, to spin the cotton into yarn, and Hornwood in North Carolina to weave the yarn into fabric. The material then goes to America Knits for the scrubs’ final cut and sew.
Making the project even better for medical personnel, the fabric is treated with PROTX2 AV, an antimicrobial technology that inhibits the growth of bacteria and has been shown in lab tests to destroy viruses. This is the first time PROTX2 AV has been formulated for use on 100% cotton medical scrubs, marking them as an industry first.
A Georgia Mainstay
Not only is cotton sustainable for the environment, but it also provides direct economic impact to rural areas where it is grown.
In 2019, cotton lint and seed represented a $7 billion value to the United States from the nearly 20 million bales produced. Cotton is primarily grown in 17 Southern states, known as the Cotton Belt, with Texas and Georgia being the top producers.
Cotton ranks as the second-largest commodity by value in Georgia. Furthermore, University of Georgia Extension forecasted cotton’s overall impact on the state was greater than $3 billion and provided about 53,000 cotton-related jobs.
“Rural Georgia is home to agriculture — Georgia’s largest industry,” says Dr. David Bridges, director of Georgia’s Rural Center and president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. “Georgia is the second largest producer of cotton in the U.S. Cotton plays a prominent role in the economic prosperity of many rural communities in the state. Now, with this particular project, cotton can be more profitable to our farmers and also contribute to better rural healthcare.”
Supporting Rural Communities
The initiative’s overarching vision is to serve as an inspiring example of the possibility and profitability for reshoring American manufacturing and create a long-lasting impact on rural communities.
The project is more than wishful thinking. It demonstrates a 100% U.S. supply chain that includes crafting products from cotton grown and sewn in rural Georgia. A movement toward 100% cotton scrubs and other cotton garments creates a positive domino effect, resulting in higher domestic cotton need and demand and fair compensation for farmers’ sustainability efforts. It also sheds a positive light on an end-to-end U.S. supply chain, while supporting healthcare workers.
The 15 rural Georgia hospitals receiving medical cotton scrubs include:
• Brooks County Hospital.
• Burke Medical Center.
• Crisp Regional Medical Center.
• Colquitt Regional Medical Center.
• East Georgia Regional Medical Center.
• Emanuel Medical Center.
• Irwin County Hospital.
• Jeff Davis Hospital.
• Jenkins County Medical.
• LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early.
• Memorial Hospital and Manor.
• Mitchell County Hospital.
• SGMC Berrien Campus.
• Southwell Medical.
• Taylor Regional Hospital.
“It’s no secret 2020 was tough on hospitals, including those in rural areas,” says Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health. “For this initiative to provide scrubs at no cost to some of these hospitals is an extraordinary way to kick off a truly worthy vision of using Georgia-grown cotton to fully create scrubs in the U.S.”
To highlight the initiative, a kick-off event was held April 9 at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture in Tifton. This summer, the scrubs will be delivered to the hospitals in rural areas of the state as cotton grown in the region returns home to healthcare workers on the front lines.
Deltapine contributed to this article.
Cotton fibers are natural, biodegradable and recyclable, making them a good option to create sustainable fabric to wear.
The project is bringing cotton back to the forefront of the garment industry to support U.S. farmers and provide environmentally friendly medical scrubs, along with other garments. Moreover, cotton producers and the agriculture industry have worked year after year to improve the sustainability of cotton production.
When cotton breaks down, it enriches the soil and leaves less of a carbon footprint than synthetic materials. In fact, the cotton plant is carbon-sequestering when considering the stalks, leaves and other plant material are left in the soil. This means cotton aids in the long-term removal of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and works to slow or even reverse CO2 pollution after the crop is harvested.
Over the past 40 years in the United States, innovative technologies, new production methods, and research have led to significant gains of sustainability while growing cotton.
According to Cotton Incorporated, pesticide application has become 50% more efficient and applying water by irrigation has been reduced by 45%. At the same time, cotton production increased and fiber quality improved without expanding the amount of land used to grow it.