Q&A: Getting To Know Cotton Board Chairman Sonja Chapman

stacey gorman


he Cotton Board is governed by its membership consisting of both cotton producers and importers. The importers serving on The Cotton Board represent major U.S. brands and retailers — significant downstream cotton users. The producers on The Cotton Board represent their respective states in the U.S. Cotton Belt. Together, these segments of the Board represent a wealth of unique perspectives and insight that help guide The Cotton Research and Promotion Program (the Program).

During its 2022 Annual Meeting, The Cotton Board elected new officers to guide the Program, including Sonja Chapman, to serve as Chairman for the 2022/23 Program year. Chapman, an Importer from New Jersey, is an expert in trade compliance and importing. She currently works as an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Sonja Chapman

 To learn more about Sonja’s unique perspective as an importer leader in the cotton industry, she answered a few questions below.

Q: Why is it important for Importers to serve on The Cotton Board?

A: With most of the U.S. cotton crop being sold for export, importers ultimately drive cotton purchases in the international environment. Our businesses are subject to different needs and pressures that drive fiber selection. When importers serve on The Cotton Board, we can provide clear direction on how our business needs are changing and how cotton can position itself to benefit from positive changes and mitigate the negative ones.

Q: What have you learned from the Producer members of the Cotton Board?

A: I have learned that farmers are the most optimistic people on earth. And they have to be, considering the level of economic investment they must provide and the risks they take. Like any other business, producers must weigh market, political, environmental and economic conditions as they plan their crops. It’s almost unthinkable that this work can be undone in a day by unfavorable weather events!

Q: What makes you passionate about the cotton industry?

A: I have always enjoyed the fiber’s comfort, versatility and durability. It really has been the ‘Fabric of our Lives’ for my family and me. Additionally, as we look at ways to reduce our industry’s environmental impact on the planet, I am enthusiastic about cotton’s position as a natural fiber with biodegradable properties and opportunities for recycling and upcycling.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the cotton industry in 2023?

A: Traceability and shifting markets constitute a significant challenge for the industry right now. The passage and enforcement of the ban on cotton from China’s Xinjiang region place a substantial burden on importers. Importers who previously purchased finished cotton products from China, or countries like Bangladesh that are reliant on China for fabric production, are already moving to mitigate this risk. Current import statistics show the market share of cotton products is declining rapidly from these countries and that production is expanding in West Asian countries.

To learn more about the cotton importers and producers who serve on The Cotton Board, visit cottonboard.org/our-leadership.

Stacey Gorman is The Cotton Board’s director of communications. Contact her at sgorman@cottonboard.org.

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