“Better Cotton” isn’t just the stuff of indeterminate pledges anymore. The first apparel products containing the sustainably farmed fiber can finally be purchased from apparel labels and retailers such as Levi’s, H&M, and Adidas, and Marks & Spencer. Momentum for the project has been driven in large part by the Better Cotton Initiative, a nonprofit launched in 2005 to reduce the environmental, social, economic impacts of cotton farming. The Geneva-based organization includes a wide range of stakeholders, from farmers and textile mills to retailers and nonprofits.
“It really is a big goal and big vision to change the way cotton is grown,” Michael Kobori, Levi’s vice president of social and environmental sustainability and the BCI’s chairman, tells WWD. Starting Wednesday, the denim giant will be rolling out two million pairs of Levi’s and Denizen brand jeans derived from a blend of Better Cotton and conventional fibers. Adidas, a cofounder of the initiative, has committed itself to using 100 percent Better Cotton by 2018, while H&M expects to do the same by 2020.
By 2015, the BCI plans to rally one million farmers to raise one million metric tons of sustainable cotton.
The first BCI cotton for the 2010-11 crop year was harvested from some 68,000 small farms in India, Pakistan, and Mali. By reducing fertilizers, pesticides, and water, as well as bolstering worker conditions, the farms yielded 38,000 metric tons of the 27 million metric tons of cotton raised worldwide, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee.
The 2011-12 season is expected to produce almost twice that amount, with 150,000 participating farms from regions of West and Central Africa, Brazil, and China. By 2015, the BCI plans to rally one million farmers to raise one million metric tons of sustainable cotton.
Could the participation of such prominent industry leaders set a new standard for growing and harvesting cotton? We can only hope.