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SICILY – When one thinks of the main cotton-growing countries in the world, Italy is not a nation which immediately springs to mind. While this Southern European country did once have a reputation for cotton cultivation, activity in the crop began to decline rapidly in the 1950s and has become almost non-existent in the past two decades. 

However, a new project between leading Italian fashion retailer OVS and Swiss traceable textile specialist Haelixa aims to create a fully traceable made in Italy collection.  

This project ticks many of the boxes around sustainability issues currently being explored by fashion brands, including traceable fibres, localised production and product storytelling. 

Haelixa has developed an innovative fibre traceability solution that allows products to carry DNA markers as a forensic proof of their origin and journey through value chains. 

Each Haelixa marker is a unique ‘fingerprint’ to identify a specific farm, manufacturer, brand, collection or even lot or material type. These markers can be applied anywhere along the supply chain following a strict and when needed audited procedure, and be verified in the final garment or intermediate product with a simple and reliable test. 

OVS  is an Italian clothing company. Founded in 1972, it has more than 2000 stores in 35 countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia. 

Earlier this year, OVS entered a partnership with Santiva, a company for the production of organic cotton in Sicily. The long-staple cotton was planted in conjunction with World Earth Day 2022.  

The harvest recently took place, strictly by hand to preserve the quality of the fibres and minimise production impact. 

The entire crop is being marked with Haelixa’s unique DNA marker. This has been specifically designed for OVS´s product and will be applied on the raw material at the ginning location, in close proximity to the cotton fields. 

The material will be used for the production of about 30,000 garments, which will be fully manufactured in Italy, including ginning, spinning and weaving. 

Haelixa CEO Michela Puddu told Apparel Insider the presence of the unique DNA can be verified with a simple forensic test, confirming the presence of the specific cotton in intermediate and finish aproducts, thus proving material origin and product authenticity.  

The OVS collection, marked and traced by Haelixa, will be launched in spring/summer 2023. 

To find out more, we spoke to Simone Colombo, Head of corporate sustainability at OVS. We asked him, first of all, why OVS made the decision to source cotton from Italy. 

He told us: “Each year we buy more than 30 thousand tonnes of cotton as it is the raw material we use the most. We usually source it from the main producers in the world, but not from Italy because cotton cultivation disappeared in the fifties. 

Managing the production of the raw material allows us to control the impacts of garment production both socially and environmentally directly along the entire supply chain and to be more precise in the collection of data. Also, the ambition is to produce high quality products made in Italy, from the field to the stores.” 

Colombo told us that Sicily and other areas of southern Italy have the right soil and climate for growing a high quality cotton. While it is still early days, Colombo says OVS is aiming to, “revive the production of Italian cotton.” 

Traceability has become a watchword in fashion circles in recent months. Haelixa CEO Michela Puddu told us there is growing appetite for the company’s traceability technology, right through the fashion value chain. 

Indeed, in recent times the company has announced partnerships with Pakistan-based vertically integrated denim company Soorty, Hong Kong yarn manufacturer UPW, premium cashmere brand, FTC Cashmere, and Rieter, the world’s leading supplier of systems for short-staple fibre spinning. 

Asked why traceability is important to OVS, Colombo said: “OVS is a family brand and as a part of the daily life of our customers we have the important task to build a trusted relationship. Traceability strengthens up the trust allowing a better control on raw material and increasing the transparency towards clients. Thanks to Haelixa we’ll be able to track the material from the cotton field and to ensure consistent information about the quality and sustainability throughout the whole supply chain.” 

The Haelixa-traced garments will be sold in a selection of OVS stores for the spring-summer collection 2023. 

“We’re designing a specific storytelling to enhance the story of the production from seed to garment,” Colombo said. 

Asked whether OVS might look at using greater volumes of Italian cotton moving forwards, Colombo said: “Of course we don’t want to have this project as limited to a capsule collection, but this is a year of experimentation that will allow us to evaluate the impacts of a cultivation of organic cotton in Italy in terms of sustainability both for economics and environment. Our hope is to be able to increase production for the next year and the years to come up to a significant part of our cotton needs.” 

Finally, we asked whether it is more expensive to source local cotton than importing it from abroad. Colombo said: “As we are in an experimental phase it is difficult to evaluate the actual costs of raw cotton but we estimate it will not be significantly higher than the cotton we usually buy. 

“Since it is a high quality long fibre cotton we designed a premium collection which will have a positioning higher than usual. However, the purpose of our business is to make sustainable fashion affordable for everyone and we’ll find the best solution to guarantee quality and a price in line with our offer.” 

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