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LONDON – Sustainable cotton will remain a niche product unless it gets greater market pull to encourage increased production – that’s the view of the protagonists behind a new initiative intended increase understanding of, and uptake in, sustainable cotton sourcing. Hence the launch of CottonUP, a new online sustainable cotton sourcing guide set up by Forum for the Future and its partners from the Cotton 2040 coalition.

Ulrike Stein, project communications manager with Forum for the Future, told Apparel Insider the main audience for the guide are senior managers, sourcing professionals and sustainability professionals working in fashion brands or retailers. She also said the guide is explicitly standard neutral, and does not endorse or favour any one standard or programme over others but instead “seeks to provide an objective overview of the main sourcing options currently available.”

But why the need for what some might see as being yet another initiative in the sustainable cotton space? Answering, Stein told us: “Over the past 30 years, many standards and programmes have been developed that are making good progress towards addressing issues related to cotton production. However, despite the resulting market growth of sustainably grown cotton, it is still a niche product.

“For 2016/17, the total volume of sustainable cotton was estimated to be 15% of global production, but only a fifth of this was bought by companies (or a mere 3 per cent of total global cotton supply). As a result, the remaining cotton is sold as conventional, creating less ‘pull’ from the market to encourage increased sustainable production.”

It is quite well known in the industry that much sustainable cotton ends up being sold on the conventional market. However, the figures outlined above are startling, and illustrate just how far the sustainable cotton sector has to go in order to become mainstream in the true sense of the word.

Adds Stein: “A handful of brands and retailers have taken strong leadership in sustainable cotton sourcing, but the majority of the industry is lagging behind; most companies do not have clear cotton sourcing policies. This is evidenced by the annual Sustainable Cotton Ranking, published by WWF, Solidaridad and the Pesticide Action Network, which shows those brands and retailers who are leading the way, and the many others who are lagging behind.

“To achieve scale and mainstream sustainable cotton, companies need to take a portfolio approach and the CottonUP guide helps them do that. The guide also helps companies overcome the many internal barriers mentioned above.”

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