Brands and retailers get boots muddy at Camp Cotton
June 6, 2022

From field to fabric: Brands experience cotton, many for the first time

Fashion brands and retailers have seen first-hand where cotton comes from, thanks to Cotton Australia’s Camp Cotton 2022 tour.

Seeing cotton in the field has ignited a passion for brands and retailers to use Australian cotton in their raw material collections.

About 30 brands, retailers and NGOs joined Cotton Australia’s Cotton to Market team for Camp Cotton in Gunnedah in May to learn about what our farmers do best.

Delegates participated in a forum, where they heard from industry and researchers about the current crop and market situation, sustainability and value chain issues, as well as brands that are using Australian cotton in their garment production – then it was out to the (muddy) field. For many, it was the first time they had seen cotton growing.

Despite unwelcome wet weather, participants visited Andrew Watson’s farm at Boggabri, where he talked about his integrated pest management system and The Biodiversity Project with Country Road.

Scott Morgan’s property was next on the agenda and delegates were able to get muddy in the field amongst the cotton crop which is due to be harvested.

Then, it was off to Carroll Cotton Gin with Scott and Trudy Davies to learn about how cotton is processed and baled and exported overseas.

Cotton to market supply chain consultant Brooke Summers said the program has been running since 2015 and has grown every year.

“It’s wonderful to see so many high profile brands interested in Australian cotton farming and everything we have to offer in terms of quality, traceability and sustainability,” Brooke said.

“Not only is it great for the brands to learn from us, but we also get to understand the issues and challenges that our customers face and traceability was high on the agenda this year.

“Circularity and myBMP were also hot topics, with delegates wanting to understand how the program works and what growers need to do to be certified.

“The survey of participants showed that over 70% improved their opinion of the Australian cotton industry even more by participating in Camp Cotton and 100% said they’d recommend the tour to a colleague.”
Coming from a beef cattle operation, Alicia McClymont knows what it’s like to live and work on the land – but seeing and hearing cotton farmers in action was an “eye opening” experience.

Alicia is the founder and designer of Antola Trading – a fashion brand that makes work shirts for farmers.

While her garments are currently made from 100% cotton, the tour provided connections and knowledge to help transition to Australian cotton.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that using Australian cotton is the most important transition for my brand to connect with the farmers,” Alicia said.

“It doesn’t matter what you farm in Australia, farmers are from tight-knit communities that support each other, no matter what industry they are involved in.”

Antola Trading released its first work shirts in 2015 that were designed to fit working women properly – longer sleeves and more length in the body – in a variety of patterns.
For Claire Mellios from women’s fashion label Sussan, it was the first time she had set foot on a cotton farm, seeing the natural fibre at Scott Morgan’s property.

“It felt surreal. It was amazing to see the different stages of cotton growing, and seeing the fibre on the plant, which looked like cotton wool balls,” Claire said.

“You can see from the plant that the fibres are going to be spun into yarns, and I hadn’t anticipated it would look like that.

“Being able to see the cotton in the field will help us explain the Australian cotton story to our customers. The customers want to know the story and it helps them feel connected to the community and that they are contributing to farming communities.”

The Sussan group started using Australian cotton in 2019 with five different t-shirt styles.

Today, they have made almost 1.2 million units from Australian cotton, and this year launched a new Australian cotton denim range since 2019. The two-day camp provided brands an opportunity to ask plenty of questions directly to industry and farmers.

Par Lundqvist, direct of Three By One, said the forum provided a fantastic framework before meeting the farmers and visiting their farms.

“A lot of consumers will ask questions about Australian cotton being genetically modified, however I was able to gain a lot of perspective and understanding about why the industry works in that space,” Par said.

“I’m behind the science that helps improve our ecosystems, decrease pesticide, improves water use efficiency and increase outputs. Talking with the industry and farmers provided me with information to take back to our consumers when they have questions.

“I’ve come back from Camp Cotton even more captivated in the Australian cotton fibre and I am excited about it being a major part of our fibre strategy moving forward.”

Par said using Australian cotton in his company’s raw materials was something he wanted to reignite and he revealed an upcoming spring/summer collection for 2023 that has a focus on Australian cotton in a “meaningful way”.

With so much information available, brands learned why Australia’s genetically modified crop produces a high-yield, pest resistant fibre that’s sourced across the globe.

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