Going local has been the buzz in food for a while. And as someone who loves going out to nearby farms and picking my own fruit or to spend a Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, I find myself buying more local food too. But with clothing? Its a lot different than the food discussion. People are wanting less processed foods, they want it in the state it comes off the plant & they’d like to eat it ASAP (which is CRITICAL with some foods like sweet corn if you ask me), but cotton isn’t in a ready to consume state (unless you want to hand gin it, do all the combing, spinning, dyeing, weaving, etc and I’ve met a few people who do that to come up with incredible textiles but the time that takes & the costs if not for yourself is truly amazing).
The US textile business used to have us a fairly local business with small textile mills in many, perhaps even most of the states where cotton is grown. But in the past 15 years, international competition (particularly from China) and consumers desire to buy nearly disposably cheap clothes has put most of the US textile industry out of business or at least encouraged them to relocate to areas of the world where they could produce on an economic scale that makes them competitive at the cash register.
But there are a few people in the Cotton Belt who are looking to change how we look at clothes and a recent article from CNN tells us about a concept under development in North Carolina. And the return of acres to cotton from grain may just provide additional fiber that can be used locally. An excerpt of the article follows:
One company hoping to take advantage of this abundance of cotton is TS Designs, a small T-shirt printing company in Burlington. In manufacturing quality T-shirts within the state, TS Designs aims to preserve environmental resources and restore part of the crippled North Carolina textile industry in the process.
Regional farmers and manufacturers have banded together to form Cotton of the Carolinas, a collaboration aimed at promoting the use of locally grown cotton.
“The genesis of Cotton of the Carolinas was this idea that the growing of cotton here in the United States and then exporting that to far-ranging regions of the world, in the long run, just didn’t make sense,” says Sam Moore, an adviser to TS Designs.
Moore, along with friend and TS Designs President Eric Henry, made the decision to manufacture T-shirts from cotton grown, ginned, spun, knit, finished, cut, sewn, printed and dyed all within the state’s borders.
“The transportation distance of a conventional T-shirt that you buy in a big box store can vary drastically. If China is involved, then you’re talking, as the crow flies, at least 17,000 miles,” says Eric Michel, the company’s vice president of operations.
“Our shirts go from dirt to shirt in less than 700 miles. That’s actually including roads and not as the bird flies.”
TS Designs has three main objectives for Cotton of the Carolinas: to reduce the transportation footprint, to support jobs in North Carolina and to have a transparent supply chain. “We can build an entire supply chain here in North Carolina,” Michel says.
TS Design’s first step in achieving these goals was to call Ronnie Burleson. (HundredPercentCotton note — photo above is from a subsequent visit to Ronnie’s farm.)
“They wanted to convince us that this was a good thing and (that we should) be a part of it. I said, ‘Sure,’ ” Burleson recalls. “If I can support my neighbor and they can support me, then I think that’s a good thing for all of us.”