As readers of our journal, many of you have read about our attempts to grow organic cotton here in Alabama. While researching the process and details of what it means to grow organic cotton, we discovered, to our surprise, that only a small amount of the world’s organic cotton is grown in the United States. We are part of an effort to change that, as are other companies, like Zkano. We must ask the questions – What makes cotton organic? Who makes the rules? And who regulates the whole system?
A food or agricultural product can be labeled as organic, meaning that it was inspected and met the USDA’s established regulations for organic products. Organic products cannot be grown using chemical fertilizers or any type of genetic engineering, among other criteria. The National Organic Program (NOP) oversees all organic crops, including raw cotton fibers. While food crops and products must meet very rigid requirements to be labeled as organic, the same does not hold true for fibers or the products made with those fibers. While the NOP makes rules and manages the process of certifying cotton fiber as organic, it doesn’t make any rules about what happens to the fiber after it has been harvested.
Almost a year after we planted our cotton seed in the ground, we would like to share another update about our special crop. We are certain many of you – especially those who helped in the field – will be interested in its progress.
Natural dyes have been used for thousands of years by nearly every civilization; however, these days most natural versions have largely been replaced by synthetics. With consumers today demanding to know more about what they wear and where it comes from, there is a resurgence of people who are learning and practicing the art of natural dyeing.
I’ve heard Lubbock called the cotton capital of the United States, if not the world, by a handful of people in the industry. Flying into Lubbock, I saw farmland that continued as far as the eye could see. Once I landed, those fields became stretches of white that reached out to the horizon.
Today, thanks to Kelly Pepper and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, I visit these fields first-hand, along with a cotton breeding facility and test nurseries. For the first time, I will meet some of the farmers who grow our organic cotton face-to-face.
I’ll have a glimpse of the hard work that (as we have learned first-hand) goes into cotton’s growth and development. I will walk through the entire process, from the field to the gins and the warehouses where it is cleaned and stored, before it travels east to the Carolinas to be spun, knit, dyed, and finally sent to our factory in Florence.
I will listen and watch and then take this information back to Alabama so we can improve our field for next year’s crop. (Yes. Next year.)
All of us at Alabama Chanin are so grateful to Kelly Pepper and the entire Texas cooperative for paving the way for the future of Alabama organic cotton.
We can’t thank everyone enough for coming out to the field on Saturday to help pick (and celebrate) our organic cotton. The skies were blue; the fields were alive with eager hands; we were standing in high cotton.
Thank you to Katherine at Eggton for this beautiful film about our day.
Tomorrow, we will meet at the cotton field with friends, colleagues, family, and community to harvest our cotton. This harvest marks an exciting moment for us in our efforts to grow a sustainable and chemical-free crop.
We intended this project as our “test field”. It has allowed us to learn more about the beautiful white fiber, the hardships of farming, and the difference organic makes. Uncertain of whether or not the Alabama soil and climate would be suitable for our cottonseed varieties, the bolls are evidence of a successful yield. We are currently waiting for staple length test results to see if the fibers can be spun into yarn, which will then be knit into jersey fabric. Continue reading →
This week our Alabama Chanin fitted dress was included (ON SALE!) for the Chris Brown curated Made Collection titled “EXPLORE AMERICA.” If you aren’t yet familiar with the Made collection, it is worth the time to create an account and browse their site. The company, started by Dave Schiff, Scott Prindle, and John Kieselhorst is a self-titled “movement” with an amazing mission.
The company and their simple (fantastic) idea was recently covered by the New York Times:
“The old ‘Buy American’ is get something lousy and pay more,” said Mr. Schiff, 45. Now “it’s a premium product.” All of this touches on what brand changers Partners & Spade called the “Rebranding of America.” Alex Williams in the New York Times writes: “Style bloggers were among the early adopters. “ ‘Made in U.S.A.’ has gone through a rebranding of sorts,” said Michael Williams, whose popular men’s style blog, A Continuous Lean, has become an online clubhouse for devotees of American-made heritage labels like Red Wing Shoes and Filson.”
More and more volunteers continue to visit the field. Bolls are opening by the day. In addition to weeding, we’ve begun harvesting the cotton. In the studio, we are preparing for the quickly approaching Picking Party (and field work day). Look for details soon.
I took a trip out last weekend with my daughter Maggie, my friends the Champagnes and their four kids. In just a couple of hours of laughing, talking, and picking we had a pile that amounted to almost 70 pounds and the funny thing was… it was FUN. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is fun for those of us who know we can leave in a few hours, sit down for breaks as we feel like it, and laugh with our kids while working. There have been times in this county when “cotton work” was very different and we wanted our children to know and understand that. So, the few hours were filled with looking for bugs, talk of seeds and pods, and the life of farming. The kids were amazed to see how much cotton comes from each little boll. Our eight year old friend Joe kept saying, “Look how much was on this one!” and holding up his harvest proudly.