Natural Cotton

Revitalising European value chains

The Natural Cotton business case investigates ways in which TCBL can promote sustainable and eco-friendly choices in textile and clothing value chain by concentrating on the use of natural materials (cotton, silk, wool, …). Firstly, the case will exploit the increasing interest of consumers for eco-sustainable products, which is an existing market trend offering new business opportunities. In business terms, the Natural Cotton case aims to test and illustrate the advantage, for all those involved, of rebuilding traceable European value-chains producing and valorising these natural materials. Rebuilding these value-chains will not only valorise these raw materials but also save and exploit better the accumulated knowledge and know-how at each step of their transformation into final products, which is often a precious, but neglected, competitive advantage of EU producers. In macro-economic terms, success should increase the share of the added-value of EU origins in the final products sold in Europe.

Secondly, the Natural Cotton case seeks to revitalise these value-chains by renewing the way they operate. This can be achieved by identifying and promoting R&D results and technical innovations, transforming these raw materials using less resources (especially in water and energy) and producing innovative and better quality final products. These products will have a recognised market value for consumers, allowing a better remuneration of those involved in the production process.

This revitalisation will also be achieved through the building of more direct connexions between the producers, those using their products and the clients of their clients, Europewide, creating more personalised relationships and interactions, which themselves are expected to contribute to a better understanding of market demands by producers and the enrichment of the consumers’ knowledge of the value and origin of the products they purchase. 

A special issue of the TCBL_zine is under preparation for this business case. To access the Call for Papers for the issue on Natural Cotton, click here.

For further information on the Natural Cotton Business Case, contact Thanos Contargyris.

What's happened so far

The Natural Cotton case took shape from the impulse of an associate enterprise of TCBL involved in cotton ginning in Greece. It revealed the existence of cotton of EU origin to the TCBL community and promoted its quality. Next, a working group comprising associated TCBL enterprises mapped out all the steps of the value-chain using business software services available to TCBL members:

  • providing sustainable cotton seeds to cotton growers
  • assisting them in obtaining high quality (long fibres) cotton
  • certifying their production
  • ginning this cotton
  • spinning
  • knitting
  • designing and confectioning cotton clothes
  • selling them

This generated a number of collaborative proposals which were put to the working group. After careful consideration the group chose to work together to develop a collection of new products based on a fully traced production chain from the cotton grower to the final product with certified origin and quality of the cotton fibres used (Greek Certified Sustainable Extra-Long Fibres). This step has been implemented and this first collection was produced in June 2017.

This is the first time that the collaborating members of this business case have worked together and had direct contact with those involved in steps further than the immediate previous and next one. It's allowed us to identify new needs of knowledge sharing and new dynamics in working together. The first products of this cooperation have been produced and were on view at the TCBL #2017 Conference in Athens in June.

In parallel, the first steps have been taken to begin a similar case with silk. This will be developed through the cooperation of a Greek silk producer and a Slovenian artist and designer who wants to use the material to create a bespoke range of products.

Next steps

The initial group has been extended to include some new TCBL Associate Enterprises who became members in May 2017. It will extend the certification scheme, used in the initial stage for ginned cotton only, to cotton yarns or threads and assess how to deploy the results on a larger scale. It will continue its interactions on the Thela platform, where around 15 other TCBL associate members will be invited to join in and design additional experiments, the fruits of which will integrate products made from this certified, high-quality, sustainable cotton of EU origin in their production or their sales cycles. The specifications of these products will feed into the Sqetch service (linking fashion brands to clothing manufacturers) in order to find other companies or individuals, currently outside TCBL, involved in the natural cotton value chain. In turn, they will have the opportunity to join and develop new intermediary or final products based on certified high quality and sustainable cotton of EU origin, coming from Greece and Spain.

With the addition of some TCBL Associate Enterprises involved in Silk Value Chain rebuilding in Italy, a Greek-Italian-Slovenian working group is currently defining a similar cooperation. The products of this cooperation will be finalised during a Workshop planned in Soufli (GR) in June 2018.

Plans exist also to develop similar actions to rebuild (GR) or consolidate (IT, UK) wool and hemp (RO) value chains in some of the countries involved in TCBL.