One Fellow’s quest to transform global clothing production.
In 2016, my business partner, Paul Cackett, and I were working to create a sustainable outdoor brand called ‘Hoox’: clothing and accessories that we hoped would reinvigorate fly fishing and promote awareness of good water stewardship in the process. As we set about researching supply chains and the broader fashion industry, we soon realised that ‘fast fashion’ was one of the worst offenders across many environmental and ethical areas, including water consumption and waste.
We learned that 27m tonnes of cotton are produced every year and that fashion is the second largest consumer of water in the world behind agriculture; it is predicted that the fashion industry will contribute 26% of the global carbon budget by 2050. To grow the cotton needed for just one T-shirt takes 3,250 litres of water, the equivalent of three years of drinking water for one person; growing the cotton for one pair of jeans takes 8,183 litres. Over 65% of clothing ends up in landfill.
Considering the many other concerns related to global clothing production (soil degradation, pesticides, biodiversity, pollution, human rights abuses), it all adds up to an industry in a mess.
Paul and I decided to switch gears and 18 months ago, along with co-founder Lindsay Page, we began to look at how environmental agriculture technology might be adapted, particularly through vertical farming, to address the issues created by in-field farming. At Calyx Cotton, we have set out to create the blueprint for growing 100% sustainable cotton, with transparent supply chain data.
Through our recent rounds of research, we have been able to demonstrate that our methodology requires only 9% of the space needed for standard agricultural practice and only 7% of the water used in-field (including organic farming). What’s more, it requires zero pesticides (and has zero impact on biodiversity) with just 27% of the nutrient requirements of in-field agriculture and faster growing through all phases.
We are currently working with research teams in the UK and Belgium to optimise our results, find the most suitable cotton variant and understand the commercial data behind it all. Ultimately, the goal is to locate Calyx Cotton facilities next to garment mills around the world, thus addressing the supply chain carbon footprint by removing the need for shipping.
There is a huge opportunity here in the UK to be part of the revitalisation of the textile industry and the move towards ‘slow/quiet fashion’ and to support those fashion brands championing the need to address sustainability in the industry.
Above image: Cotton variants are grown under differing conditions in the Calyx lab to find optimal output for the plants.
Cristyn Bevan is a branding and advertising industry consultant and a founder of Calyx Cotton. To learn more, please contact: [email protected]
This article first appeared in RSA Journal Issue 3 2023.
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