The greenest t-shirt in the world is probably one you don't buy. But coming a close second has got to be a t-shirt made from locally harvested, sustainably grown cotton, processed locally and then sold locally—and created through a supply chain that utilizes renewable energy and supports about 700 good quality jobs in the local community.
Brian already explored how TS Designs' Cotton of the Carolinas program was going from "dirt to shirt in less than 700 miles", essentially trying to recreate an entire local apparel economy from cotton farming to ginning and dyeing to spinning in one State.
And it's been a success.
But there were significant question marks over whether the cotton could be grown without pesticides or fertilizers. Those questions are now beginning to be answered.
Just before the holidays, two farms in North Carolina harvested over 65 acres of healthy organic cotton despite many naysayers arguing that organic cotton farming in NC is just not viable:
In 2006, Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, and Brian Morrell, president of Mortex Apparel, met with experts in state agriculture. Their mission: to grow organic cotton in North Carolina. The response: it can’t be done.
Now, five years later and for the first time in recent memory, a usable volume of USDA-certified organic cotton is being harvested in North Carolina. Despite a myriad of challenges to growing organic cotton in the state, including weeds, pests and defoliation issues, two North Carolina farms – Hickory Meadows Organics and Parrish Enterprises – have grown 65 acres of healthy organic cotton that will be harvested by the end of the month.
From a solar tracking array through in-house bee hives to a biodiesel coop and square foot gardens for the staff, TS Designs has long been at the forefront of sustainable business thinking that goes way beyond how they make their product. But it's good to see that joined up thinking being pushed out into their community too. That's what real resilience looks like.
(Disclosure: My friend and business partner Jerry Stifelman has consulted with Cotton of the Carolinas on their branding.)