Transformers Talk – Kingpins Show, CRCL, Amsterdam October 2018

Danielle Statham’s speech on Fibretrace: the start of Good Earth Cotton.
23 Oct 2018

Without you even realising it is highly probable I have supplied you a magnitude of cotton for millions of sku’s. So great to finally meet you all! When Andrew said to me he wanted to include the Fibretrace technology at transformers he said he felt the compelling part of my story was the human touch. Thank you to the Kingpins team for asking me to share the evolution of my childhood desire to work somewhere within the fashion world, finding love in a cotton farmer, some disenchanted dreams and the realisation of the passion to trace my own grown raw cotton to be something bigger for the environment and future generations.

So, imagine if clothes and eco systems fell in love and what if they procreated threads of responsible innovation. For as long as I recall that deep passion many of you hold for design & branding has also been my lifeblood. The desire to create something and the storytelling that goes with it at times would be overwhelming, but, I want stories that tell the truth! Unfortunately supply chains are conventionally held secret and vague accusations are often misworded to misinform. The raw fibre of cotton is no exception to this.

Where we are not misinformed in knowing that cotton is one of the world’s most important natural fibres and is used by nearly everyone on earth every single day. So where does it come from and how does the production and process affect us? It is any wonder that a recent study revealed 79% of Americans are concerned where their purchase comes from. My personal attachment to this frustration has lingered for some 20 years. My husband David and I own 65,000 acres of rich fertile black alluvial soil that grows food and fibre crops, mostly cotton. With you knowing this, I’d like you to put yourself in this space…

I own the farm, I plant the cotton, I grow the cotton, I harvest the cotton, I transport the cotton to the gin I own, and I control the logistics all the way to the ship for export. 72,000 bales of pure perfect white, uncontaminated, high quality bales of cotton! The dreamer in me had a vision of turning these pristine bales or part thereof into my own label.

Closing the loop was impossible!

The questions began in my head, the inability to solve this part of the supply chain was so disenchanting to my dream, and it would keep me awake at night!

The disparity and gap beyond the farm gate was enormous. When I read 71% of people are concerned they are not being told the truth of the whole supply chain I am not surprised. The cotton industry has ‘perhaps’ done a poor job educating brands and end users of the remarkable and sustainably responsible advancements in their industry. How innovation, technology, water stewardship & chemical reduction are always at the forefront of research and strategy. This is a dynamic agricultural industry with smart thinkers, but also a generation of doers rather than self-promoters.

As one of the most requested fibres in the world, as growers I feel we need to embrace and encourage a new thinking generation. Millennials and their predecessors who have the core values of recognising the daily environmental footprint are critical to succession planning and the need to project this message more clearly. Our industry succession plan is Generation We. I’m sure you all work with one or two, own one or two or are related to one or two. And you would know they keep you on your toes. I have raised 4 of them – 4 boys. Max -AG, Wilson – AG, Joh – AG & Danny – AG – AG( AFTER GOOGLE.. All born after 96)

Gen We….AG’s ……Gen Z…….The connected ones…… call them what you wish, they account for over 40% of the worlds population. It would be fair to assume I am immersed by their world AND equally fascinated. These disruptors are raised on a diet of immediacy and constant connection. They are altruistic, have high expectations and command loyalty. They have been raised to learn in teams and work for the collective. They are empathetic and fight for fairness of all facets. The majority of Gen we (76% in fact) are concerned about human impact on the planet.

So being personally engaged in this generation and as raw material producers we have been enlightened to focus our production on planet accountability. This shift in society has led us to deconstruct the idea of conventional farming. Mother earth sets the boundaries and how we apply innovation and cutting – edge science helps us manage our impact. Balancing the needs of the fashion society and the environment sits with us knowing cotton innovation must bedriven by the raw supplier. This is a responsibility our company has taken very seriously for years. With constant research, trials and innovation development our progression and water use efficiency has given us a saving of 54% in the past 7 years.

Part credit can go to automated irrigation triggered by soil moisture probes. Essentially allowing the plant to have a voice through technology to say it is, in need of water! Eliminating guess work and unnecessary water use. The intelligent spot spray system ‘weed it’ has reduced our chemical use by 85%. This smart technology scans the soil for unwanted plant life and with pinpointed accuracy directs spray only to the unwanted weed.

Our soil nutrients and land conservation is extensive. Our responsible energy and innovation vision started some years back with working towards being a smart farm. Investing heavily to become the first large scale cotton farm to be off the gridin 3 – 5 years. Water storages will be fully converted to floating solar farms. Our desire for solar pump sites, electric cars, electric tractors, solar driven homes and office facilities is only a matter of years away.

We want to be the innovation hub, a research facility to educate, stimulate and activate the way forward for the future of sustainable farming. It is alarming when we hear a very small amount of the world’s cotton hails from environmentally & social beneficial sources.

We want to be able to invite the world to be educated. We are in the final stages of plans to convert existing unused buildings and upcycling existing infrastructure into education facilities, including a 500-seat lecture theatre. We hope to collaborate with schools, agricultural universities, fashion colleges and the community and bring the farming world closer to the textile and fashion world through the next generation
with our innovation hub and smart farm at their disposable access.

With all of this…. my dream of using 100% my own cotton is still not answered, and that desire to have an answer developed into a passionate journey. It also became clear that the sustainability journey we have taken also needed to be told.

Our plans are grand. No more grand than being able to fulfil brand and supply chain pledges and the ability to truthfully source and use “hand on heart” sustainable cotton. We have a plethora of certifications, authentications, accreditations & declarations to suffice perhaps for the short term the customer. But are we being truly authentic in our statement to our highly connected customers or are we still in the vapour stage of providing answers.

Greenpeace are quoted “corporations are falling all over themselves to demonstrate they are environmentally conscious. The average citizen is finding it more difficult to tell the difference between these companies genuinely dedicated to making a difference and those that are using a green curtain to conceal dark motives.” I say this: any brand or corporation who is not prepared to put their money where their mouth is not truly committed to the honour of cause!

How is your risk mitigation really stacking up? I pondered the available options on how could I trace my cotton, how could the genuine in this industry be fully transparent? I believed for me the answer would be opening my own spinning mill next to our Gin facility, become vertically integrated. Soon after I realised this would never stack up economically in my country and holes in my argument still presented.

I entered the headspace of my offspring Gen We and started to google sentences like, ” how I could reliably trace cotton.” After trudging through very few options I realised I could monitor data through RFID/ bale tag tracking I could build a strong relationship with my supply chain. Organise my own individual random fabric testing and hope my data input was honest and email filing really superior and disciplined. There are Blockchain methods. I still felt I needed to rely on a physical link between the cotton and the data input. Trust is still huge, how do I verify throughout the chain the ledger truly reflects the physical and there has not been a swap out or accidental confusion?

I visited Stoneybrook University when I became excited to see I could use a DNA spray in my gin. The scalability and speed to market and the testing of every step along the supply chain was far to forensic. I also held questions over the rigour of the spray surviving the manufacturing and fabric process. Soil data and proof of isotope origin was also just not enough. This would be difficult with varieties of fibres or cross- pollination. Bale lay down blending in spinning mills was a major concern and I identified Quantification as a very large loophole.

Of course we are a BCI farm. BCI are offering ideas of bale and data tracking. Yes, you bought the credit but can I guarantee my BCI cotton on your skin today is actually BCI cotton or is it the “credit cotton” that may not be from a BCI farm? So far BCI has been the answer, so far it has raised awareness for the cause, but is this mass balance system the answer going forward. I don’t think so.

I was now on a mission and this was no longer self-obsessed; this was what I saw as a massive compliance issue to the fashion industry. In particular, when I was reading day after day, month after month, that yet another label has signed a pledge to source 100% sustainable cotton or traceable cotton by years not to far away.

I decided not to mess about and I wrote the CEO of The International Cotton Association, the arbitral authority of the cotton industry world wide to ask this exact question. The response I received some 24hrs later was the awakening of the nightmare of roadblocks during my search.

The information received in my inbox that day was like the golden ticket. This day I will never forget. The relief and stirring intuition I had when the response came for me to make contact with a scientist who had been working in paper security. He had proven a concept to add a traceable cellulose fibre to a cotton bale with success through to a dyed fabric. His trials had been conducted with a research branch of the cotton industry authority –(The Bemman Fibre institute). This insight took me the closest I had ever been to fully realise my vision.

Today we own this tracing technology; a company called FibreMark solutions and our product is Fibretrace. We are continuing to develop and evolve this company to be a total supply chain solution. Together with our world leading and game changing business partner Sai-tex international we have conducted large scale trials and have proven significant success and as we anticipated the reaction throughout the supply chain is remarkable.

What is FibreTrace and how does it work? Our SmartFibres are the key ingredient.
A combination of cellulose fibres and valuable earth minerals we call signatures are blended. When the cellulose is turned into a sliver it is then fed into the cotton gin stand. This is done with precision timing on a draw frame to blow evenly and in minute quantities, less than 1⁄2 a percent in fact. We are providing identification, verification & quantification.

My bale is now marked evenly and consistently. Sounds too good to be true? Well it’s not so stay with me. Our cellulose SmartFibres are read with wavelengths of light. The adaptable handheld reader proves this in real time, with immediate results, anytime , anywhere at any stage throughout the supply chain. The SmartFibres can NEVER be removed or tampered with. They can withstand 1000 degrees of heat, in fact they can still be read as ash!

They will take up dye and perform no different nor present a bale of cotton in any other way than its traditionally known format. They spin perfectly into yarn and the formation of fabric as so desired. The strength of the fibretrace technology is emphasised by the lock and key of our technology platform.

The reader which participates with the SmartFibres will enable vital supply chain information to upload to the cloud or independent server, capturing real time data which can be tailored to suit each brands needs, manufacturers wants or individual requirements. Not only will this provide transparent, immutable and irrefutable evidence to your claims of authenticity but provide results of authentic big data. No more spreadsheets, compliance issues or extensive email trails.

So patriotism and a journey to provide a great marketing story of being able to design from my own homegrown cotton 15 -20 years ago has taken another road. The journey of Transparency for me alone has by default fallen to a category of importance for the future of fashion, and the future driven by a new generation as I highlighted earlier.

This journey has the added dimension of social consciousness. I truly believe FibreTrace can define traceability and provide a backbone for brands and give the responsible supply chain the acknowledgment they deserve and the truth the customer is asking. Trust was playing such a major role in my dream and it still does. I now just have the power of knowing who I can trust. We believe FibreTrace will empower brands and the supply chain.

So the question remains, what do we actually mean when we use the word traceability? As I drilled down into our go to market strategy, the main question I asked myself was, what is the problem we are trying to solve?

My self-assured answer was, what is your problem in the supply chain that you need Fibretrace to solve?

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