According to Wikipedia, supply chain is defined as “a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer.” At Alabama Chanin we strive to responsibly produce quality, sustainable products—at every level of the supply chain. We believe that responsibility means transparency and understanding where each material comes from and whose hands it touches before it arrives to the end consumer. For over a decade, we have worked tirelessly to secure a supply chain that is, as much as is humanly possible, Made in the USA.
With events like the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, consumers are asking questions about how and where their clothes are made. We’ve noticed an increase in emails, phone calls, and questions about our 100% organic cotton jersey fabric—and we welcome those questions. In response, we have compiled all the information here. Each time we take a closer look into our supply chain, we discover something new. This is the projected course of our supply chain in the best case scenario, which is often altered by Mother Nature. Unfortunately, there are always circumstances out of our control, so we share this information with that in mind. As of 2016, this is every step of the supply chain for our medium-weight cotton jersey—from Texas, to the Carolinas, to Alabama.
STEP 1: THE FARMERS
The door to the US organic cotton farming world was opened to us by a group of people, who on their own have great bragging rights in the world of sustainability: Lynda Grose, Jill Dumain of Patagonia, and through their assistance, Kelly Pepper of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC) in Lubbock, Texas. This co-op has around 40 producer members, with about 150 employees, who plant 15-19,000 acres of organic and transitional cotton each year. In recent years, these acres have produced anywhere from 6,000- 15,000 bales of cotton—roughly 80 – 90% of all organic cotton grown in the US. Incredibly, each single bale of cotton produced within the co-op is tracked from the field to the customer. As a consumer, we have the ability to know our cotton producer’s name and the farm from which each bale was purchased.
And while all of our medium-weight organic cotton jersey comes from cotton grown in Lubbock, the same is not true for our lightweight organic cotton jersey. Since NAFTA was put into effect, the United States has lost many small spinning operations. As a result, there is currently no domestic capability to spin the fine yarns required to make lightweight cotton jersey. Because this cotton cannot be spun in the United States, it is therefore organically grown and spun overseas, and then sent to the United States where it is knit, dyed, washed, cut, and made into garments.
STEP 2: GINNING
Once our U.S. organic cotton is picked, it is ginned in about seven different cotton gins within the state of Texas. These gins employ about 70 people total. The ginning process cleans the cotton, removing dirt, burs, stems, and leaves that adhere to the fiber. Then the cotton fibers are pulled from the seeds.
After being ginned, our cotton is shipped to warehouses associated with TOCMC. These three warehouses, employing roughly 45 people, prepare our ginned cotton for shipping.
STEP 3: SPINNING
Once the cotton fiber is clean and prepared, it is sent to be spun into yarn. Over the years, our cotton has traveled to Parkdale Mills and Hill Spinning Mill, both in North Carolina. Parkdale has 25 plants and 2,300 total employees, and Hill has 29 total employees, most of whom have been with the company for 20 to 30 years. While they are not certified facilities, they do produce to Global Organic Textile Standards. (Oftentimes, companies choose not to be certified due to high costs.)
While researching this post, we learned of the possibility that a small run of our future fabric might be made from a blend of Texas and New Mexico organic cotton (this is not officially confirmed yet). The New Mexico cotton is grown by friend and pioneer in the organic fiber world, Sally Fox.
STEP 4: KNITTING
From the spinner, our cotton moves to Green Textile in South Carolina, a fourth-generation, family-owned and operated company that employs 25 people. Here our fiber is knit into jersey fabric.
STEP 5: DYEING
Once the cotton has become fabric it is dyed at Green Textile in South Carolina, using low impact, cold process, environmentally friendly dyes. We are also working with Stony Creek Colors in Tennessee to produce naturally dyed light and dark indigo fabrics. Once the fabric is dyed, it is shipped to us, where we use it to create our Alabama Chanin products.
The process of moving organic cotton from seed to fabric is intricate. In our case, it touches so many hands before it reaches The Factory. In addition to the 32 part- and full-time employees at our Factory (including our store + café, production, design, media, education and workshops teams, and Building 14 machine manufacturing), we work with 22 artisans in the surrounding communities in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee. Each of these people must work seamlessly with the next in order for our fabric to be cut and painted in our studio, then either hand sewn by our artisans or machine sewn in Building 14 before it arrives to you. The many hands that handle our cotton and help us create sustainable products Made in the USA—part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.