Cotton grower untangling the supply chain

Miles cotton grower delves into cotton supply chain in Nuffield report

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A Miles cotton grower has learnt more about the journey from field to fashion and come up with ideas on how the industry can move forward.

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Tamara Uebergang on the farm, having finished this years pick.

Tamara Uebergang on the farm, having finished this years pick.

For Miles cotton grower and 2019 Nuffield Scholar Tamara Uebergang, travelling the world to understand fashion's global supply chain was an eye-opening opportunity.

Ms Uebergang believes there are opportunities for the Australian cotton industry to capture added value as the world becomes more focused on sustainable fashion.

Her recommendations in her recently released Nuffield Australia report include recognising all Australian cotton under the Better Cotton Initiative and the need for local manufacturing to create a single origin yarn.

Ms Uebergang said while the Better Cotton Initiative had its detractors, it could make sustainable fashion affordable and accessible to consumers.

"Having more growers BMP certified and able to access Better Cotton Initiative credits will help us on our journey," she said.

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For Australian cotton to be known and valued as an 'identity fibre', Ms Uebergang said traceability technology, certification and consumer education are key.

Ms Uebergang also suggests more work needs to be done to sell the Australian cotton sector as world leading, to recycle textile waste at cotton gins, and to account for the industry's carbon footprint.

On a social responsibility level, Ms Uebergang suggests that an industry-wide pledge renouncing modern slavery and highlighting safe work practices might go a long way in showing a commitment to human rights.

With her family, Ms Uebergang grows cotton, cereals and pulses on their property Berwyndale at Miles.

Travelling to South America, Asia, Europe, North America and New Zealand and Europe opened her eyes to the level of complexity in the supply chain.

Tamara Uebergang at a Brazil cotton mill.

Tamara Uebergang at a Brazil cotton mill.

"Before my travels, I considered myself a bulk commodity producer and didn't have a strong connection to consumers," Ms Uebergang said.

"But in the past few years, I've realised that we are at the very beginning of the complex and, at times, obscure supply chain.

"Initially it was very saddening to realise how little people cared about the raw material and the environment but upon reflection a lot of the fibres that are fast fashion are synthetic fibres.

"Synthetics will really be the ones that take the biggest hit in the slowing of fast fashion. As people become more aware and are happier to keep garments for longer, that's the great opportunity for cotton."

In her report, Ms Uebergang said the demand for sustainable fashion is growing and Australian cotton is well-placed to take advantage of this trend.

"Traditionally, an Australian cotton grower's customer is a spinning mill buying raw lint as a bulk commodity," she said.

"The advent of a discerning customer and technology to trace raw materials to the source is changing this. Being that Australian cotton has already done the heavy lifting regarding water, pesticide and energy use, the industry is well placed to align with a conscious customer."

Ms Uebergang said sustainability was identified as a trend in the fashion world and that fashion brands sometimes use it as an advertising tactic, rather than having a genuine commitment to provenance.

"For us, sustainability isn't a trend. It's not a luxury or a premium, it's a baseline," she said.

"Probably both parties need to realise that sustainability shouldn't be equated with luxury, sustainability should be something that we all think about all the time.

"Transparency is something we should be working towards and it's something consumers will be able to ask for more and more."

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