Building a new cotton conscience together in China

C&A Foundation is committed to supporting the growth of the supply of organic cotton all over the world. For over two years we started working with farmers in India and the results have been impressive. Now, we also expand our reach in China.

China is one of the world's largest producers of cotton, second only to India. In 2015, Chinese farmers grew approximately five million metric tonnes of cotton, only around 13,000 of which were organic (source: Textile Exchange).

At the same time, our corporate partner C&A China has made a commitment to have 100 per cent of their cotton more sustainable by 2020. It's a bold ambition, but how to do that in a country where less than 0.2 per cent of cotton is organic? The answer: you create your own supply.

C&A Foundation and C&A China teamed up to work with conservation partner Rare, to sow seeds for a new organic cotton market in China.

The challenge

Selling organic cotton products in China is difficult. Organic cotton imported from other geographies cannot be labelled and sold as organic within China, so for brands to be able to label and sell cotton clothing as organic, the cotton has to be certified according to local standards.

Overcoming these barriers and bringing sustainable cotton products to Chinese consumers demands an end-to-end solution: making a solid business case for farmers to convert to organic cotton production, and creating consumer demand for sustainable products.

Building the supply of organic cotton in China

On the supply side, C&A Foundation is working with Rare to help farmers make the switch. In addition to teaching the principles and practices of organic farming, we are identifying opportunities for maximizing the return on investment for farmers and creating opportunities to bridge the initial costs of adoption. This includes examining the potential market for complementary crops and cotton by-products, like cottonseed oil. 

Farmers – especially smallholders - need this support because yields from organic production can be lower in the short term. Over time, however, organic really shows its value both economically - the input costs for farmers are lower and over time the crop yield increases - and environmentally -water retention of the soil increases and the crop is better able to withstand climatic pressures. Healthier soil and groundwater means greater biodiversity and better health for people and wildlife.

Through C&A Foundation's partnership with Rare, there are two organic cotton sites in China, including the Bomao Ecological Agriculture Farm in Wuhan. The initiative is starting small and yields from our sites have been modest to date. But, they have produced enough cotton for 20,000 pieces in C&A China's Summer 2016 collection, and plan to increase output by a factor of five for next year.

Creating a market for sustainable fashion

Without consumer demand, sustainable fashion has no future in China. So, to raise awareness and spark interest for sustainable products, C&A China launched its For the Planet range of sustainable T-shirts in June 2016. In-store, displays were supported by a PR campaign aimed at environmental, fashion and business journalists.

Early consumer reaction has been encouraging - 89 per cent of shoppers said For the Planet gave them a more positive view of C&A (Source:GlobeScan survey). 

There is a lot of work to do to get there but we are in a unique position to make it happen. C&A Foundation and C&A China together can tackle both the supply and demand challenges to expanding organic cotton in China. 

And with our conservation partners on board, we believe we can make a strong and convincing business and environmental case for sustainable fashion. We are taking the first steps to make organic an accessible and fashionable choice.