Cotton is one of the most commonly used natural fibres in the world with more than 25 million tonnes produced every year in over 80 countries, accounting for almost half the fibres used to make clothing and other textiles. While global cotton farming supports approximately 250 million people’s livelihood in the production stages alone, it’s important to acknowledge that the industry consumes a lot of water at the same time.

In fact, it’s estimated that the textile industry uses 378 billion litres of water annually, mostly for cotton production, and that it takes 2,000 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make just one t-shirt or pair of jeans. So, what are we doing about it? The Cotton On Group uses thousands of tonnes of cotton each year and we believe there is enormous opportunity for us to make a positive difference to people’s lives and the environment through more sustainable cotton farming practices.

As a business, we’ve set ourselves a goal to have 100 per cent sustainable cotton through our supply chain by 2021 and we’re on track to achieve this goal through our partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative and through our own unique sustainable cotton growing program in Kenya.

Kenya Cotton

In partnership with Business for Development, Base Titanium and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we launched our very first sustainable cotton program; Kenya Cotton in Kwale County, Kenya. Kwale is located on the south coast of Kenya and is a region which experiences low agricultural yields due to insufficient training in sustainable farming techniques and poor soil management. In addition, the local community suffers from limited access to formal education, low household incomes (less than US$1 per day) and rising food prices.

Since the program began in 2014, we’ve work closely with farmers in Kwale to help them transition from subsistence farming to more sustainable cotton farming practices. During the first year of the Kenya Cotton program, the Group worked with 144 local farmers by funding the training and setup of each farm and we committed to purchasing 100 per cent of the cotton lint, which is of a premium grade. In 2018, the program involved over 2,500 farmers which saw roughly 1,600 tonnes of raw cotton harvested and assisted many of those farmers in doubling their income since joining.

Excitingly, the Kenya Cotton Program has re-established the Kenya Government’s faith in cotton farming as a significant driver of both employment and economic growth, so much so that the Kenya Government will soon replicate the model across the country.

Further recognition for the program came as the Group was named with the 2019 Responsible Retailer Initiative of the Year at the May 2019 World Retail Congress Awards.

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

In July 2016, we proudly became one of the first Australian retailers to join the Better Cotton Initiative. BCI is a not-for-profit organisation stewarding the global standards for Better Cotton, and bringing together cotton’s complex supply chain, from the farmers to the retailers. BCI works with a diverse range of stakeholders to promote measureable and ongoing improvements to social, environmental and economic issues in cotton-farming communities in 21 countries around the world.

By 2020, BCI aims to have five million farmers involved in the initiative – producing 8.2 million metric tonnes of sustainable cotton which is 30 per cent of the global cotton production. Through our partnership with BCI, we’re already sourcing enough Better Cotton to make over 2 million products across our brand portfolio.

For more information on BCI, please visit: