Using Traceability To Drive Business

Cone Denim, in business since 1891, is using Oritain’s technology to verify the origin of its cotton.

Cone Denim President Steve Maggard discusses sustainability and traceability one year after the company partnered with Oritain.

TW Special Report

While the fashion and textile industries have made large strides within the realm of sustainability and supply chain traceability, there is still much progress to be made. From social responsibility to environmental and animal welfare, the many permutations of sustainability can provide as much confusion as they do clarity and direction. Regardless of where or how a company decides to act first, transparency and traceability are key. Transparency is essential as a measure of success. By opening up the operational processes, supply chain components and goals to the public, companies provide opportunities for feedback and review. They also help other brands and consumers see the process and understand that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. It is vital to pave the way and encourage others to be transparent as well, which also helps eliminate the accusation of inaction and concerns of greenwashing.

Our Reliance On Transparency Is Only As Good As Our Traceability

The ability to verify the origin of finished products and raw materials helps to verify measures of success on a company’s journey towards sustainability. Many companies have ethical sourcing policies in place to ensure responsible sourcing — environmental and manufacturing policies to protect worker rights and welfare and animal welfare guidelines that prohibit mistreatment — but until it can be verified that products or raw materials have come from locations that meet these requirements, it is very difficult to drive any level of sustained change. Traceability is, therefore, vital to accountability and, ultimately, long term change.

A key partner with New Zealand-based Oritain in the apparel and textile industry is Cone Denim, the Greensboro, N.C.-based iconic supplier of denim since 1891 with a rich history of sustainability and innovation. In 2020, Cone expanded upon its social responsibility practices by becoming the first denim mill in the world to use forensic science to verify the origin of the cotton used in its denim.

This partnership allows Cone to provide the utmost transparency to its customers and as a result, has strengthened the level of trust between Cone Denim and the brands it works with. “Our partnership with Oritain has been a significant success and was absolutely the right direction for Cone,” President Steve Maggard said, reflecting upon the company’s year in partnership with Oritain. “Being able to verify the growth origin of the cotton Cone uses and prove that our claims are valid was a major advantage for Cone and the brands and customers we service, ultimately driving a stronger more creditable business. However, the trust wasn’t solely business to business — Cone witnessed an increase in customers who were intrigued by the new technology and its benefits.

The Key To The Technology Is Oritain’s Scientific Traceability

Oritain works alongside Mother Nature, analyzing the unique elements that materials absorb from their environment. Everything that is grown, reared, or made, absorbs a unique ratio of these elements. Some environments are naturally high in elements, some are low. Some have lots of one type of nutrient and not so much of others and vice versa. This is what Oritain measures, using world leading forensic science and statistical models to analyze the data and create an “Origin Fingerprint” for each product.

Steve Maggard cited the accuracy of this technology as a key selling point. “We are very pleased to be able to provide scientific certainty of our commitment to responsible sourcing,” Maggard said. “The fact that Oritain’s unique process provides documentable transparency that is admissible in a court of law and passes the Daubert standard truly strengthens both our ethical and sustainable sourcing claims. This has allowed us to assure our customers that Cone Denim products do not contain any cotton from prohibited regions, offering an elevated level of confidence and peace of mind.”

And, because eliminating forced labor in the supply chain is a huge priority for the fashion industry, knowing that something does not come from a particular region is just as important as knowing where it does come from.

The move to more sustainable and transparent supply chains is undoubtedly gaining traction. The motivation is there, as well as the industry action. However, what’s been lacking until now is the ability for brands to measure their progress towards more sustainable and responsible practice, and pass on this progress to their consumers — improving their desirability as partners and consumer-facing brands, as well as helping to mitigate risk. Maggard was excited to work with Oritain because of this technological ability that sets them apart. He sees this type of origin verification testing and transparency being “industry standard inside of 5 years” and a mere requirement of doing business nowadays. “Cone Denim is very pleased with our decision to work with Oritain and would do it again in a moment,” Maggard said.

With Cone Denim now entering into the second year of its partnership with Oritain, the company is in a great position to tackle the future of the textile industry, and it is continuously working to continue leading sustainable practice into every part of its supply chain.

March/April 2022