Organic Cotton: The Footprint Chronicles of Patagonia

Patagonia recently launched an incredible consumer innovation: their Footprint Chronicles. This dynamic application, which uses video, text and imagery, walks users through the step-by-step process of product development from field to storefront. The organic cotton polo shirt is one great example on their site,

Much to my surprise, Patagonia has been using organic cotton since 1996. More than a decade ago, Patagonia began pushing its suppliers to not only coming up with a 100% organic cotton shirt, but also ensure that workers were fairly paid with socially, environmentally friendly conditions (as evidenced in thier video series).

I encourage you to check out the fascinating application – The Footprint Chronicles, which is one of the first significant moves by a major apparel company to demonstrate near 100% transparency in production processes and environmental disclosure. Patagonia even invites customers to review their supply chain process and send comments or questions. For a company of the size of Patagonia to be doing this, I would have to conclude that they deserve a huge thumbs up. Their holistic and transparent approach to the business, from design all the way though distribution is remarkable.

In the case of the organic cotton polo shirt, Patagonia begins their process in Ventura CA with the designers. As evidenced by the unscripted and live video, this design group appears highly committed and passionate about creating a perfect product in all respects. Next, Patagonia sources the organic cotton fiber in Turkey.

Apparently, 10 years ago few places in the world grew organic cotton. Turkey was then and is today one of the main producers of organic cotton for Europe and Asia. Next, the fiber moves on to Bangkok Thailand, where the fibers are turned into yarn at Thai Alliance Textile. This company pioneered with Patagonia ten years ago in learning how to process organic cotton, and they are still in business today as one of Patagonia’s lead suppliers. Unfortunately, not much more of their business (clientele) has gone organic. But hopefully that will change soon!

After the yarn is spun, the yarn moves on to another company in Thailand, Siam Knitwear, at which point the yarn is spun into custom ordered fabric and then sewn into the items choice. All orders are custom orders and again, Patagonia has been a loyal customer of this company for what sounded like to be at least a decade. Both of these Thailand factories appear to be on the high end of production in Asia, paying their workers a very reasonable wage, with health care on site in some cases as well as other benefits. Check out the Siam Knitwear Video:

Finally, after the shirts are sewn, they are transported to Reno Nevada, where they are sorted for distribution.

One last interesting feature on this ‘Chronicles’ piece is that Patagonia tells you exactly how much CO2 emissions are released as a result of the entire production and dissolution process. In the case of the organic cotton Tee is nearly 27lbs (or 12kg).

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Leading an Examined Life

Environmentalism: Leading the Examined Life™

Footprint Chronicles

The Footprint Chronicles is an interactive mini-site that allows you to track the impact of five specific Patagonia products from design through delivery.
Caveat: These examinations are partial and preliminary. Each season we’ll examine a few new products. As we learn more, the picture will gain more focus through the haze. And the more we see, and then give some thought, the more bad practices we’ll be able to change with all the speed we can muster.

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