We just launched a new product and we’re extra excited about it. We’ve got t-shirts! There’s a charcoal gray ‘hell yeah’ design, and a light moss colored horseshoe design with the reminder you are braver and stronger than you think.
The designs and the colors are enough to be excited about but what gets us really pumped up is the collaboration with Solid State Clothing to make these t-shirts sustainably—all the way from the cotton grown in the ground, to the t-shirt you wear on your back.
Solid State products are, as they say themselves, ‘meticulously made, and radically transparent’, which is why we wanted to use their t-shirts. (You’d be surprised to learn that much of the cotton on the market isn’t always sourced in truly organic, sustainable ways.) Solid State flips the script on the cotton supply chain and pays the farmer up front for their cotton harvest. The cotton for our t-shirts was grown, ginned, spun, knitted, finished, cut, sewn, printed, and dyed all in the Carolinas! This initiative is called the 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Project.
We want to share this project with you so the founder of the 10k Cotton Project, Eric Henry took the time to answer some questions.
Can you tell me about the 10k Cotton Project?
The reason for the 10K cotton project is to meet the farmer in the field before the seed goes into the ground. Cotton farmers like most farmers have zero say in the price in which they get paid for what they grow, the market determines the price (this is known as commodity agriculture). Yet, the farmer is the most important person in the supply chain—without the men and women who plant and harvest cotton, there wouldn’t be a commodity, or a source to make the clothes we wear.
It doesn’t make sense that the most important person in our supply chain has zero say in what they get paid. We wanted to build a model that was different, both in the transparency and equity of the “dirt to shirt” supply chain.
It seems that the project is an attempt to change the supply chain, what is 'wrong' with the supply chain currently?
We want to connect the supply chain in a different, more transparent and equitable way. Everyone in our project knows everyone else: “from dirt to shirt” we’re all connected. The current supply chains do not give the cotton farmer any power over the price, and therefore no connection to the final product. Often manufacturers move out of the country to find cheaper prices, leaving American cotton farmers in the dust.
The 10k Cotton Project purchases cotton directly from farmers, before the cotton is harvested: the farmer knows they are getting a worthy price for their product, the confidence that it is already sold, and we at Solid State know exactly where the cotton is coming from, and how it is farmed. I believe this builds trust for improvement in both quality and systems. This develops a supply chain that is more connected and resilient. Lately we’ve learned how Covid has impacted global supply chains that are built around chasing the cheapest and usually most unsustainable labor. In that system, most people are losing.
Jenni Earle is partnering with the 10k project, what does that mean exactly, on your end? Our readers will see the product on our site, but what happens before, in the making of the t-shirt?
You can read about our step by step process, but—and this is even better—you can trace the very cotton in the Jenni Earle t-shirt you bought! (or any Solid State product). We developed the QR tracking label so the customer can connect directly to the cotton farmer or anyone along the supply chain that made the t-shirt. We want to be transparent with the customer, and prove that this type of “dirt to shirt” process works.
You decided to focus on cotton from the Carolinas. Can you talk more about that decision?
Mainly, I’m lucky to live in a place that has all the assets to make a cotton t-shirt while staying focused on Solid State’s “People and Planet” journey. After starting my business (TS Designs, which then founded Solid State Clothing) in 1978 while at NC State, I watched our business get destroyed by NAFTA in the ‘90s. We had 100 people working for us, and over a few years we had to let go of 80.
I realized that there was more to a business than just a bottom line. We had to do something differently, not just to keep the business afloat, but for the people involved in the industry.
Do you have a mantra, or phrase that you repeat to yourself when you are struggling? What is it?
I’ve got two , “Sustainability is a journey, not a destination” and “No one person has all the answers, the answers lie within your community.”