Women cotton industry leaders are leading the charge for a more sustainable industry

From paddock to catwalk, women are disrupting Australia’s cotton industry with a focus on sustainability and productivity.

Australia is a small global player in cotton, but it is one of the largest exporters of raw cotton in the world, with a reputation for innovation.

Today, more and more women are emerging as future industry leaders, with growers, researchers and fashion designers coming together to improve the industry.

From the farm to the fashion world

Emma Bond, a fashion designer from Ormeau in the Gold Coast hinterland and founder of fashion brand Madi and Pip, was recently selected to take part in the Australian Future Cotton Leaders 2022 scheme.

Ms. Bond explores the use of cotton in the fashion industry, particularly in terms of sustainability compared to other fibres.

Emma Bond explores how cotton compares in terms of sustainability.(Provided: Emma Bond)

“I really want to showcase Australian cotton as a renewable resource for fashion design,” she says.

“I think people naturally want to do the right thing. We all want to wear clothes that we love and that are made from sustainable fibers.”

As well as exploring the sustainability of cotton in fashion design, Ms. Bond has an ongoing interest in how cotton can be used when designing clothing for people with disabilities.

“You know a lot of Australians live with a disability and a lot of fashion doesn’t accommodate that,” she says.

“So I wanted to design fashion that was actually functional, that looked amazing, that was actually durable, washable and comfortable, easy to put on, easy to take off.

“And the best fiber for that is cotton.”

Ms Bond says she was inspired to become a “future leader” after growing up on a cotton farm.

Improve planting practices

But sustainability has to start on the farm according to cotton farmer Biloela Kim Stevens, who studies how farmers can improve planting practices.

Kim Stevens stands next to her husband, both holding their young daughters, with trees and fields visible in the background.
Kim Stevens, a cotton and grain farmer, is leading the charge towards an improved cotton industry.(Provided: Kim Stevens)

“I want to explore how growers can run more profitable and efficient businesses, while maintaining environmental, economic and social value,” she says.

“[I’m looking at things like] the correct use of fertilizers, the use of soil tests and best pre-planting practices.”

She says sustainable agriculture is particularly important with the continued impact of the pandemic leading to shortages of key resources such as fertilizer.

“With such demand for fertilizer right now, it’s the last thing you need to use more than you need just to try and get a better yield,” says Ms Stevens.

She wants to challenge existing attitudes towards the cotton industry.

“I think it’s a constant battle, that the public needs to be properly educated and fully understand the ins and outs of it instead of just judging it from the outside.”

Reduce carbon footprint

Jess Strauch is Head of Cotton Pricing and the Border Rivers Region for Queensland Cotton.

Its aim is to study how renewable technology can be used to reduce the carbon footprint of industry.

Jess Strauch stands in a field holding a dog, trees are visible in the background.
Jess Strauch wants to explore how the cotton industry can reduce its carbon footprint.(Provided: Jess Strauch)

“The amount of inputs needed to bring cotton from a high waste content to a basic grade obviously varies depending on the season and the growing conditions we have experienced,” she says.

Ms Strauch also hopes to explore the potential implications of reducing the industry’s energy output on the export market, particularly if this may mean exporting more cotton that is above the industry’s baseline quality.

“I wanted to focus on [impact on] the international export market.

“What does this mean, for our overall reputation for Australian cotton and the Australian cotton industry?”

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