From Farm to Fabric: Tracing Brand and Retailer Needs for Sustainable Materials Through the Supply Chain

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Marchyshyn, Alexandra
Parker, Megan


von Windheim, Jesko

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Cotton is a foundational fabric that is the cornerstone of both apparel and home goods. Cotton has been renowned for years for its positive properties and natural provenance. However, as brands and retailers continue to implement and scale a multitude of new sustainability practices, cotton has emerged as an opportunity for brands to reduce their environmental impact. It is not just brands that are interested in the reduction of material impacts – it is the consumers they serve. As consumers of apparel and other goods become increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases, brands work to cater to those preferences and attitudes. It appears that as consumer interest in sustainability in clothing increases, brands want increased traceability to understand their supply chains. Since cotton is such a large input to clothing and other home goods, we focused our work there.
To investigate, we collaborated with Cotton Incorporated for over a year to understand what brands and retailers are looking for when it comes to sustainability and traceability in the supply chain of cotton products. Ultimately this project is meant to inform the launch and continued development of the U.S Cotton Trust Protocol (Trust Protocol) – a new assessment system and data tool to provide cotton producers with a system to “assess and verify their current production practices and measure their progress toward long-term sustainability goals.” The Trust Protocol is an industry-led initiative designed to enable brands to meet their sustainability goals by being able to count US cotton towards them. Our objective was to discover what brands and retailers want for cotton sustainability and how the Trust Protocol could potentially address some of their current needs. Through interviews and surveys of major brands and retailers, we were able to determine critical insights that can shape the Trust Protocol in the future and identify pain points of brands that should be addressed.


Master's project


Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences




cotton, Supply chain, Sustainability, Apparel industry, traceability



Marchyshyn, Alexandra, and Megan Parker (2020). From Farm to Fabric: Tracing Brand and Retailer Needs for Sustainable Materials Through the Supply Chain. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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