Cotton Council International (CCI), the US National Cotton Council’s export promotion arm, working to position U.S. cotton as the ‘The Cotton the World Trusts’ and expand foreign demand for U.S. cotton fiber, yarn and other cotton products. CCI promotes U.S. cotton’s quality, sustainability, transparency, premium value and innovation in more than 50 countries under its COTTON USA™ trademark.
Ali Arsalan, Country Representative, Cotton Council International (Bangladesh) has recently opened up about CCI’s mission, how it is working to make the U.S. cotton the preferred fiber for mills/manufacturers, brands/retailers and consumers, commanding a value-added premium that delivers profitability across the U.S. cotton industry and drives export growth of fiber, yarn and other cotton products.
Transparency is vital in the textile supply chain industry. Cotton USA takes pride in leading the industry in this regard through US Cotton Trust Protocol’s strict classing process, contract sanctity standards and customer service offerings.
Textile Today: Please share with us about Cotton USA and its current business status?
Ali Arsalan: First of all, Cotton USA is a non-profit organization. It is partly funded by the US govt. and partly funded by the trade – various merchants, co-ops, ginners, etc. Our mission is to promote and facilitate the use of USA cotton in the garment supply chain. We do not do any commercial activities or cotton trading. Cotton USA has been operating in Bangladesh for around 20 years.
I took over as a consultant of Cotton Council International (CCI) Bangladesh in July 2020. There is a major change in Cotton USA. Cotton USA overhauled its policy recently with the aim to re-conceptualize the sustainably sourced cotton.
Previously, Cotton USA used to provide licenses – after doing verification – to the millers and some brands who used US cotton. However, we have fresh impetus after launching the US Trust Protocol last year, and especially now with some big brands such as Levi’s, Tesco, Gap, Next (UK) who have signed up to the platform –we expect that in the coming years that the market share of US cotton will surge.
I believe the maximum market share of US cotton achieved in Bangladesh was around 15% in the last 20 years. It varies a little every year and this year the market share is around 11%. It is on the lower side, due to price and shipment issues. In 2019-2020, the market share was around 13-14%.
As the US is available almost all year and always provides consistent quality and transparency with Permanent Bale Identification Numbers as well as Green Cards, I would hope to see a scenario where the US cotton market reaches at least 25%, buoyed by demand from a large Trust Protocol membership!
Textile Today: Kindly share with us the business model of Cotton USA.
Ali Arsalan: In Bangladesh, we host various technical seminars for knowledge sharing. Besides, we undertake marketing activities to promote and create awareness regarding USA cotton. These are all on a macro level. On the micro-level, Cotton USA work with textile mills.
In the last two years, we have developed a technical assistance team that can provide multi-dimensional support for the local spinning mills.
For instance, in bale management, when a lot comes to a spinning mill, spinners want the yarn output as similar as possible. So, how millers can get the best output from diverse types of bales, quality, colors – is called bale management – and we assist mills through mails. Or we visit spinning mills for audits and assessment.
For example, we visit a spinning mill, and we point out where they can increase their efficiency and output. If any mill asks for any specific assistance, Cotton USA visits them to assist in that. The field visit can be for 3 to 5 days.
Cotton USA also provides free training courses. It is a new inclusion. Our first training will be on fiber selection and fiber quality.
These are some of the services we provide for Cotton USA users. In addition, we are also bringing some value to USA cotton through the US Cotton Trust Protocol.
Textile Today: What is the function and objective of the US Cotton Trust Protocol? How this protocol is helping to ensure sustainability?
Ali Arsalan: First of all, sustainability is a buzzword in the textile and apparel supply chain. And consumers are also demanding to buy responsibly sourced garments. As a result, we see that organic cotton certification and programs like BCI gain a lot of traction. These certifications however have lacked detail in data-driven and that’s where the US Cotton Trust Protocol is different! The program was initiated due to the realization of the USA that while the farmers already produce cotton to a high standard, it was necessary to bring them under a sustainability umbrella – which is measurable.
US Cotton Trust Protocol is unique, as every year cotton farmers will submit all kinds of detailed data – from pesticide usage, water usage, labor conditions, etc. – all these parameters combined, farmers will be given a score. And all scores will be aggregated and Trust Protocol will assess the better performing states, country benchmarks, along with these are also aligned with the UN 2035 sustainable goals. To see that the cotton supply chain is heading in the right direction.
In addition, 1kg of USA cotton is equal to 1 protocol credit and this starts when bales of US cotton are shipped to spinning mills, who receive equivalent credits which are directly linked to the Permanent Bale Identification numbers of the bales they have been shipped. The system then allows for conversion factors along the supply chain from knitting to cutting & making. With a finished product, the system will be able to determine the number of protocol credits used in that garment so when a Brand makes a claim regarding protocol credits in their specific product which was part of the USCTP program, the actual environmental impact will be quantified by these protocol credit numbers.
Textile Today: Recently, some leading fashion brands joined the US Cotton Trust Protocol. Kindly elaborate on the matter.
Ali Arsalan: Before joining a platform usually brands consider a lot of things. Most importantly, in the US Cotton Trust Protocol retailers can quantify the sustainable output. In addition, other platforms certification cost is higher than us. All in all, some big names in the fashion industry joined with the Trust Protocol.
Textile Today: How is Cotton USA providing technical support to millers?
Ali Arsalan: As I said earlier, that CCI has built a specialist team in the last two years comprising some global experts who visited more than 200 spinning mills from all over the world.
Our experts provide all types of assistance – from shade variations, dyeing issues, bale management, etc. – for the US cotton users and members of the US Cotton Trust Protocol.
Spinners sometimes hesitate about the higher initial cost of using US cotton but through well recognized independent studies it is proven that in the long run, US cotton gives higher profitability than using other cheaper cotton and saves textile mills a lot.
Textile Today: What are the specialties of Cotton USA compare to other cotton suppliers? How is it influencing Cotton USA?
Ali Arsalan: Actually, there are two distinctions in cotton globally. One is handpicked cotton (like in India and Africa) and machine-picked cotton which Brazil, Australia and the USA use.
Machine-picked cotton eliminates the issue of contamination, unlike handpicked cotton.
On top of it, in US cotton, every single bale is tested and given a code – called PBI (Permanent Bale Identification) number – we are incorporating a similar number in US Cotton Trust Protocol cotton. So, the shipper will upload every bale PBI number in the system. So that, when a spinning mill will see that it has a 1000 number credit in the US Cotton Trust Protocol, it is exactly the particular number the mill has received.
Besides, we have demonstrated to spinning mills that although the US cotton is pricier, due to higher efficiency, it gives higher profit when goes to the knitting process than Indian, African, or Brazilian cotton.
Textile Today: How do you see Cotton USA’s growth in the Bangladesh market? And what is your plan? Globally the manmade fiber (MMF) segment has grown tremendously. On the other hand, cotton-made apparel demand is shrinking. How do you evaluate this?
Ali Arsalan: In the Bangladesh market, the growth rate is excellent in the short term. As for cotton consumption, spinning mills in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Pakistan all have plans for expanding spindle capacity from early 2022. While cotton has a market share of roughly one-third of world fiber use, it is globally still regarded as one of the best comfortable fibers among consumers.
Cotton market share will also increase if producers continue to make advancements to the responsible and sustainable practices, to grow cotton
We plan to visit more mills physically with our Cotton USA Solutions Team as Covid rules relax, to help them be more profitable, while improve their outlook on US cotton. And for our existing Cotton USA family in Bangladesh, we are always available for any sorts of production assistance or innovation support that is required. We hope also that the launch of the US Cotton Trust Protocol will boost their marketing efforts and add value to their business – whether it’s their yarn, fabric or finished products!