From the paddock to the catwalk, women are disrupting the Australian cotton industry with a focus on sustainability and productivity.
Australia is a small player in global cotton, but it is one of the largest raw cotton exporters in the world, with a reputation for innovation.
Now, 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 the fashion label Madi and Pip, was recently selected to take part in the 2022 Australian Future Cotton Leaders Program.
Ms Bond is exploring the use of cotton in the fashion industry, particularly in terms of its sustainability in comparison to other fibres.
“I really want to showcase Australian cotton as the renewable resource for fashion design,” she says.
“I think people naturally want to do the right thing. We all want to wear garments that we love and that are made from sustainable fibres.”
In addition to exploring the sustainability of cotton in fashion design, Ms Bond has an ongoing interest in how cotton can be used when designing clothes for people living with a disability.
“You know a lot of Australians actually live with disability and a lot of fashion doesn’t accommodate that,” she says.
“So I wanted to design fashion that was actually functional, looked incredible, was actually durable and washable and comfortable, easy to put on, easy to take off.
“And the best fibre for that is cotton.”
Ms Bond says she was inspired to become a “future leader” after growing up on a cotton farm.
Improving planting practices
But sustainability needs to start on-farm according to Biloela cotton grower Kim Stevens, who is exploring how growers can improve planting practices.
“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 fertilisers, the utilisation of soil testing, and better pre-planting practices.”
She says sustainable farming is especially important with the ongoing impact of the pandemic leading to shortages in key resources such as fertiliser.
“With fertiliser in such a high demand at the moment, it’s the last thing you need to be using a higher amount than what you need to just to try and get a better yield,” Ms Stevens says.
She wants to challenge existing attitudes about the cotton industry.
“I think it’s a constant battle, that the public need to be properly educated and actually fully understand the ins and outs of it instead of just judging it from the outside.”
Reducing the carbon footprint
Jess Strauch is the manager of cotton pricing and the border rivers region for Queensland Cotton.
Her aim is to investigate how renewable technology can be utilised to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
“The amount of inputs that are required to take cotton from a high trash content back down to a base grade obviously varies depending on the season and the growing conditions that we’ve had,” she says.
Ms Strauch also hopes to explore the potential implications of reducing the industry’s energy outputs on the export market, particularly if it might mean exporting more cotton that is above the industry’s base grade.
“I wanted to look into the [impact on] the international export market.
“What does that mean, for our overall reputation for Australian cotton, and the Australian cotton industry?”