SIR In conversation with Danielle Statham
Every fibre tells a story® – FibeTrace® is paving the way for brands to bring these stories to life.
From growing raw fibre to garment. A luminescent pigment is applied to fibres in the initial stages of ginning and spinning processes, allowing for complete transparency on each stage of a garment's life cycle. Backed by science and metrics, FibreTrace® is on a mission to make the future of fashion transparent.
We began our journey with FibreTrace® and Good Earth Cotton® in 2021 after a visit to Keytah, the Good Earth Cotton® farm in Moree, Australia. Our commitment to innovative and forward-thinking production initiatives led us to a partnership which saw FibreTrace® and Good Earth Cotton® introduced to our Pre-Fall ‘22 collection – realised in our denim, tanks and sweats. These pieces mark the beginning of a comprehensive partnership that will see the use of Good Earth Cotton® and FibreTrace® expand through our collections each season.
SIR.’s Supply Chain and Sustainability Manager, Alannah Stott, sat down with Danielle Statham, Co-founder of GEC® and FibreTrace® to discuss how an idea to bring true transparency to the fashion industry has grown into a reality and beyond.
In conversation with Danielle Statham & SIR.
SIR. We’re very grateful to have you as part of our YES SIR. In Conversations
Danielle Statham: Thank you for having me!
SIR. Tell us about your background and what inspired you to develop FibreTrace®.
DS: From an early age I knew that fashion was a desired choice for me as a career, I would probably say as young as five I was completely obsessed with the fashion industry, I grew up in the racing industry, so I was surrounded by fashion, hats and beautiful tailoring. I spent many a weekend at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, so I suspect that's where that love of fashion came from. I studied fashion and textiles, and I've actually been a milliner for over 30 years, so I'm a very tactile person, I even used to tool all my own flowers, everything was very hands on. I married David [co-founder GEC and FibreTrace®] very young. He was a city boy, but their family had cotton farms. They had been growing cotton out at Keytah west of Moree, NSW for about 10 years when we met. Not only did I fall in love with him, I fell in love with the cotton plant itself. Being a textile student it was just fascinating to me. I felt like I'd missed something at fashion college, not understanding where our fibres actually came from.
SIR. I feel exactly the same, having studied fashion!
DS: Did you feel that? I went out there and thought why did I not know more about this? Why have I never visited here when this is the beginning. Fashion begins at the farm.
So fast forward to my thought process on what inspired me to develop FibreTrace®. I knew that the way in which we approached the growth of cotton was with best practice. I also knew that we treat the farm as a research hub, and we are open to scientific industry trials. It’s something that we’ve always been a part of. Through this, I wanted to trace my own cotton for my own label one day, to tell the story of the fibre that created the garment. So, for over 20 years, I've wanted to do that, but the trade of cotton made that almost impossible once it leaves the farm. I suppose it was that challenge to decode the trade and perhaps disrupt the commodity and drive the good story for labels like SIR. You know, it was going to be a label for myself but there was bigger fish to fry, and that's what drove me to create FibreTrace®.
SIR. Amazing! Do you still have a goal to create your own brand?
DS: No, [laughing] I don’t have the time! One of my kids can do that.
SIR. We have been working closely together for the last year, learning so much about the technology behind FibreTrace® and the mission to bring legitimate transparency, honesty and accountability to fashion. Can you talk us through how FibreTrace® helps brands achieve this?
DS: That's a really great question. So, FibreTrace® allows brands, like SIR., to bring to life that good story –and I say the good story because it is a good story behind their fibre choices. It allows you as a brand, and your customers, the ability to follow that good story of the chosen supply chain also. Normally your chosen supply chain is, what you believe a ‘good supply chain’, and that comes with really honest storytelling, I think that's something that we all share a great passion for. When we connect the physical tracer to the digital blockchain, we generate a form of transparency in real time. I think it's the two that have formed together, the physical and the digital, that creates that very powerful tool to stand behind a brand. When every fibre can tell a story it creates a very trusting narrative to pass on to the customer.
SIR. Certainly, the trust from the customer is so important for us.
DS: Absolutely. And it’s important from our angle as well, to have trust in the fibre, particularly in the cotton industry, we need to have trust from the customer. True transparency is the only one way to gain that trust, laying it all out there with true science and metrics, not just hollow words–so let's take it there.
SIR. What are the most common concerns brands have when they come to you? How does FibreTrace® act as a solution?
DS: I think all brands want to tell good stories. At the end of the day, it's fashion and it's meant to make us feel good. We need to keep that in mind, but when it makes us feel good it allows us to express ourselves in the way in which we dress, who we dress and how we dress. So, the good story of the fibre in the garment is key. I think this is where FibreTrace® sets itself apart from all other traceability products – it allows you to be able to give that good story from fibre, and as that fibre moves through the supply chain into yarn and fabric through to manufacturing the tracer gathers information for the brand to tell the story to the customer. It’s a plug and play solution for the brand from the point of fibre planting- growth and harvest, we can tell the journey of that fibre’s growth, the water use and the history of the fibre. Even how much carbon it has stored and the emissions that it has produced, so really, it gives a 20/20 vision of the full journey, actually from four months pre planting. When you understand your soil carbon levels, you understand everything that's going into creating the raw fibre. It's not just when the seeds are planted or when it pops out through the ground, it’s the preparation that we need to take into account as well.
SIR. Good Earth Cotton® is earth's first carbon positive Cotton farm, located here in Australia. We had the privilege to visit the farm last year when we started our journey with you. Can you talk about your journey with GEC and FibreTrace®, and how the two are intertwined?
DS: I can't wait for you guys to come back. We’re developing the most amazing office building with lecture theatres, a cotton information library and brand accommodation, it's just going to be so good for education of the fibre Itself.
SIR. Sounds amazing! We can’t wait to come back; we had the most incredible time. We left just so mind blown. Like you said, from studying and working in the industry, this is just such a great experience working with raw material.
DS: It’s just such an exciting plant. It’s not just the plant itself, it’s an exciting industry and I find the plant really romantic. I know people could think that's really weird, my husband laughs and I'm like, no, it's just esoteric, I’m telling you- I find it beautiful the way that it pops out of the ground and it's this beautiful lush green hedge that grows completely in synchrony, then it grows a beautiful flower, then the flower turns into a pod of fibre and when it dies, we all wear it. I just love it! That's why I wanted to make the farm like a cellar door, and that’s what we're doing. Like you go to the Hunter Valley, or you go down to the Yarra Valley, for wine tasting- this is where you go to see cotton grow.
Anyway, back to the question [laughs]
So, as you know, we've been cotton farmers for a long time, but in the traceability space FibreTrace® really came first as a technology and I wanted to trace my fibre for my own purposes. It was a really personal journey to be honest, I not long after realised that this was not just a personal journey, this quickly escalated into a global solution for the fashion supply chain, after that I created the Good Earth Cotton® brand. The GEC brand became very apparent when I was in a meeting with the team, and I asked the question – what are we tracing? What's the story that we're all telling? Everyone's talking about traceability, but what are we tracing? We were all like, well, good stories, we want to trace good stories. So that's where Good Earth Cotton® became a brand. So, to the mothership of Sundown Pastoral Company, that GEC brand was really important, as important as the FibreTrace® technology. That's how they intertwine, it’s from a personal journey really.
We created the GEC brand, knowing that we were not the only Australian farm, or farm in the world, growing cotton with good stories to tell. Good stories, meaning socially and environmentally.
We've proven the stories within our own team and within our own company, they are proven with science and metrics, not just words. We're beginning to roll that out now with other growers globally and locally. Good Earth Cotton® is always going to be good for the environment, it will always sequester more carbon than it emits in its growth, and it will always have good social conduct.
I live by the mantra, talk is cheap – so you know, show me the data.
FibreTrace® will always trace Good Earth Cotton® – it will always have the technology embedded into it, because it will always tell that good story and that story needs to be verified. Therefore, it will be trusted by the customer, and by the supply chain and the brand.
SIR. From our perspective, SIR was built on a considered approach to sustainable fabric choices, now partnering with FibreTrace® allows us to take this to a new level showing full traceability from soil to our customers hands and even post sale. Currently FibreTrace® is available in cotton through Good Earth Cotton®. Tell us about your plans to expand the technology into other textiles? Or even outside of fashion?
DS: This is so exciting. I mean, outside of fashion is my headspace at the moment- I'm thinking cottonseed oil, beauty products – the cottonseed oil is quite a remarkable oil. There are so many uses for it, and I think that's really important to GEC as well, the fact that we don't waste any part of the plant. There's no part of that plant that's wasted, right down to the oil. That will come to life in a little while, because I have a lot on my plate [laughs], but not to say it’s not part of the plan.
We've scaled into other cotton farms, as I mentioned, and cotton varieties. GEC always has to be sequestering carbon. GEC can be organic, it can be BCI, it can be modern regenerative GEC, it can be conventional cotton, so long as it's giving a good story – and for FibreTrace® it depends on what the story is that we want to trace. We're tracing recycled cotton fibre as well.
SIR. I remember you discussing that, it’s so interesting.
DS: Yes, I think super important but it's just as important to be able to have good virgin fibres going into your recycled fibres as well. A lot of people don't realise that you need to add virgin fibre into recycled cotton for many products. Recycled PET is currently in supply chains, as is responsible viscose and nylon. We can also trace responsible wool.
Leather is being completed, it’s in phase one trials. We know that we can do it, but we just need to go into commercial trials which are underway at the moment. Linen is also underway, that's a work in progress, we know that we'll be able to track that through our mapped process and hopefully embed the fibre very soon. In Q4 or early Q1 2023, we'll be tackling silk – so we’re covering everything.
I mean, outside fashion that's definitely a possibility. The technology actually started with the inventor, (Paul) who has a background of paper security so we can also have that conversation of tracing packages for food security. I guess this is a topic which could be endless. I've been mentioning in conversations recently and presenting that we now live in a knowledge-based economy. The new generation coming through really wants to know the information behind the curtain. That's the new space we are entering, so I think that's where we need to be as brands, and FibreTrace® can provide this knowledge.
We are a company of experts in the textile industry, and we really want to focus on that as a solution to start. Our own industry is important to us right now, but the opportunities are quite endless for FibreTrace®.
SIR. Australian grown, Australian owned – such incredible technology to have come out of Australia. How important is it to you to see more Australians adopt this technology and prove traceability in supply chains?
DS: It's very important. We are small country; you don't realise how small we are until you travel. We're a great country with great morals, we have great ethical standards, and best practice is really in our mantra and our DNA – I really mean that. I think it's a great opportunity to showcase that your brand cares not only to our own country, but to the global value chain. We can lead the world in Australia, being known for verified best practice products. It's easy for us to be able to do that because we are small, we understand what it takes to be ethical early in life, it's in our DNA and we're renowned for it. I think that it's a no-brainer that more people should be adopting technology with traceability in their supply chains.
SIR. We understand you are expanding the availability of FibreTrace® verified to other regions around the world and educating offshore farmers in your best practice carbon sequestering farming methods. How important is information sharing and educating the wider industry to build real change and transparency?
DS: We were given the opportunity to share our knowledge in Good Earth Cotton ® and to assist in providing carbon sequestration, land improvements for farmers in more developing countries be rewarded for their fibre correctly, but the fibre had to be traced, and they have to be able to tell that good story back to soil. When the Delight Group in India came to us, we deliberated, because it's not easy to put yourself out there and take that on, but we felt that through the Delight Group team we would be able to do this successfully. To us, I thought that was really important to be able to create meaningful partnerships with like-minded farmers globally.
What we need to understand is that in Australia, we only grow a certain amount of cotton bales bails, which is a drop in the ocean compared to other countries, and I think it's going to take a collaborative effort of the whole industry to make change in working towards climate positive solutions for the future. Not just for the industry of growing cotton, but for the whole value chain. I said to the team, I thought it was really important that we took a proactive part in positive solutions. I like to use the terminology that we're very proactive, not reactive to the climate positive solutions that are out there, it's all good and well to talk about them, but we need to really get out, roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty and help. That's going to take collaboration,we can't do this alone. It's great to be able to work with other farmers in developing countries and in developed countries. Other than India we have farms that we're in discussion within the US as well, and potentially in Turkey.
I think that it's something that's generated a lot of interest from a little personal idea. It’s all positive and it feels good. As much as it's really busy and really stressful at times, It's good stories, and it's a good vibe.
SIR. Absolutely. Even for SIR’s own sustainability journey so far, I think that this whole idea of information sharing and collaboration between brands or between fabrics suppliers and mills, or even brands getting together and developing fabrics together. It's just not something that we've discussed previously.
DS: Exactly. There are no enemies here. Emissions are the only enemy, we must work together to make scalable change.
SIR. Exactly. From my own point of view, I want to engage with as many people in the industry as I can to share as much information as we can. So, we can make real measurable changes. We want to actually get to the nuts and bolts of it and do better improve our practices.
DS: That’s it. And people think, oh, why haven't you shared this idea yet? I had a little bit of criticism about why I haven’t given this to other farmers yet. I'm not going to go out there and promise the World and deliver an Atlas. It's going to take a couple of years for us to prove this to ourselves, so please be patient. We have now got to the stage where we can share the methodology and here, we are!
SIR. What do you see as the future of proving supply chains are free of forced labour or harmful farming practices and how can we as a brand ensure that best due diligence is undertaken to eliminate these issues?
DS: It’s an issue and it's something that we're very sheltered from in this country. What FibreTrace® does is allow the brand to understand their supply chain better. It also allows brands to understand where their garment is at any given time in the supply chain in real time. Because the proprietary scanners have technology with a geo locator inside the device.
Starting this business, I've seen a lot of the supply chain, from very premium labels to small scale start-ups, but one thing is I've actually become very optimistic. At first, I was very pessimistic about the fashion industry, I’ve become very optimistic knowing that there are so many fantastic actors in the supply chain who really do want to make a difference. They are from the premium labels, right down to the fast fashion labels. It takes time for those cogs to move, and they can at times move slower, and they get criticised for not moving them fast enough, but as I said, there are so many fantastic actors in the supply chain and we're so happy to be partnering with these people to create a network for good.
SIR. What is your ultimate goal for FibreTrace®? Where do you see the technology 5 years from now?
DS: What's utopia for us? Utopia is that customers know where all or any product they buy comes from. And it’s not only where it comes from, but also the journey that the products take before it lands in their wardrobe. We know that one day soon, you'll be able to scan the product in a store with your mobile phone and we know that the technology is potentially available now. We will see this information in real time without enabling a QR code to deliver the information to the customer -I think that that's super exciting.
I mean, FibreTrace®, as I said before, is so exciting. It's such an exciting product, It's the Intel into truthful messaging and provenance – its offerings I think could be limitless.
SIR. Incredible, thank you so much for speaking with us.
DS: Thank you for having me.