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February 28, 2018

Cotton Farmers: Growing Crops that Bring Agriculture and Fashion Closer Than Ever

Agriculture is an industry of innovation and pioneering ways, and a handful of producers are rising above the limitations on how they drive their destinies by digging into agriculture and fashion.

Agriculture and fashion are connected but far-removed. Farmers and ranchers grow and produce the materials that go into the clothes, accessories and home goods that are the basis of fashion, but they generally aren’t related to the creation of those fashion styles at all. Until now. A handful of U.S. ag producers are using a connection between agriculture and fashion to take the reins of growth and profit by turning out farm-to-home linens and clothing made from their own crops. Read below how the idea grew with one cotton farmer.

Eye on the Prize

For those at the growing and raising end of this production chain, where their raw materials end up is frankly not a major concern. Farmers and ranchers are more interested in bottom lines than how and where finished goods are produced. In agriculture, it’s all about survival. “For the most part, cotton farmers want to grow it, gin it and get paid for it,” says Monty Bain, Southeastern Communications Manager for the Cotton Board.

Riding the Profit Roller Coaster

It’s the nature of agriculture that crop producers like cotton growers are always at the mercy of commodity prices, constantly dealing with the crazy irony that comes with working toward the highest yield, only to have prices crash because of too much supply.

In short, there are sharp limitations on how producers can drive their destiny when it comes to growth and profit because they are at the mercy of the markets. However, one grower has found an innovative approach—combining agriculture and fashion to spur growth and open new opportunities.

How One Grower Is Rewriting the Rules

North Alabama cotton grower and co-owner of Red Land Cotton, Mark Yeager, has farmed cotton, among other crops, for his whole adult life and says it was the only thing he ever wanted to do. Yeager produced what he calls “a good bit of cotton” back in the 80s and it got him thinking—why not gin his own crop and gain more control over his product, not to mention realize more profit?

Yeager set about building his own gin in 1994, even ginning for other customers for a while. Then the wheels started turning in his head again. “I started wondering what we could do to become more vertical…to take out the middleman,” says Yeager.

“I sent a video of a guy hauling four bales of cotton to my sister and she said she’d love some sheets made out of that cotton…and that got me thinking. What if I really could start making those goods?” Yeager started picking the brains of every expert he could, starting with Cotton Incorporated. Yeager found a spinning mill in southeast Alabama, then a weaver and finisher, and finally an “amazing lady” in his hometown who, with the help of friends and family, sews the incredible sheets and other home goods all made from Yeager’s own cotton.

“We found an heirloom sheet and decided to make that the model for everything we made,” recalls Yeager. “We took it to Cotton Incorporated and they were able to ‘reverse engineer’ it and tell us exactly how we needed to mill, weave, and sew our sheets to be that same heirloom quality.”

Agriculture and Fashion Success Secret: Marketing

One would think just taking your cotton and turning it into finished goods was an end in itself. But Yeager says the real challenge is finding customers—through savvy marketing.

For this, Yeager turned to his “very creative” daughter, Anna Yeager Brakefield, a graphic designer. “Anna put our products on the map by giving them a brand identity and a great name—Red Land Cotton—plus a farm-to-home story that people could relate to,” says Yeager. “It’s all about the marketing really. We’ve got a superb product, but it takes getting the word out to move it off the shelves.”

Red Land Cotton is unique, maybe the only farm-to-home maker of sheets in the country right now. But there are others also succeeding in this small—but growing—marketplace, including Homegrown Cotton, Jones American Clothing, and T&S Designs, all makers of shirts and tees using cotton produced right on their farms.

Next Steps of Agriculture and Fashion

It’s that kind of progressive thinking that helped the farm-to-table trend take off and succeed at restaurants, retailers and grocery stores. With the introduction of businesses like Red Land Cotton, it’s an exciting start to what could be a growing trend in the clothing and home décor sector.

Who knows? Maybe a few seasons from now, we could be seeing agricultural fashion making its debut on the runways during New York Fashion Week.

About AgAmerica

As the nation’s premier land lender, AgAmerica Lending supports the dreams and endeavors of our nation’s cotton farmers by providing expert advice and guidance, along with products including land loans and lines of credit.  See our products in action and read some of our recent farm loan success stories.

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