A Tale of Two Sustainable Supply Chains, Part II

This is a guest post by Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh. Part I of this series can be read here.

Tale Two: TS Designs – Cotton of the Carolinas – American Soil Organic

After looking at the supply chain of Appalatch, I’m sharing a second example of how to create a sustainable supply chain that can help your business. Founded back in 1977 as a small, manual screenprinting business, TS Designs became a fully-automated manufacturing company and was able to weather the offshoring and outsourcing of the 1990s. Re-orienting themselves to become a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) company, they are now a successful example of how to influence social and environmental change through business.

ts-designsStarting in 2008, TS Designs has brought together multiple stakeholders through Cotton of the Carolinas — from the farmers to the cotton ginners to the designers to the printers to the sewers to the brands – to organize and support the growth of organic cotton in North and South Carolina. Cotton of the Carolinas introduced a ‘Track Your Shirt’ system online so that buyers could input information and find out exactly where and whom made their t-shirts.

They also organized a “Harvest Tour” so consumers could visit the cotton ginning mill and the actual farm where the cotton was grown — a great way to address the disconnect many people have between the clothes they wear and the people who made them.

While attending the 2013 Harvest Tour, I was lucky enough to learn from Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, and Ronnie Burleson, manager of hundreds of farms all over the state of North Carolina. They discussed at length the benefits of knowing who you’re working with — and recounted a time when cotton prices fluctuated so heavily they had to work out a mutually beneficial deal so that each stakeholder could remain in business while trusting that being flexible would later benefit their individual companies.

Stage two of Cotton of the Carolinas has seen an expansion to the west to increase the amount of certified organic cotton available. American Soil Organic will continue where Cotton of the Carolinas left off to create an apparel line with a 100 percent transparent supply chain.TS Designs shirts

So what are the main takeaways from these two supply chain stories: Appalatch and TS Designs? First, these pioneering companies have demonstrated that building a transparent supply chain is possible. Second, they show that you can, in fact, create a sustainable, community-focused supply chain.

Appalatch’s and TS Designs’ experiences show how vital it is to know and trust the people you are working with to make your products. Indeed, creating a sustainable, transparent supply chain filled with mutual trust will leave you far, far better off in the long run.

For more about Redress Raleigh, check it out here.

[Photo credit: TS Designs]