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This Apparel Company Will Only Use 100% US-Grown Cotton – Sourcing Journal


Next Level Apparel wants to be sure the cotton making its blank apparel isn’t linked to forced-labor cotton.

The wholesale producer and seller of blank apparel in the U.S. has taken two significant steps in continuing its commitment to ethical and responsible sourcing. Next Level Apparel (NLA) is expediting its requirement to have all fabric suppliers use 100 percent U.S.-grown cotton for purchase orders placed after Feb. 1, 2023. This is ahead of the company’s original goal of 100 percent U.S.-grown cotton, which was tied to a larger initiative to nearshore its supply chain, by 2025. Additionally, the company is implementing origin testing protocols to further ensure its supply chain’s integrity.

“This is a significant advancement in our commitment to global social responsibility and builds on our aggressive 2020 supply chain traceability priorities,” Randy Hales, NLA CEO, said. “This move complements NLA’s robust environmental, social and governance initiatives with regard to suppliers who violate our zero-tolerance policy by utilizing forced labor.”

NLA is engaging a third party it can’t publicly disclose, though this partner uses a combination of forensic science and data to verify the origin location of raw materials. Origin testing protocols will further establish NLA as an industry leader with transparency throughout the supply chain.

Scientific traceability company Oritain and biotechnology business Applied DNA Sciences are well known in the authentication space. Oritain uses forensic science to trace the origin of raw materials, working with nature without relying on barcodes, packaging or other tracer systems. Everything that is grown, reared or made, is a product of its environment, absorbing a ratio of elements and nutrients depending on where in the world it comes from. This is what Oritain analyzes, using a combination of forensic science and statistics to accurately verify the origin of products.

Another player in the sector, Applied DNA commercializes LinearDNA, its proprietary, large-scale polymerase chain reaction-based manufacturing platform that allows for the large-scale production of specific DNA sequences. The LinearDNA platform has non-biologic applications such as supply chain security, anti-counterfeiting and anti-theft technology. In 2021, it announced a development in its cotton genomics program that it believes can bring forensic proof of cotton authenticity and provenance specifically related to regional cotton varietals to give brands and relevant regulatory authorities access to fiber origin data, regardless of where it was manufactured.

Next Level Apparel is expediting its requirement to have all fabric suppliers utilize 100 percent U.S.-grown cotton for purchase orders placed after Feb. 1, 2023.

Courtesy of Next Level Apparel

“We work closely with organizations throughout our industry to stand up for human rights and against human injustice,” Carly Gerstman, NLA director of corporate social responsibility, said. “Working collaboratively with our competitors and partners is vital to the success of protecting human rights throughout our supply chain and around the world.”

NLA’s news comes as other apparel companies have ditched fabric suppliers found to be using cotton from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where human rights abuses against Muslim minorities have taken place in what several countries including the U.S. have decried as genocide.

Nine Line Apparel, a company known for its made-in-America T-shirt claims, wrote in a blog post last week that an unnamed supplier failed a round of isotopic testing, suggesting it had falsely labeled the origin of its material. The veteran-operating clothing company decided to no longer work with said supplier until further testing shows it no longer uses cotton “derived from Uyghur forced labor camps.”

Importing products into the U.S. that are made in part or whole from Xinjiang is illegal. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which went into effect last summer, bans all goods from the region from entering the United States under the rebuttable presumption that they’re made with forced labor.

And China’s cotton imports from the U.S. reached new highs in 2022 due to the UFLPA. China had imported cotton worth $1.6 billion in 2021, and imports reached $2.89 billion in the first 11 months of 2022, according to textile and apparel business solutions company Fibre2Fashion’s market insight tool TexPro. The Chinese textile industry has no other option, it said, but to import cotton from the U.S. to maintain its exports of textile products to the world’s largest economy.

NLA is certified by Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) with 12 social responsibility principles assuring safe, legal and ethical manufacturing processes. It also works with Better Work on a factory, national and international level to improve working conditions with labor rights for workers and the Fair Labor Association (FLA), upholding its own workplace code of conduct and the FLA’s Principles of Fair Labor and Responsible Sourcing throughout its global supply chain.

Founded in 2003, NLA is a designer, manufacturer and supplier of blank apparel for printwear, retail, brand specialty and other decorated apparel markets.





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