Updated: Jul 10
Armed with a strong academic background in biology and genetics, Sally Fox dedicated years to revolutionizing cotton cultivation through eco-friendly methods. Motivated by her profound respect for nature and unwavering commitment to sustainability, she embarked on a pioneering journey to breed naturally colored cotton.
After years of relentless research and experimentation, Sally triumphantly developed Foxfibre®, a remarkable variety of cotton that grew in stunning hues without the use of harmful dyes.
Her innovative product saw immense success in the first years of production. However, in the mid-'90s, brands started pushing for higher margins and shifted production to countries with lower costs and less regulation, which led to the bankruptcy of most of the mills that used Foxfibre®.
Undeterred, Sally continued with her project, despite the challenges. Much like us, she hopes for a brighter future, as the world becomes more aware of the value and importance of innovations like the one she developed.
Bellow Sally shares a bit about her journey.
1. Even though most people still focus just on price and design when they buy clothing items, there seems to be a growing market for concerned consumers; those that care about the company's impact on the environment, working conditions, and product quality. Do you share this perception?
It seems that way to me as well.
2. You faced several obstacles during your career, including strong opposition from pesticide-using cotton growers. What is the current status of organic farming in the US?
It just fell off the cliff with the “regenerative” cotton taking the market away. And there is confusion because there is both “Regenerative Organic”, which is defined as not very accessible to most row crop producers, and just "Regenerative" which is not defined at all.
The plus about the not defined regenerative is that it is being marketed at about 20% over the regular cotton price, while anyone offering real certified organic cotton must offer it at at least 2X the conventional price.
The raw cotton price is such a tiny percentage of the garment cost, that it is hard to imagine how the raw cotton prices affect the final product costs at all. Yet it does. So, organic cotton production in the US is in a state of flux this year.
The US organic cotton production started out in the late ’80s early ’90s and keeps getting impacted negatively by the brands that went offshore. So, cotton grown in parts of the world closer to the mills is where the market went. But when stories of fraud in the organic cotton world materialized, mills and brands started seeking out organic cotton from the US and other parts of the world where organic certification is reputable.
Organic production is regenerative in the first place - we came up with the word. The pitting of one sort of purity against another seems like the playbook of failure to thrive. I am not a fan of these new certifications, as believe me, being certified organic is really hard enough. I know, I have gone through certification every year since 1990.
3. What are your favorite types of cotton and how does Foxfibre® compare to them in quality?
I am a fan of the extra-long staple kinds of cotton, and they are the ones that I breed with to improve the fiber and also that we blend my cottons within the mill in Japan.
4. Amongst the clothing brands are you currently working with which ones do you like best based on how they use your product? Have you considered designing your own clothes using your fabrics?
I have been designing the yarns and fabrics from the beginning. The American Blossom Linen sheets or the old LLBean sweaters, for example, were successful launches decades ago with yarns that took me years to develop with all the R&D. I design them for free just to get these cottons a chance for industry use. It is demoralizing, but I am not willing to give up either.
The costs of producing and retailing a clothing line are great. My choice so far has been to stick to my lane of breeding, designing, and acting in a way to coordinate buyers to the spinners/knitters/weavers. Recently I have been producing entire runs of fabrics to make them available to some of the smaller designers. Every step in the processing of a fiber to a fabric has minimums and each of the minimum runs tends to be costly.
If I had unlimited funds I absolutely would have my own clothing line. I know what sells after all these decades.
5. As a Marketing professional I find this to be an important one: How do you communicate the value and benefits of your product items to potential customers? Once they become customers, how do you engage with them?
I have one mill customer in Japan and a few customers in the US who use my cottons. I am directly in contact with my dedicated customers, as without the spinners, there is no chance of any further products.
I have a registered trademark and have been licensing it to my customers free of charge to use with my cottons for 30 years now. I keep it registered at my expense in the US, the EU, and Japan.
It is hard to do all this on the shoestring of funds I get from selling the bales of production cotton and the products that I have made and sell retail on my website.
It is people like Sally that are keeping our hope in a more responsible and sustainable industry. There are many ways you can support her work, so click below and learn more.
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