There are several parts to creating a sourcing strategy and many companies choose to involve outside advisors in this process. The below outlines the steps you might take to get started:

Think about the key people and departments that need to be included in creating a cotton strategy: this may include designers, technicians, buyers, senior managers, and CSR/Sustainability colleagues. Find out who will help champion and implement the strategy and get them involved early to get internal buy in.

While it’s important your strategy is supported by people across your organisation, having a clear mandate from top management eases the way for both developing and deploying a successful strategy. Much of the information in this guide is designed with senior managers in mind. The Challenges for Cotton page is about issues in the apparel industry that can be tackled through sustainable sourcing, while the business case section shows how sustainable cotton sourcing can support a thriving business

Don’t forget to look at your existing corporate sustainability goals and targets. The sourcing policy you develop can support and strengthen these, so it is important to create alignment. For example, if a key pillar of your corporate sustainability strategy is to support smallholder farmers, you could start sourcing sustainable cotton with strong social outcomes for smallholders. If part of your strategy is to source within the country or region in which you operate, you will need to look at programmes that can deliver material sourced and certified from that specific country or region.

After you’ve gathered the internal stakeholders and some key information, it’s time to develop a process for building the strategy. This could include workshops with key stakeholders, internal interviews to gather points of view, and speaking with your suppliers. As you define the desired outcomes of your sourcing strategy, you need to speak to your suppliers to find out if they can take the kind of action you need them to take.

One key purpose of the strategy is to ensure your organisation has a clear strategic direction. It’s worth bearing in mind that momentum is rapidly growing for companies to commit to sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 or sooner. You can find out more about the 35+ companies that have signed up to this ambition thus far here.

Typically, companies used to commit to source all their sustainable cotton from one standard or programme. Today, a portfolio approach is often the preferred method. Though it can take a bit more time and cost to implement, this approach can help you reach your targets faster. For example, using this approach you could specify that pesticide-free cotton is best for baby, children and home linens, whereas other sustainable options may be more appropriate for denim and upholstery lines. In this way, a flexible strategy allows buyers to source different kinds of sustainable cotton in line with product requirements and consumer demand

It’s important to know what level of transparency your organisation aspires to, and that you have access to a traceability model that can deliver. For example, some organisations will want to able to say where every fibre came from, while others won’t require that level of detail. The traceability section of the guide will walk you through the different models and help you understand which programmes are right for your needs.

Once you have a draft of your strategy and goals, get in touch with the standards, codes and/or programmes you’re considering working with. The sourcing options pages have information on each of the standards, including how to make contact. You may choose to revise your strategy and tweak your approach based on these conversations.

It’s time to put this plan into action! It’s important you share the strategy across your organisation, particularly with the key stakeholders you’ve already identified. You may want to work with those responsible for cotton sourcing to make sure the policy contains everything they need to get going. Finally, start embedding the policy into your internal systems.

With your strategy set, you’ll find specific information on how to get your sourcing colleagues up and running in the Working with Suppliers section of the guide. The Overcoming Barriers section will help you address the challenges that can arise in the development and implementation of this sort of strategy.


Example of a sustainable cotton sourcing policy outline.


Start here to find out how to work with your suppliers and bring sustainable cotton into your supply chain.

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