Founder’s Letter: After 14.5 Years With e3, the Data Battle Continues

Many Kingpins exhibitors and attendees are familiar with the e3 cotton program through e3’s participation in Kingpins events, as well as my evangelizing about the product and its robust traceability metrics. 

But after nearly 15 years with e3, our consultancy contract was not renewed. It was unexpected but perhaps not that shocking in the time of COVID-19. 

But even if I am no longer part of the team at e3, I remain an evangelist about the product. 

To explain how I got to be an e3 fan, you have to go back to early 2006, when I was invited by Jeff Silberman, my educational mentor and boss from The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City (FIT) to talk about American retail in front of a few hundred Asian spinners at the Bayer FiberMax conference in Singapore. I had no idea what FiberMax was (turned out to be an amazing cotton seed quality); didn’t know that Bayer had an agro-science division and had no idea why Bayer’s people wanted me to talk about retail in fashion.

After I got off the stage, Bayer’s FiberMax Leader,  Monty Christian and Bob Antoshak from Globecot (consultants for Bayer) approached me saying they liked my presentation  and asked if I would consider consulting for FiberMax cotton. They wanted someone who knew brands and retailers.

I left Singapore with a few questions of my own:

“Do I want to work for a GMO?” 

“What is a GMO?”

A few months later, Monty and Bob came to New York to meet me and formally offered a consulting position. By the time of that meeting I had done a lot of research on GMO crops. 

I could talk for hours about the pros and cons of GMOs but the simple truth is that global acreage of farmland is not increasing but global population increases hourly. Unless yields per acre increase, our world will run out of food.  

I am an organic food consumer preferring organic milk and strawberries to non-organic. But I feel justified in my openness to GMO cotton even though the EU does not allow any GMO crops to be grown — especially after researching the EU’s reasoning for banning GMO crops. It’s not that the EU found proof of any problem with GMOs or risk in GMOs but because there is no proof that problems cannot exist.  I urge you to please read the last sentence three or five times. 

And one should never forget that 80 percent of all cotton in the world is GMO and GMO cotton turns up every day in products by industry powerhouse retailers and brands like H&M,  Zara, Uniqlo and Levi’s.

The EU “hedges” on GMO by allowing unlimited imports of GMO products.

The point of telling you this story is that my job as consultant at Bayer/BASF lasted 14 ½ years and ended September 30th. The last bunch of years was incredibly wonderful working on marketing for e3 cotton, which I believe is the best sustainable cotton program on earth. There is not a single other program that has data for every single bale provided at your fingertips. 

Many of you know, I get upset and frustrated at all the other cotton marketing nonsense – programs that brag and act like they have genuine sustainability interest — or even impact —  when they don’t.  

Let me be super clear: Unless your supplier of cotton can tell you “on the spot” the farm the cotton is from and unless you have a computer link to the statistical environmental impact of each bale you use, you are being tricked or told only part of an unclear traceability, untransparent sustainable story.  Programs without data live in a fool’s land and the joke is on you.  

I want to thank all the people over the years who worked with me at Bayer and BASF, which acquired e3 and FiberMax along with Bayer’s CropScience unit.

I am especially grateful to those from the early years like Monty Christian, from whom I learned so much; Lee Rivenbark, who is a benchmark of amazing leadership and inspiration; Richard Shaw;  Brent Crossland;  Jon Mixson; Diedra Howell and Robin Bishop. I was fortunate to work for and with all these great people and I cherish the memory of all the great years of association.

Of course, I have to thank Bob Antoshak, who probably talked Monty into hiring me in the first place and who eventually joined our company, Olah Inc., and who worked hand-in-hand with me on FiberMax and e3. Maybe I should rephrase what I just said and instead say Bob frequently told me what to do because he is so smart and knows so many things so well.  

Bob taught me a lot, but most of all he taught me about the “five-minute rule” which is a lesson I cherish and have also adopted with people who see its value. Bob’s condition to work with me was that no matter where we were or what we were doing, the key to maintaining a proper relationship was to talk for 5 minutes every day of the week, always. At first, it was easy to accomplish but honestly over a 14 ½- year period, it often became difficult to find time to stay true to the pledge but he kept me in check and our relationship flourished for that reason – one of us was always calling the other. I thank him for his trust and collaboration and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

For those reading this article, I ask you to please use e3 cotton not because I am a fan but because of the reason I am a fan.  All the fake programs get your interest and perhaps adoption but most of these programs only  last 3 to 7 years before they disappear as advocates expose these programs’ flaws and, it’s always for the same reasons: a lack of data and transparency. Why would a brand want to endorse programs that have no longevity and will eventually crumble?

My future work in cotton will be to find farmers that have data and separate those with good data from those with lousy data.  All this needs to come to the forefront of our industry so there are benchmarks of statistical excellence.  We need to know which are the best farms.  We need to know which are the carbon-positive farms, for example, and let them receive more money for each bale they grow sustainably. Our earth needs these kinds of farmers to inspire all other farmers to do the same thing or nothing will change.  If our industry won’t pay a few cents more per pound for real and sustainable cotton, there will be none and that is a much bigger cost to our environment than a few cents a garment.

I have heard over and over from brands and retailers that sustainability should not cost more but those that say that are cynical and don’t care about their environmental impact. They care about margins. The truth is, they need to be taxed heavily for damaging the environment like people who throw garbage out the window of a moving car. How can the earth handle companies that intentionally do damage to save a few pennies? 

P.S.  Thank you to Jennifer Gasque Crumpler and Malin Westfall for trusting Olah Inc.  I hope you win the cotton wars. I’ll help where I can.

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