How Do You Make Cotton Transparent?

It’s “the fabric of our lives,” but where does it come from?

How often do we stop to think about the path it takes from the farm to our armoire, or the process that transforms it from a cottonseed into a crew neck?

In 2008, the government implemented the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act requiring manufacturers of children’s apparel to conform to more stringent safety standards and provide a label or mark that allows consumers to trace the product’s history and production details.  Looking to go beyond the letter of the law, Anvil Knitwear, partnered with us to turn the demands of fine print legalities into a major brand-building initiative.  The result, is an interactive educational experience dedicated to every kid who’s ever wondered “where does my t-shirt come from?”

“Cotton farming and apparel production is a bit of a “mystery box” for children and adults.  They learn about the cotton plant in school, but have only a vague understanding of the technology, energy and people it takes to turn a crop into the finished product. We wanted to deliver that story in an engaging and very personal way.  Visitors to the site don’t learn about t-shirt manufacturing, they learn about their t-shirt.  We think there’s something very powerful about that,” explained Garett Bugda, executive creative director for AgencyNet.

A label containing a unique tracking code, located on the wearer’s left back, bottom hem, points users to the online site.  Once the tracking code is input, the site takes users on a storybook journey through the life of their t-shirt.  From the farm, to the gin, the textile mill and the distribution center, the site introduces consumers to the technology and process of t-shirt production, as well as the actual Anvil employees who are responsible for each stage of the journey.  Along the way, visitors see pictures, watch videos and hear stories while interacting with a rich mixed-media “dioramas” constructed from the textures of the cotton industry. The site stays true to the authenticity of Anvil’s process by incorporating genuine assets including photography of the locations, equipment and even some of the individuals that actually craft your T.

The site is fully interactive allowing users to swipe at puffy white cotton clouds that hang from string; informational blurbs are scrawled on the backs of cardboard shipping containers.  All the while, the machinery of cotton manufacturing putters along in the background.  Tiny surprises abound.  In the distribution center, users can take control of a forklift to load boxes of completed t-shirts.  Back on the homepage, a pull tab revs up a cartoonish toy truck that quickly sputters off stage.

“The look and feel of the site was very important to us,” revealed designer Melanie Hunt.  “We wanted to breathe some life into what could easily have been a boring school textbook.”

In keeping with Anvil’s commitment to an eco-conscious operation, the site places special emphasis on the energy footprint required to produce a shirt.  Shirts sourced from organic (vs. conventional) cotton farming are explained (along with the differences between the two methodologies).  At the end of the journey, users can see the carbon footprint of their shirt as well as see tips on how to reduce its environmental impact.  Most people don’t realize that 60% of a shirt’s carbon contribution comes from a lifetime of washing and wearing, giving kids an opportunity to take matters into their own hands.

Educational lesson plans are available for parents and educators to take the lessons of the site offline and continue to explore the manufacturing process and its use of energy on their own time.

The modern consumer is more discerning than ever about where their products come from.  Anvil and AgencyNet offer a model to follow in the quest for transparency and trust.