Kontoor drives development of US hemp through expansion of industrial partnership
Kontoor Brands, Inc., the owner of the Lee and Wrangler denim labels, announced on Tuesday that it has expanded its collaboration with industrial hemp producer Panda Biotech, LLC in order to accelerate the commercialization of U.S.-grown and processed hemp.
The latest phase of the partnership between the two companies focuses on the scale and, more particularly, on the traceability of textile-grade cottonized hemp produced in the United States.
By supporting the evolution of the national hemp industry in this way, Kontoor hopes to bring denim apparel produced using U.S.-grown and processed hemp by 2023. The group’s partnership with Panda Biotech was first launched in 2019.
According to the company, hemp is a regenerative crop which can grow with little water, and minimal-to-no pesticide and herbicide use. It also has a high per acre fiber yied and absorbs more carbon dioxide per acre than both forests and commercial crops.
“Sustainable hemp creates the perfect complement fiber to cotton. We are excited by the opportunity to advance the denim industry’s use of environmentally friendly hemp to craft high-quality, eco-conscious apparel,” said Kontoor’s senior director of global material innovation and product development, Dhruv Agarwal, in a release. “Our work with Panda Biotech has been focused on making truly sustainable hemp, unlocking an additional commercialized fiber crop for American farmers, and providing consumers with access to more sustainable apparel.”
Based in Dallas, Texas, Panda Biotech is currently running 22 projects in the hemp fiber and hurd industry, representing around $12 billion in invested capital. The company is in the process of developing large-scale, industrial hemp gin facilities, the first of which – the Panda High Plains Hemp Gin LLC in Wichita Falls, Texas – is expected to be operational in March 2022. According to Panda Biotech, this debut site will be the largest hemp processing and cottonization facility in the Western Hemisphere.
“As a leading global denim manufacturer, with vast experience in bringing innovative fibers and processes to market, Kontoor Brands has been an invaluable ally as we build the largest industrial hemp processing facility in the United States for high-quality, textile-grade fiber and hurd for numerous sustainable manufacturing applications,” said Dixie Carter, president of Panda Biotech.
“We have been working with Kontoor since our company was founded, and we are aligned in our desire for our domestically grown fiber to be the most traceable hemp in the world and processed using renewable practices,” she added.
Kontoor’s collaboration with Panda Biotech is part of the Greensboro, North Carolina-based company’s wider commitment to sustainability, which also includes its recently expanded Indigood program.
Established in 2019, Indigood seeks to reduce water usage in the fabric construction phase of the apparel supply chain. Initially, the program focused on foam-dyed denim, but now covers a range of water-saving technologies that use at least 90% less water than conventional fabric manufacturing processes.
Kontoor’s annual revenues fell 18% year over year to $2.1 billion in 2020, while net income was $67.9 million, down 30% from $96.7 million in 2019.
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