Tagging DNA Fibers
Because of the complexities of cotton sourcing, textile and apparel companies often don’t know where their cotton was grown. This becomes an issue for companies that need to prove that they use organic cotton—or that they don’t use cotton from Uzbekistan, where forced and child labor are common.
Some textile companies are now tagging their raw cotton with DNA markers, which can be identified in the final product. Having the ability to label the origin of your fibers could add value to American brands that are looking to add visibility to the workings of their global supply chain. Until now there have been no commercial test methods to determine where the cotton fiber was grown since most American cotton is shipped overseas and combined with other cotton.
This technology has been used in linens but not denim, because it was feared that the harsher washes and other denim treatments might wash off the DNA marker. In partnership with Applied DNA Sciences — a manufacturer of DNA tagging materials — Sean Cormier, associate professor, Textile Development and Marketing, has been investigating whether cotton fibers tagged with a unique DNA molecular marker could withstand the rigors of stone and bleach washing, the harshest treatment used on any apparel product. If the markers could still be identified after the cotton underwent this type of wash, any cotton product could be identified at any stage in the supply chain.