CHICAGO: Sometimes a strong corporate purpose, combined with an iconic product, can overcome competitive and budget limitations, explained Andrea Samber, director of consumer marketing and strategic alliances for the trade group Cotton Incorporated.
Samber created the purpose program, Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green, after spending time on college campuses in the early 2000s. She realized the target demo for the denim companies that belong to Cotton Incorporated were strongly interested in the environment and giving back to their communities.
It turns out that high-cotton content denim makes an ideal building insulator and can take the place of fiberglass in the walls of homes and businesses. Samber realized that by asking people to donate their old denim jeans, Cotton Incorporated was able to directly appeal to future customers and increase awareness of cotton in general.
"The question was, ‘Could we get people to donate them?’" Samber said. "I knew it could be recycled, but would they actually give them back? And they did. In fact, I was surprised how much they gave back, and from that it has snowballed."
As a trade group, Cotton Incorporated did not have a large marketing budget to promote the program or to build infrastructure. But the power of the idea was enough to convince the often-competitive members of Cotton Incorporated to participate. Retail brands like Madewell, for example, supported the program by allowing customers to drop off old jeans at its stores. Zappos created a program that covers shipping costs for people who want to mail their old jeans and other denim clothing.
As a result, Samber said, people have donated 3.2 million pieces of denim, which in turn was turned into 5 million square feet of insulation that the trade group then donates to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
Check out the introduction to Cotton Incorporated's panel here: