Also taking a positive approach is Stephen Broadhurst, managing director of Star Linen in South Wales. The business is being kept busy as the build up to Easter and the summer season approaches: “It’s all looking rather promising in the UK. Living with Covid, the booster programme, growing confidence in going out and about – the staycation boom, students returning to universities, the leisure market picking up.”
However, Broadhurst is well aware that volatile markets, not just in cotton, will impact on all parts of our lives. He’s keeping a watchful eye on prices, including oil as this will directly affect the cost of polyester, often used in linen mixes with cotton. That, and shipping costs from Asia, remain a significant issue. He notes that it’s not just about the actual containers – some ships were taken out of service during the height of the pandemic for long overdue refurbishments and not all are back on the seas.
Broadhurst believes that a rethink of how many of us do business in the UK is likely as world events unfold and it’s an issue that fascinates rather than unsettles him. “Our customer base will seek surety of continuation of service. How do we give that assurance to customers, and how do we remain competitive?”
He suspects there will be an increasing demand for more UK-manufactured items like pillows and duvets, even though the raw materials will still have to be brought here for production. Environmental issues will be a key driver in all this, which suits Broadhurst down to the ground as he’s a champion of finding new uses for items in our industry which have gone past their original lifespan but can be repurposed through innovative recycling schemes.
Broadhurst uses the platform at Hospitality Expo, part of CleanEx 2022, to explain the benefits of the circular economy, his determination that Star Linen products do not end up in landfill, and admiration for the TFR Group in Blackburn, now recycling 7,000 mattresses a week.
Now’s the time for those who use linen to once again scrutinise their processes and iron out any wrinkles in the system. That’s been a polite and regular message to the likes of hotels and restaurants served by independent laundry company CLEAN throughout the ups and downs of the pandemic and the staycation boom.
But now it’s even more urgent as supply chain issues increase alongside higher seasonal usage. “We’ve heard of hotels lending stock to other hotels running short of linen,” says Ted Walker of CLEAN. “Regardless of which laundry you use, this is not good practice as once it leaves the site the chances of it returning to the original supplier are greatly reduced.”
It’s at times like this that the use of RFID really demonstrates its value, with both laundries and end users able to efficiently manage supplies and calculate need. The aim is to keep linen flowing as smoothly as possible, avoiding the laundry equivalent of the unnecessary petrol pump queues. No hoarding is another message – and that’s not always deliberate. Cupboards full of unused linen built up over time by businesses simply ordering the same amount each week even if their needs have reduced restrict the amount of linen in circulation.
Regular checking of the delivery schedule to ensure it’s in line with expected occupancy levels and keeping top-ups to agreed stock levels all helps things to run smoothly. And as Walker points out, making sure linen held on site is regularly circulated and used in order ensures that one batch of linen is not going round in circles to the laundry and back until worn out, while some languishes unused at the bottom of the cupboard.
This is about sustainability and the lifetime of linen, not just good practice at a time of uncertainty. Clean linen takes up less space than dirty linen, but it needs to ‘breathe’ rather than be flattened over months by a weighty pile up on top, with harder to remove creases becoming a feature.
CLEAN have been working with suppliers such as Vision to ensure stock levels of high-quality linen are maintained, whether that’s use of freeports or even airfreighting in shipments. At the same time there’s an understandable approach to quotes for services given to potential clients. They must accept that the price offered relates to a deal at that time. Come back in three months and it may well have to be recalculated. Like everyone else, our laundries are having to live and work with a ‘New Normal’ which isn’t normal at all.
Now’s the time for those who use linen to once again scrutinise their processes and iron out any wrinkles in the system
War in Ukraine is taxing the minds of cotton experts in the US, where Dr O.A. Cleveland, a market analyst and Professor Emeritus at Mississippi State University, says that grains and oilseeds have currently taken its ‘favoured child’ role with Wall Street speculators.
What is driving all this is the increasing likelihood that Ukraine’s wheat and corn will not be harvested. And with Black Sea ports serving other countries growing grains subject to being ‘open only at the will of Russia’, Cleveland says it’s not surprising prices have exploded. However, he says that rapidly rising fertiliser and energy costs, alongside inflation, mean that growers who switch will not be better off.
Many stories tend to get overlooked in the news cycle when there’s a world crisis, and one that has not gained as much attention as it might in other circumstances is the furore over supposedly organic cotton from India.
India is the planet’s largest producer of organic cotton. Its use in branded consumer and designer goods which command higher prices has come under increasing scrutiny as the credibility of the certification scheme is investigated, with allegations of fraud and poor inspection practice.
Questions are being asked around the world. For instance, late last year the EU announced it would no longer accept organic cotton certification from several major companies in India. The US Department of Agriculture also terminated an agreement to recognise organic products overseen by Indian authorities.
It’s bad news for those farmers genuinely growing organic cotton, caught up in a mire of politics and corruption. Not that India is the only country under scrutiny, organic cotton from China and Turkey is also being looked at.
In Asia the recent price hike in cotton is encouraging farmers to increase the amount they grow, as demonstrated by those in the Rangpur region of Bangladesh. Cotton production in Rangpur totalled 6,056 tonnes in 2021 and with more farmers turning or returning to cotton there has been a push by government to increase this to 7,200 tonnes this year as part of a bid to cut down on imported raw cotton. Meanwhile China has launched its own sustainable cotton standard, considered by critics in The West to be simply propaganda following bans on cotton from China’s Xinjiang region over alleged used of forced labour. However, The China Cotton Association is ploughing on, and the China Cotton Sustainable Development Programme is now claimed to cover issues such as workers’ rights, environmental impact, and fertiliser use