An Alabama Company Marries Textile Traditions with Modern Sustainability

By Matt Heller
Jun 22 2021 |
A bale of cotton grown on the Yeager family farm. Photo by Red Land Cotton via Facebook.

Red Land Cotton grows the commodity that it turns into high-quality linens.

The distinctive red soil of northern Alabama has made the area a hub for cotton production for generations. So when you order sheets, quilts, blankets, or towels from Red Land Cotton, you know where they’re coming from.

Even more specifically, they’re coming from the Yeager family farm in Moulton. Mark Yeager has been growing cotton there since 1983, and operates his own cotton gin so the cotton fibers he harvests could be used as textiles. But it took the involvement of his daughter, Anna Yeager Brakefield, to transform the family farm into a company producing high-quality, American-made linens.

Yeager Brakefield had worked in graphic design and advertising in New York City, but wanted to get back into her family business. Similarly, her father was looking for a change too. Her dad had “always been so frustrated to see the price of a finished good,” she explained, “but discontented with the prices you get as a commodity producer.”

Together, the father-daughter team came up with an idea: Make linens and textiles, inspired by the long tradition of Alabama’s cotton-growing region. “We found some old bedding, and it was from the 1920s,” Yeager Brakefield explained. “And we worked with engineers to recreate the same yard size, the same weave construction.” Thus, at Red Land Cotton, the old way of doing things informs the present, and their products are made in a back-to-basics way that emphasizes quality and a localized supply chain.

Importantly for Yeager Brakefield, this also means that “we want to focus on things that aren’t made cheaply but made well.” But that’s not to say that things are made in exactly the same way as they used to be.

“Salaried employees are picking the cotton in giant machines that are air-conditioned. This is agricultural production in the 21st century,” she said. “No one is picking cotton by hand, we’re not using migrant labor. It’s very sophisticated, and the manufacturing is too.”

Red Land Cotton is a vertically integrated company, which means that they’re involved in making their product at every step of the process. Their supply chain reflects that. While the cotton is grown on the Yeager family farm, Red Land Cotton products go on a journey throughout the United States on their way from seed to shelf. Towels are manufactured in Georgia, quilts in Waco, Texas and Kansas City, blankets are finished in Maine, and their signature bed sheets are made between Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina.

“Salaried employees are picking the cotton in giant machines that are air-conditioned. This is agricultural production in the 21st century. No one is picking cotton by hand, we’re not using migrant labor. It’s very sophisticated, and the manufacturing is too.”

Anna Yeager Brakefield, Red Land Cotton

Red Land Cotton is also careful to be a good steward of the land it sits on, emphasizing sustainability because of the connection between the owners and workers and the land they farm. “We’re not going to treat our land in a way that’s abusive if we live there, if we raise kids there,” Yeager Brakefield said. That’s why they reprocess water instead of irrigating, use few pesticides, don’t finish products with formaldehyde, and as she puts it, “any way we can be environmentally conscious we’re doing it.”

The environmental consciousness puts Red Land Cotton in strong contrast to many larger textile manufacturers who produce overseas, where environmental and labor standards are laxer — to the detriment of both the workers and the planet. Yeager Brakefield acknowledged that American companies are expected to do better, and that consumers often have to pay more for American-made goods due to higher standards that can make it more expensive to produce here.

These higher quality standards associated with American-made manufacturing are a selling point, and an obvious challenge. Yeager Brakefield said it takes a lot of commitment to manufacture in America, as “you have to inform your customer about why they’re paying more and what’s impacting the things behind your product.”

Still, despite the challenge, manufacturing in America is important to Red Land Cotton, the Yeager family, and the communities impacted by the jobs the company creates. “We wanted to do something patriotic,” Yeager Brakefield explained, touching on how the textile manufacturing that had once dominated the American South has been decimated over the past few decades by cheaper foreign competition. Towns like the one she grew up in saw factories close, growth stagnate, and jobs vanish.

But Red Land Cotton has ambitions to support an American manufacturing renaissance, and Yeager Brakefield says such a revitalization is possible. “These jobs are still out there … people want to work, and textiles and manufacturing is still viable,” she said. “It’s gonna cost more to make it here for sure, but it’s still definitely an option.”