Written By Alabama A&M University
Victoria’s Secret & Co. has recently embarked on a first-of-its-kind initiative to advance diverse suppliers and responsible sourcing. In a departure from fashion industry standards, the global clothing and beauty brand now purchases cotton directly from four Alabama family farms – one Black-owned, and three women-owned. The initiative eliminates intermediaries to ensure farmers receive all proceeds from their crops which in turn supports their land and communities.
Alabama A&M alumnus Billy Bridgeforth and his family-run Bridgeforth Farms in Tanner, Alabama are helping break down barriers as one of the project’s partners. Bridgeforth Farms holds over 10,000 acres of land across four counties. The fifth-generation farm touches several industries through large-scale production of 6 crops: cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum, and canola using a variety of cutting-edge agronomic techniques and land conservation practices.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, less than 1 percent of cotton farms in the U.S. are owned and operated by Black farmers. Bridgeforth Farms has for many years worked to change those statistics as a member of the National Black Growers Council. Alabama’s largest producer of cotton, Bridgeforth was a natural fit for the VS&Co. initiative.
Victoria’s Secret purchases 50,000 – 65,000 bales of cotton per year. In the 2022 harvest, about 13 percent of its cotton was purchased directly from Alabama farm partners – a number it expects to double in 2023.
In its annual Cotton Report, VS&Co. acknowledged the history of slavery and recognized that the profitability of the U.S. cotton industry was built on the unpaid labor of enslaved Black people.
“Our dedication to shaping a new cotton supply chain is driven by our commitment to operating with respect and responsibility, while also fostering economic empowerment within the Black community.”
The partnership with Bridgeforth Farms does not stop at cotton farming. Through the relationship, VS&Co and Bridgeforth have created three-year scholarship and internship programs for Alabama A&M University and Tuskegee University students. These educational programs equal a $150,000 investment into diverse agriculture students.