"I never really planned to be an inventor, but my attitude toward life has always been inventive."
In the modern world, there is an unfortunate tendency to value profit over intellect. People may know a practice is harmful, but continue to do it anyway because it produces an in-demand product. Fortunately, there are inventors who work persistently to develop more responsible solutions. Sally Fox is one such individual.
Prior to Fox's invention of Foxfibre cotton, naturally colored cotton could only be spun by hand – which was such a long and laborious process that businesses instead chose to take white cotton, bleach it, dye it and spin it on a machine. This produced the colored fabrics people wanted, but also created a lot of pollution through the bleaching and dying processes. Sadly, there weren't really any viable alternatives available – that is, until Sally Fox came along in the late 1980s and revolutionized the industry.
While working as a pollinator for a cotton breeder looking to develop more pest-resistant plants, Fox began breeding brown and green cotton, picking out the best seeds that produced the longest fibers and replanting them year after year. Eventually, she created two colored cottons that could be spun on a machine, and she purchased a small lot of land to grow them. Sally even received Plant Variety Protection Certificates (the plant equivalent of patents) for the new cottons.
By the early 90s, Sally Fox had a $10-million-dollar business that produced naturally colored cotton for major companies like Levi's, Espirit, Land's End and L.L. Bean. It was the best of both worlds – a more environmentally friendly product that was also turning a profit. After globalization forced most of the spinning mills to South America and Southeast Asia, Fox's business took a hit, but she continues to make new naturally colored cottons to this day. Each new color takes about 10 years to produce – but, for Sally Fox, the patience is worth the payoff.