December 2016
Farm & Field

From Seed to Sheet

Father and daughter use Lawrence County cotton to create heirloom
bed linens.

 

Red Land Cotton’s label proudly states it is made from 100-percent cotton grown in Alabama. (Credit: Emily B. Hall)

The father is an Alabama cotton farmer. The daughter is a mixture of beauty, grace and marketing experience.

Together, Mark Yeager and Anna Brakefield have created quite possibly the best sheets you’ll ever put on your bed, all with the added bonus of being made from cotton grown on the red clay of Lawrence County.

Red Land Cotton is the only business venture of its kind in the nation: Using the cotton grown on their farm to make sheets.

These sheets feel like the heirloom sheets that would have been on your great-grandmother’s bed in the 1920s.

They started producing lines of heirloom cotton sheets from 50 bales of cotton grown on the family farm, enough to make 3,000 sets of bed linens – a fitted sheet, flat sheet and two standard pillow cases.

The word heirloom isn’t a marketing ploy.

This Alabama-made story began when Yeager posted a video on social media of four bales of cotton being lifted by a forklift.

"My sister, June Martin, wrote back and said, ‘I’d like to have some sheets made from that Alabama white cotton,’" Yeager recalled.

Anna Brakefield mixes steel magnolia social graces with marketing savvy for Red Land Cotton. (Credit: Alyson Clemons)

 

 

Yeager, who grows 3,000 acres of cotton, said he’d always thought about producing clothing from the cotton he grew. He took his sister’s comment about "wanting some sheets from that Alabama white cotton" as a sign that it was time for the dream to become reality.

With the seed for the idea planted, Yeager contacted his daughter, Anna, and they began literally growing the project from the ground up. Brakefield is a graphic artist who lived in Nashville.

"We went to Cotton Inc. and decided we were really going to do this," Yeager said.

"I remember the folks at Cotton Inc. telling us that a lot of people come to them with ideas, but a lot don’t follow through because of the challenges," Brakefield remembered.

Brakefield was so convinced of the potential of the new venture with her father that she quit her job to pursue the dream.

It might seem like a risky move, but it’s a choice she’s prepared for all her life. After earning a degree in graphic design from Auburn University, she went to New York, where she worked for advertising agencies on such accounts as BMW and American Express. She picked up the marketing savvy from her time in the Big Apple, but retained the steel magnolia social graces.

"Dad brings the agricultural background and I bring the marketing perspective," Brakefield smiled and beamed at her father.

 

Mark Yeager proudly stands in a field of cotton destined to become sheets. (Credit: Gary Clark)

   

They found the model for their product by looking back into an old hope chest.

"A family friend in my parents’ Sunday school class had some bed linens she had inherited from her great-grandmother, whose name was Madeline Gray," Brakefield said.

Yeager and Brakefield took the heirloom linens to researchers at Cotton Inc., who reverse-engineered the sheet and identified the weave and thread count.

"We’re trying to reintroduce a textile that hasn’t been in the market for almost a century," Brakefield explained.

The weave back in those days wasn’t as tight as it is today. The effect is a wider weave that allows for more airflow. Think of the coolness on the back of a pillowcase for the entire sheet.

There have been many challenges bringing the sheets to market; the first was finding a textile mill.

"No textile mill wanted to deal with a small quantity of cotton," Yeager said.

This cotton raised in Limestone County is the basis of the only business venture, Red Land Cotton, of its kind in the nation to use the cotton grown on their farm to make sheets. (Credit: Emily B. Hall)

 
   
   
   
   

Until Parkdale, a South Carolina textile, agreed to spin the cotton to yarn. With a mill, a weaver and a finisher on board, the question from the team to Red Land Cotton became, "What works for y’all?"

Taking it a step further, Brakefield worked with another Alabama company, Alabama Chanin, to produce the hand-created embellishments for the high-end bed linens.

In its first year, Red Land Cotton produced two lines of sheets: Madeline Gray, the namesake owner of the sheets who inspired the company’s product, sells for $275 and is available for any bed size; and Red Line Classic sells for $250 per set.

An added bonus of the sheets comes from the way they are prepped. The bleaching process, used by the company that preps the fabric for sewing, leaves specks of cotton material in the sheet, making each set unique.

After the fabric is prepped, the sheets are shipped to New Jersey where they are sewn.

Red Land Cotton has plans to branch out into towels made from Alabama cotton as well.

If you would like to know more about Red Land Cotton or order a set of sheets, visit redlandcotton.com.

 

Cecil H. Yancy Jr. is a freelance writer from Athens.