Father and daughter grow, cultivate and create
Photography by Gary Clark and Emily Dorio
Anna Yeager Brakefield, 28, is a third-generation cotton farmer. Though it’s not what she ever thought she would be doing, it is precisely where she wants to be.
With a background in design and a degree from Auburn University, Brakefield left the country of North Alabama for New York City. She met her husband there, and after the wedding they moved to Nashville. She had a job in advertising.
Mark Yeager of Red Land Cotton.
Back home, Brakefield’s father, Mark Yeager, had always been involved in the three “C’s” of agriculture — cotton, corn and cattle — with sundry crops worked into the rotation, like soybeans and potatoes. In 1994, he built his own cotton gin and began baling and selling to manufacturers.
In 2015, his kids installed Instagram on his phone. Yeager began updating with photos of cows, baby goats and other captured moments of farm life. One day he posted a picture of an employee moving a cotton bale with a new forklift, and his sister sent him a note saying she’d “love some sheets out of that good Alabama cotton.”
“That just kind of festered in my mind, and I never let it go,” Yeager says. He knew he had to make products from the cotton he was growing, and that his daughter would be the perfect partner. That same year he proposed a business partnership.
“I didn’t think, until I got this idea, that I would have Anna back around. She liked Nashville. She liked New York,” Yeager says. “She knows farming, but I didn’t see her hanging around the farm that much. But … I got her back.”
And she was on board 100 percent. “I quit my job and kind of took a leap of faith,” says Brakefield .
Over the past few years, the father-and daughter team has grown from one loom to four. Today Red Land Cotton, named after the red clay soil of the family farm, is the only farm-to-fabric linen maker in the United States.
“We have complete control of our process,” Brakefield says. “We’re able to select the best fibers that come out of our gin and use those in our textiles.”
What the family doesn’t do themselves, they control from start to finish with proprietary vendors in South Carolina and Georgia. The cotton is spun into yarn and plied twice in Graniteville, South Carolina. The yarn is shipped to 1888 Mills in Griffin, Georgia, where they weave, finish and sew the towels all in one facility.
And in their hometown alone they have created about seven jobs.
“Our hometown is very agricultural, so a lot of the jobs are ag-based. But we also used to have a T-shirt factory,” Brakefield says. “And when the T-shirt factory shut down, that really took a toll. And then there was a paper mill [that] … shut down, too, so the whole town has really seen an economic decline. To be able to even add those five to seven jobs is very rewarding.”
By pairing art with agriculture, they reverse-engineer their heirloom linens to create some of the most comfortable sheets possible. They yarn size they use in the bed linens is much thicker than what is traditionally used in sheeting, and the products are not finished with formaldehyde resins.
As a result, the fabric washes like a linen with a slight wrinkle, inspired by the cool, crisp comfort of a 1920s bedsheet Yeager remembers from his grandmother’s house.
“Dad was actually the one who got very nostalgic about his grandmother and the sheets that she had at her house — how they were starched and crunchy,” she says. “We asked around from friends who had old trousseaus and found the old sheets. They let us cut it up and recreate it.”
The Red Land Cotton line now includes bed linens, shams and duvets, towels, dish towels and pillow covers. Tea towels and pillow covers are limited-time items made from “seconds” fabric. This fall, adult quilts are being introduced, crafted from the squares left over from fitted sheets. Soon a baby’s bedding line will be available, inspired by Brakefield , who is expecting her first child this year.
“We’re trying to brand our cotton as the story of our farm, taking care to grow it responsibly.” Yeager says. “It’s really a family effort, from my wife and my two sons and Anna. We’re all in the family here, and it’s a dream come true.”
Where to Buy
Red Land Cotton sheets, pillowcases, duvets, shams, towels and home goods offerings are available online and at select boutiques in Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee, including The Iron Gate in Franklin.