To say that cotton is as old as the world is not a big exaggeration, as archaeological findings in
modern Pakistan and Mexico suggest that this material was used for textiles over 5000 years ago.
However, our ancestors had already been familiar with wool and linen before they discovered the
enormous potential of a cotton plant.
Current leading producers of cotton include India, China and USA. They are followed by Brazil,
Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Australia. Cotton is also cultivated in such countries as Egypt, Turkey, Israel
and Peru.
The cotton plant and its cultivation
Cotton is normally grown as an annual shrub. It takes between 175 and 225 days from its planting to
maturity. It has been already a common knowledge that cotton cultivation requires plenty of water,
from 8000 to 10000 litres of water per hectare. It is a great amount, especially if we take into
account that another litres of water are required for further processes such as dying or printing of a
According to a report published by Worldwatch Institute (2015), it takes 2,720 liters of water to
make a t-shirt and 10,850 litres to make a jeans. Probably this number wouldn’t be so shocking if the
cultivation of cotton didn’t take place in the countries with great water shortages, particularly
drinking water. This issue has been already raised hundred of times during various conferences and
meeting concerning sustainability in textile industry what has helped to develop some important
initiatives, such us new irrigation systems. Raising public awareness about the “real” costs of cotton
production and promoting less consuming approach is also one of these initiatives.
Types of cotton
There are three main types of cotton available in stores. They’re differentiated by the length of their
fiber (or “staple”), which are fine little strands that make up a raw piece of cotton. The longer the
fibre, the better the quality of the yarn and finally the fabric. Specific cotton varieties are typical for
certain countries, where they are exclusively grown. Let’s take a look at these specific types.
Upland cotton
The most common type of cotton all over the world. Around 85% of worldwide cotton production
derives from these species. It is made of short-staple fibers that offer reliable quality at an
affordable price. This is the most common variety on store shelves.
Giza/Egyptian cotton
Another name for this type is Egyptian cotton, as it is grown in the hot, dry climate of the Nile River
Valley. It’s a cotton of exceptional quality due to very long fibres, which make the fabric extra soft,
strong and lustrous. Moreover, Giza cotton is picked by hand to ensure only cotton bolls with the
correct maturity are selected. This careful cultivation and the manual harvesting avoids the use of
defoliants and chemical products, which are normally associated with mechanical harvesting.
Even if you’re not textile engineer or specialist you will immediately notice the difference between
standard (e.g. Upland) cotton and Egyptian cotton. It has exceptionally soft and silky handle. Due to
the fact that this type of cotton is so rare, so special it is much more expensive and only small
number of fashion or home textile brands decide to use it. These usually shirt or bed and bath linen
producers with selected, demanding customers. Giza cotton is popular among high quality shirt
producers, such as Thomas Mason or Philippe Perzi.
Pima cotton
This variety also consist of very long fibers making the end fabric extra strong making it extra strong,
extra soft and luxuriously smooth as well as resistant to fraying, tearing, pilling, wrinkling, and
fading. Generally the properties of the fabric made of Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton are the same,
the only difference is the place of cultivation. Pima is mostly grown in the USA, Peru and Israel.
Supima® is a registered trademark for American-grown Pima cotton. We can find it in shirts
Generally Giza and Pima cotton altogether account for only 10% of world’s cotton production.
Organic cotton
This is the cotton which is grown from non-genetically modified seeds and without the use of any
pesticides and insecticides. The largest producers of organic cotton as of 2018 are India, China and
the USA, followed by Pakistan, Brazil and Uzbekistan.
Organic cotton is obviously linked to environmentally friendly agriculture. However it is not just the
environment that benefits from the ban on the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, but also
farmers’ health who not any more exposed to poisonous substances to sprayed thousand times over
the fields. Organic cotton is also much more traceable than normal cotton. Although the issue of
traceability of all the raw materials is still in its infancy.
When writing this post I used the book “Clothing technology” which I generally refer to very often in
my “technological” posts and which has been my 2nd (after the studies ) essential guide helping
me to discover all the secrets of textiles industry and even more.
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