Cotton is an ancient crop and a pillar of the fashion industry. Originally cultivated and first documented in India, it experienced significant growth in the 19th century as manufacturing and textile industries became more appealing.
Today, over one-third of the fabrics used in the fashion industry are made from cotton. Cotton is grown on a large scale in various regions worldwide, particularly in tropical areas, as it thrives in hot climates. Here are interesting 19 facts about cotton:
1. Fact about the cotton plant
1.1. Cotton has been around for over 8,000 years
Cotton has been domesticated and grown in both the Old and New Worlds. While we usually refer to its recent history, cotton has been used since prehistoric times, around 6,000 years BC! Fabric remnants made from cotton have been discovered in civilizations such as the Indus Valley in India and Pakistan, possibly predating even Mesopotamia and the Egyptian dynasties.
Additionally, cotton has its origins in the ancient region of Peru, around 8,000 years ago. Although the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century propelled cotton production and manufacturing, cotton has existed long before that.
1.2. The cotton plant has a growth period of about 200 days
Cotton plants require approximately 200 days to grow. This process usually starts from December to March. Cotton plants require high temperatures during their extended growth period, as temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius slow down the growth process, especially during flowering and boll formation stages.
The best development occurs when the average summer temperature is above 25 degrees Celsius. Cotton plants are ready for harvesting in the autumn, provided they receive sufficient water during their growth.
1.3. Cotton plants produce bolls – facts about cotton
After cotton plants bloom and are pollinated, they form cotton bolls. The cotton boll is a hard capsule that contains cotton fibers and seeds inside. When the boll ripens, it bursts open, revealing the soft and fine cotton fibers we commonly refer to as cotton. Cotton flowers also have a distinctive beauty.
1.4. Cotton seeds have saltwater tolerance
Wild cotton plants are carried away by strong winds over the sea. Therefore, wild cotton can be found on islands worldwide, including the Galapagos Islands and the Caribbean region.
Wild cotton wouldn’t be able to survive and cross saltwater areas if cotton seeds weren’t salt-tolerant. This is because cotton seeds are not as sensitive to salt as other crop seeds, thus they can’t cross the ocean.
Remember these interesting facts when you wear a vest, a shirt, or a soft dress. Appreciate the elements that make cotton special and the effort put into its production.
1.5. Cotton is grown in many countries worldwide
In the United States, cotton is grown in 17 southern states, from Virginia to California.
1.6. Cotton is one of the top five soft commodities
The top five soft commodities in annual consumption include cocoa, coffee, wheat, sugar, and cotton.
1.7. Cotton was the first plant to grow on the moon
China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft carried cotton seeds to the moon. According to China, the cotton seeds from that batch germinated in January 2019 inside the spacecraft at the Von Kármán lunar crater. Unfortunately, the cotton plant died shortly after due to the cold conditions.
1.8. Most paper money is made from cotton
Many people think that paper money is made from regular paper. In reality, if paper money were made from regular paper, it wouldn’t be usable when wet. Most countries use cotton to produce paper money, including the United States, where a 75% cotton and 25% linen blend is used for banknotes.
2. Fact about cotton fabric
2.1. The Industrial revolution transformed the textile industry
The Industrial Revolution, which originated in England, was one of the most significant events in world history, profoundly affecting every aspect of society. When it comes to cotton, there was another major game-changer: the invention of the cotton gin.
Let’s start in England, where James Hargreaves introduced the Spinning Jenny in the late 18th century, a crucial step in the industrialization of textile production. The multi-spindle spinning frame significantly reduced the labor required to produce fabric, more than 100 times compared to previous technologies. Jenny is believed to have initiated the factory system of production.
In the United States, just a few decades later, an inventor named Eli Whitney introduced the cotton gin, short for “cotton engine,” a machine that quickly and easily separated fibers from the seeds, greatly increasing productivity compared to manual labor. This machine revolutionized the cotton production process, making it more efficient.
While the concept of gin had existed for centuries, dating back around 500 years in India, Whitney’s device was the first modern mechanical version, reducing production costs and leading to widespread development. Thanks to the contributions of Hargreaves and Whitney, the future of the cotton industry was forever changed, becoming a global-scale industry worth billions of dollars as it is today.
2.2. Cotton fabric is completely natural
Cotton is a predominantly soft and smooth fiber formed from various types of different lengths. The term “cotton” is used to refer to the part that develops into a cotton boll, acting as a protective shell around the seed.
The cotton plant belongs to the Gossypium genus in the Malvaceae family. When harvested, it is pulled into fibers and woven to create a soft and durable fabric. Therefore, cotton is a completely natural fabric, similar to silk and wool; it is a natural commodity readily available on our planet without the need for scientific invention.
2.3. Cotton gets stronger when wet – facts about cotton
Unlike other cellulose fibers such as rayon and wood pulp, cotton does not lose strength when wet. This is crucial for many products like towels and medical fabrics, as they won’t lose quality when exposed to water.
2.4. There are 50 species of natural cotton in the world
There are a total of 50 species of natural cotton, but only 4 species are used for fiber production. These four types are chosen as the sources of cotton fibers due to their suitable length and oil content for large-scale cultivation and processing. Each type has its distinct characteristics.
Among them, there is Pima Cotton, also known as American Cotton, originating from South America and the southwestern United States. This type is considered the best due to its extremely soft fibers. There is also Egyptian Cotton, which is very similar to Pima Cotton but grown in the Nile River Valley. It is also considered the best because of its soft, long, and durable fibers, and the hand-picking process results in less strain on the fibers.
Egyptian Cotton also has longer fibers, making the fabric more durable and capable of producing high thread count fabric. Therefore, it is extensively used in producing high-quality bed sheets. The third is Upland Cotton, accounting for around 90% of the global cotton production. Finally, there is organic cotton, which is any type of cotton grown without the use of chemicals or genetically modified plants.
2.5. Most cotton plants grown are of the upland cotton variety
Upland cotton plants produce fibers with an average length of up to 1.3 inches. However, these fibers are not as fine as Egyptian or Sea Island cotton, although they are still suitable for fiber production.
2.6. The most common applications of cotton fabric
We have listed some applications of cotton as follows:
- Bed sheets and towels.
However, those are just three out of the six most common applications of this natural fabric from the Gossypium plant.
Cotton is also used in
- Woven fabrics such as canvas, denim, and flannel
- Home decor such as curtains, rugs, and pillows
- Cottonseed oil. Cottonseed oil is a byproduct of the production process. It is commonly used for salad dressings and vegetable margarine but can also be found in soaps, candles, and cosmetic products like makeup.
2.7. Cotton accounts for nearly 40% of clothing production
Cotton has been around for thousands of years, but nowadays it has become an essential component in the modern textile industry. Globally, cotton accounts for approximately 40% of clothing production, thanks to its absorbent, soft, durable, and easy-care properties. Additionally, natural cotton fibers are hypoallergenic, allowing people to wear it without difficulty, especially those with sensitive skin.
2.8. Cotton plays a significant role in denim and jeans production
In general, all types of denim fabric are created through a common process starting from the cotton source. Denim is a sturdy fabric made from cotton fibers. The apparel industry uses about three-quarters of the total global cotton, and the renowned brand Levi’s produces up to 90% of their products from this plant.
Cotton is processed into fibers, which are then dyed or left in their natural white color and woven on a loom or a shuttleless loom. The woven denim fabric is then cleaned, undergoes processes of stretching, shrinking, and setting in both length and width to reduce shrinkage after washing. And that’s how denim fabric is formed!
Do you know where the term “denim” actually originates from? It comes from the phrase “de Nîmes” in French, meaning “from the city of Nimes.” Yes, not from the wild and famous West of the United States, with cowboys, gold miners, and border patrols, but from the Occitanie region in the southern part of France!
Although the Wild West has become synonymous with durable and robust denim, we believe part of it is due to brands like Lee, Wrangler, and Levi’s mentioned earlier.
2.9. Denim and jeans are not exactly the same
Typically, denim refers to the fabric used to produce jeans, and jeans refer specifically to the pants made from denim fabric. However, denim is primarily a combination of cotton and silk, while jeans are a combination of cotton and wool. In terms of history, there are two different stories:
- Denim appeared around 300 years ago or around 1700 in Nimes, Southern France, during a booming textile industry.
- On the other hand, the first pair of jeans can be traced back to the 15th century in Italy, where it appeared in the city of Genova.
When both became popular worldwide, they were made entirely of cotton, which is why the origins and distinctions became somewhat blurred. When production finally began in the United States, a new distinction was created: denim was said to be woven from white and colored fibers, while jeans were made from two different-colored fibers. It’s quite a complex story we’ve told!
2.10. The better cotton initiative – ensuring sustainability
The process of growing, harvesting, and producing cotton requires a significant amount of time and effort, as you can imagine. Millions of farmers around the world depend on cotton for their livelihoods, but global cotton production also demands billions of tons of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and unimaginable amounts of water to create the world’s top fabric material. This translates to a significant environmental impact.
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a global non-profit organization and the world’s largest sustainable cotton program. BCI aims to drive global transformation in cotton production by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.
BCI trains millions of farmers on smarter farming practices, such as cultivating more cotton using less water and fewer harmful chemicals. They learn how to increase yields from smaller areas, which helps increase income and invest in food and education.
In the 2018-2019 crop year, 2.3 million BCI-trained farmers produced 5.6 million metric tons of Better Cotton, equivalent to 22% of global production. By 2020, it is projected that over 5 million farmers will be growing Better Cotton, accounting for 30% of the global supply.
2.11. Modern farming techniques in the united states have reduced environmental impact
Over the past 30 years, new farming techniques in the United States have reduced environmental impact.
- Soil: As of the present, there has been an increase in soil conservation by reducing soil erosion by up to 68%.
- Water conservation: The amount of water used for cotton cultivation accounts for only about 3% of total water usage in global agriculture. In the United States, 64% of cotton is rain-fed, and irrigation water use has decreased by 75%.
- Greenhouse gases: Cotton has the ability to absorb CO2 during its growth. In fact, the amount of CO2 that cotton plants worldwide remove from the air is equivalent to the emissions of 7 million cars.
- Chemical usage: Over the past 25 years in the United States, pesticide use has decreased by 50%. Pesticides are used by farmers to maintain productivity and provide affordable food supply and diverse fiber resources.
- Biodegradability: Cotton is 100% biodegradable and can be composted. In environments rich in oxygen or anaerobic conditions, cotton-based fabrics will fully biodegrade within 4 weeks.
Here are some interesting facts about cotton that WELL Fabric has collected to share with you. We hope that the content will be informative and help you gain a better understanding of cotton. If you have a need to purchase cotton fabric for your garment production, please feel free to contact our brand, WELL Fabric!