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Cotton 101: From Bolls to Bedding

Cotton is easy to love. It’s soft, durable, and one of the most versatile fabrics around – cotton is used to make everything from luxury linens to rugged blue jeans. But aside from appreciating cotton’s great qualities, how much do you really know about your favorite fabric? If it’s less than you’d like, today’s your lucky day. PimaCott is something of an expert on the subject and we’ve put together a crash course on the cotton facts and figures you should know.

What is Cotton?

Cotton is a low, shrub-like plant topped with a puff of fluffy fibers surrounding small cottonseeds called a boll. While most people know cotton by a single name, it actually comes from two distinct species of plant. They’re differentiated by the length of the fibers (or “staple”) that make up a raw piece of cotton. Upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) is made of short-staple fibers that offer reliable quality at an affordable price. The second species of cotton features “extra-long staple” fibers (Gossypium barbadense) and is known as both Egyptian and pima cotton. Those longer fibers make the fabric softer and stronger than Upland cotton. In its many different forms, cotton fabric accounts for more than half of all the fabric worn across the globe.

How is Cotton Grown?

Cotton has been cultivated as a crop around the world for more than 5,000 years. Of the two different species, Upland cotton is the most common, making up nearly 90% of all cotton produced globally. The remaining 10% is divided between the two higher quality, extra-long staple cottons, Egyptian and pima. Cotton grows primarily in hot, dry climates, with China and the United States ranking as the first and second biggest producers, respectively. However, because the demand for cotton is so high, it can lead to unethical practices. In some parts of the world, forced and child labor is still used to pick and process cotton. Because of this, it’s important that consumer do their homework to learn where the cotton they’re buying is grown.

How Does Cotton Go from Fiber to Fabric?

At the end of a long – and often complicated – growing season, cotton is ready to be picked.

The small, sticky cottonseeds must be separated from the cotton fibers in a process known as ginning in order to prepare the cotton for spinning and weaving. After the fibers are separated, they’re carefully combed, sorted, and packaged into bales. It’s then spun into threads which are woven into a wide variety of different cotton fabrics – from sateen to percale to denim. All in all, it’s a complex process, and it takes a rigorous commitment to transparency to ensure that the integrity of the cotton is maintained.

Why Does Transparency Matter?

Due to the complexities of cotton production, unscrupulous companies have plenty of opportunities to dupe unsuspecting customers. Sometimes it’s through misleading labeling, and other times an unethical company will mix lower-quality short staple cotton into extra-long staple cotton without indicating it’s a blend. The only way to guarantee you’re getting the high-quality cotton that’s on the label is to buy from a company you trust. At PimaCott, we’ve pioneered the technology to keep our pima cotton pure. Our revolutionary system allows us to tag and track the cotton in order to monitor our pima at every step. From our farms to store shelves, it’s repeatedly tested for purity. So you can be sure you’re getting the softest, strongest, purest pima cotton products possible. That’s not just something on a label. That’s scientific fact.