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The Troubles with Cotton Labeling

Ever wander the aisles of a store wondering  just how much you can trust a product’s packaging? Consumers are right to be  wary when it comes to labels and claims. The cotton industry is particularly fraught  with mislabeling, and this often-misleading information can be confusing to  even the most informed shopper. Here at PimaCott, a desire to help consumers  make confident choices has driven our efforts to improve transparency and  develop the world’s first proven pure pima cotton. We’re determined to get to  the bottom of cotton labeling and help consumers understand the truth behind  the claims.

“Cutting” Cotton: Beware of Blending

There are three different species of cotton  used to make the products we know and love. The most common type is Upland  cotton, comprising nearly 90% of all cotton produced around the world and  suitable for everyday-quality products. The remaining 10% is made up of two  higher-quality cottons — Egyptian cotton and pima cotton – which are both extra-long staple cottons. The unique qualities of these high-quality  cottons make them desirable for certain household items like bedding and  towels. Because of this, companies are often eager to promote their products  as Egyptian or pima cotton – even if sometimes they’re made with only a  fraction of these high-quality fibers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works to  enforce strict rules about cotton labeling, but some producers skirt the law. Many cotton  products labeled “Egyptian” or "pima" are, in fact, made of an  inferior cotton blend. A recent test revealed 89% of cottons sold as Egyptian or pima aren't pure at all.  And Egyptian cotton is especially troublesome, because any cotton grown in  Egypt can technically be labeled "Egyptian cotton" — even if it's  not the high-quality extra-long staple cotton of the same name. 

Greenwashing and Socialwashing – Too Good to Be True?

Another troublesome issue in cotton labeling  is rooted in the recent interest in environmentally- and socially-responsible  products. As consumers have become more aware of the ecological and human  cost of the products they purchase, there has been a drive to buy from  companies committed to ethically- and environmentally-minded sourcing and  production. This “green rush” has led to certain unscrupulous companies  trying to cash in on the well-meaning shopper by labeling products as green,  organic, environmentally-friendly, fair trade, or sustainable – without any  meaning or verification behind the words.

As we detailed in our post on a recent documentary from the French television Program Cash, even companies that purport to  certify a producer’s supply chain can be guilty of misleading consumers. The team’s  conversation with an executive from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a  non-profit organization organized to promote better standards in cotton  farming across 24 countries, confirmed that the BCI labeling can be applied  to the garments of companies that have simply pledged to use BCI cotton at  some point, for some portion of their products. This means that a garment  with a BCI label may, in fact, be made with “conventional” cotton – which may  have been tainted with cotton grown in Uzbekistan or other countries where unethical labor practices or the use of harmful pesticides are common.

How to Beat Mislabeling

We recognize how difficult it is get to the  truth behind all the misinformation out there. But if you’re willing to do a  bit of legwork, it’s possible to feel confident that you’re getting the high  quality and benefits you expect from these products. We recommend  familiarizing yourself with FTC regulations, which are straightforward enough for the  average consumer to understand – in short, it’s important that you look for  more detail than just “100% cotton” if you want the best fabric. Finally,  choose companies you trust who make their commitment to sustainable,  transparent sourcing clear and verifiable. When you purchase Wamsutta sheets and towels made with PimaCott, you can feel good knowing  that you’re buying high-quality bedding and home goods that are not only  verified pure but sourced and produced with stringent ethical standards.