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Cotton : A brief history

Cotton : A brief history

15 May 2018

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3 Image by Supplycompass based on figures from

A brief history

People have been spinning the cotton plant into thread, clothing and other textiles for millennia. The earliest records have dated cotton usage in India, to at least 5000BCE. There are four different species of cultivated cotton, all within the Gossypium family, that have been separately domesticated and cultivated by ancient people from Egypt and the Middle East to the Americas and Caribbean. India is the only country today where all four species are commercially cultivated, much of which is now Bt Cotton [genetically modified cotton] since being introduced into India in 2002.

4 types of Gossypium:

1. Upland: Native to the Americas and the Caribbean, this species makes up to 90% of the world's raw material. Characterised by a relatively short staple, upland cotton is the most affordable and widely used.

2. Extra-long Staple [ELS]: Native to the tropics of South America, extra-long staple accounts for 8% of the world's total.  Varieties of this premium fibre include Pima and Egyptian cotton.

3. Tree: As the name implies, this species grows into a tree rather than a small shrub. It is found in Indian and Pakistan.

4. Levant: Found in Southern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, this species makes up just less than two per cent of the global crop.

How does it grow?

The small, sturdy plant is a perfect cash crop. It requires temperate climates with no or little frost, and while the soil needs to be heavy, it does not need to hold an excessive amount of nutrients. The crop grows quickly, as it takes the form of short shrubs rather than nutrient-hungry trees, and each plant produces a wealth of the fluffy bolls which are spun into threads and then woven into a cool, breathable fabric of the desired thickness. 

Why is cotton the most popular fabirc?

Cotton has remained so popular through the ages because of its versatility, comfort and durability. Cotton fabrics are often absorbent, they hold dye well, and unlike fibres such as wool, it becomes stronger when wet.  It's an incredibly versatile fibre and when woven or knitted into fabric can be used for anything from t-shirts, crisp shirts and bed sheets to corduroy trousers, jeans and canvas bags.  Although cotton is not 100% environmentally friendly, it is a renewable source of material. Read our article 3 reasons why organic cotton is better than conventional cotton to see the benefits of going organic.

Reduce your carbon footprint

Choosing to manufacture your products closer to where cotton is cultivated and processed, will minimise transport costs and environmental impact. India is the largest producer and second largest exporter of cotton worldwide, so if you're looking for garments or home furnishings made from conventional or organic cotton, contact Supplycompass today. Our partners in India specialise in a wide variety of cotton products, from dresses, shirts and pyjamas to bed linen, cushions and upholstery. 

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