Cotton is an amazing fiber; in fact, you are probably wearing something made of cotton right now. This series will explore cotton, its versatility and popularity, its challenges, sustainability, and the future of cotton and textiles.
Cotton touches most of us every day. It makes up nearly 30% of global textile production and it has a history dating back over 8,000 years. Globally, around 30 million hectares are planted with cotton, accounting for more than 2% of total arable land, and producing approximately 25 million metric tons of cotton annually. Cotton is grown in over 80 countries and its production supports the livelihoods of over 350 million people, including between 50 to 100 million farmers.
Why is cotton such a popular material?
It is practical and affordable - a versatile fiber, it can be woven into many fabrics, from denim to lace. It can be easily dyed, and blended with other types of fibers, like polyester. Additionally, because it is so widely available, the price of cotton is affordable.
It is tough - Cotton fibers are tough and durable. It is the only fiber that becomes even stronger when wet. Clothes made from cotton can be worn, washed, and worn again and again. Because cotton can tolerate very hot water and high temperatures, it’s easy to sterilize, making it the fiber of choice for hospital clothing and accessories, as well as firefighting and other emergency services’ uniforms.
It is good to wear - Fabrics made of cotton are soft and non-irritating – they do not scratch or chafe the skin. Cotton is one of the only natural fibers that cause virtually no allergic reactions, making it ideal for babies and people with sensitive skin, or those prone to skin problems such as eczema. Cotton fabric allows skin to breathe. It draws moisture away from the body, in hot weather it keeps you dry, and in cool weather provides great insulation. It is breathable and does not retain odors.
It is naturally environmental - Cotton is biodegradable and a renewable resource (though it can use non-renewable resources in the growing process). Cotton fibers can be re-used and recycled. Given the right technology, cotton fabric can be broken down and the fibers recycled into new yarn, or even into paper.
It is more than a fiber crop - Cotton is an important rotation crop for small farmers, both for fiber, fuel, and food (such as cotton seed oil). The cash income it generates is vital to improving living standards.
Cotton is the fabric of choice for so many styles and uses; it is hard to imagine life without it. But in the face of a changing world and climate, with issues like water scarcity, decreasing soil quality, and increased pressures on agricultural land, we cannot take the future supply of cotton for granted.
Check back tomorrow as we explore the challenges that face cotton.