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The Chequered History of Cotton

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

Almost 75% of all the garments made in the world contain at least some Cotton, which makes it the most used fiber by Fashion Brands worldwide. India is the world’s largest producer of organic cotton (50%) followed by China (12%), Kyrgyzstan (12%), Turkey (10%), Tanzania ( 5%), Tajikistan (4%), and the United States (3%). Even for regular cotton, India is the world’s second-largest producer, just after China, but given the controversy surrounding the Uyghur genocide in China and the United States having banned the import of cotton produced in Xinjiang China, the supply chain balance has clearly shifted to India in the last few years and presents a bright opportunity for India in the future.

The Chequered History of Cotton

You may also know about Suvin cotton - a variety of cotton grown in India that is known for its extremely long fibers, making it one of the highest-quality cotton varieties in the world. Suvin cotton is often used to make high-end clothing and other textiles because of its softness, strength, and durability. It is also known for its ability to retain its color and shape over time, which makes it a popular choice for clothing and other items that need to be long-lasting. Suvin cotton is often compared to Egyptian and Pima cotton, other high-quality cotton varieties, known for their extra-long fibers.

Although the demand for cotton worldwide is increasing at about 4-5% year on year. Its production is actually declining by the same percentage, therefore leading to increased prices and the sharp lookout for alternate fabrics like hemp, linen, bamboo and others. But cotton is still the king of fabrics and is likely to retain that crown in the foreseeable future. In this blog, we’d like to cover a short history of cotton including its role in politics, wars, capitalism, sustainability and climate change.

What is Cotton and Why it is Important?

Cotton is a special kind of plant that grows soft and fluffy fibers in pods around its seeds. These fibers are almost entirely made of something called cellulose, which is like a natural building block. Along with cellulose, cotton fibers can have tiny amounts of other things like waxes, fats, and water.

Cotton plants are like small bushes, and they originally come from warm and sunny places around the world, including the Americas, Africa, Egypt, and India. Some of the wildest and most diverse types of cotton plants are found in Mexico, Australia, and Africa.

What is Cotton and Why it is important?

What makes cotton so amazing for fashion is that its fibers can be turned into threads and yarns to make soft, comfortable, and durable fabrics. People have been using cotton to make clothes for a really long time, even way back in ancient times. Archaeologists have found pieces of cotton fabric that are thousands of years old!

Suvin, Egyptian, Pima, and Sea Island cotton are known for having the longest cotton fibers. What's interesting is that cotton actually becomes stronger when it gets wet. In fact, it can soak up a remarkable 27 times its own weight in water!

But here's the big deal: Cotton became even more popular when a clever invention called the cotton gin came along. This machine made it much cheaper to produce cotton, so it quickly became the most widely used natural fiber for making clothes.

Today, cotton is a big deal in the fashion world. It's grown all over the globe, with India being the top producer and the United States leading in exports. Other major cotton-producing countries include China and Brazil.

Chequered History of Cotton

The Ancient Roots of Cotton: Cotton, one of the world's most versatile and enduring fibers, has a history dating back thousands of years. Its origins can be traced to the ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley, where cotton was cultivated, spun into yarn, and woven into cloth as far back as 3000 BCE. This early mastery of cotton by the people of the Indus Valley laid the foundation for its enduring significance.

India's Rich Cotton Legacy: India played a pivotal role in shaping the history of cotton. The subcontinent had a thriving cotton culture for over a thousand years before the arrival of Alexander the Great in 327 BCE. This early adoption of cotton made India a focal point for trade. Greek merchants were among the first to establish trade links, followed by the Romans and Arab traders by the 1st century CE. Cotton became particularly favored in the Arab world as it enabled compliance with Islamic sumptuary laws. Its adaptability to various climates transformed cotton from a luxury fabric into an everyday staple.

The Medieval Cotton Renaissance: In the early Middle Ages, Italy's cotton industry began to flourish through trade with Arab countries. Cotton centers for growing, spinning, and weaving emerged, especially in the North, from 1000 to 1300 CE. Italians blended cotton with other materials like wool and flax, creating fabrics like fustian, known for its sturdiness and affordability. Cotton production soon spread throughout Europe, with Germany's fustian industry providing strong competition.

The European Fascination with Indian Prints: In 1615, the British East India Company was established, introducing printed fabrics from India into Britain. Cotton competed with the British wool industry, leading to a temporary ban on wearing printed calicoes until the late 1700s. Meanwhile, other nations established their own trade companies with India, importing cheap printed cottons to Europe. Ironically, these vibrant Indian prints became popular among commoners in Persia and Turkey, outshining domestic products.

The Chintz Craze and European Replication: By the late 1600s, Europe had access to printed cottons, known as chintz, in various qualities. These prints, created using complex resist dye processes and hand-painting, were embraced across society. More affordable prints featured repeating patterns produced with roller blocks. Europeans sought ways to replicate the vivid Indian prints. In 1774, Britain lifted its ban on printed calicoes, kickstarting its cotton industry, which produced affordable fabrics for the masses. Despite domestic production, the wealthiest Europeans continued to wear imported Indian prints, which were unrivaled in quality.

The Cotton Revolution in America: Cotton found its way to the southern American colonies in the mid-1700s, thriving in the region's ideal conditions with the aid of slave labor. However, it wasn't until Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793 that cotton became a highly profitable crop. The cotton gin mechanized the separation of cotton fibers from seeds, significantly increasing production. Samuel Slater's water-powered textile mill in the United States further boosted the industry. By the 1860s, America was responsible for two-thirds of the world's cotton supply.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the British Empire relied heavily on Indian cotton to meet its textile needs. The American Civil War led to a blockade of Southern ports, which disrupted the supply of American cotton to Britain. This led to a sharp increase in the demand for Indian cotton, which drove up prices and boosted the Indian economy. However, the war also led to a shortage of cotton in India, which caused hardship for Indian farmers and textile workers.

During World War II (1939-1945), the British Empire again relied heavily on Indian cotton to meet its textile needs. The war also led to a shortage of cotton in India, which caused hardship for Indian farmers and textile workers. However, the war also created new opportunities for the Indian cotton industry. For example, the Indian government established new cotton mills to meet the increased demand for cotton textiles.

The South's Failed Bet on "King Cotton" and the Boll Weevil's Impact: During the American Civil War, the Confederate states, primarily cotton producers, believed that the economic power of "King Cotton" would win over Britain and harm the New England textile industry. This strategy backfired, and Britain's prior stockpiling of cotton rendered the blockade ineffective. Additionally, Union troops redirected the cotton supply to Northern textile mills. The South faced further challenges with the arrival of the boll weevil, a pest that devastated cotton crops starting in the late 1890s. This crisis led to diversification into crops like peanuts, revitalizing Southern agriculture.

Global Shifts in Cotton Production: In the 1920s, Mahatma Gandhi recognized the significance of cotton in India's struggle for independence. He championed the khadi movement, encouraging Indians to boycott British cotton and embrace homemade goods or khadi. The demand for khadi during World War II led India to mechanize its cotton industry, fostering large-scale production. After the war, textile manufacturing shifted to Asia due to lower labor costs, leading to the decline of textile mills in Britain, the U.S., and Europe. Nevertheless, the U.S. regained prominence in cotton production after 1950, reasserting its dominance in the global market.

In summary, the history of cotton is a rich tapestry woven with contributions from ancient civilizations, trade networks, and technological innovations. India's enduring legacy in cotton's history, along with its global impact, demonstrates the complex and fascinating journey of this remarkable fiber.

Around some decades ago, scientists from a company called Monsanto did something interesting. They put a special gene from a bacterium called Bt into cotton plants. This gene carries the instructions for making a toxin that's deadly to caterpillars. When caterpillars eat it, their guts get paralyzed, and they die. Plants with this Bt toxin gene can make their toxin, so they can protect themselves from caterpillars all season without needing insecticide.

Monsanto called this gene technology "Bollgard®," and they let some seed companies use it to develop cotton with this special gene. In 1995, the EPA (that's the environmental agency) said it was okay to use the first Bt cotton variety called NuCOTN, made by the Delta and Pine Land Company. Other seed companies like Stoneville and Hartz started using this technology too. By 1996, these Bt cotton varieties were available for farmers to grow.

Role of cotton in the Indian History

Cotton has been a major political issue in India for centuries. During the British colonial period, the British government used its control of the cotton industry to exploit Indian farmers and workers. The British imposed high tariffs on Indian cotton exports, which made it difficult for Indian textile manufacturers to compete with British manufacturers. The British also encouraged the cultivation of low-quality cotton in India, which further reduced the profits of Indian textile manufacturers.

In the early 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi led the Khadi movement, which encouraged Indians to boycott British cotton goods and wear khadi, a type of hand-woven cloth. The Khadi movement was a political movement as well as an economic movement. Gandhi believed that the Khadi movement would help to promote Indian independence and economic self-reliance.

After India gained independence in 1947, the Indian government took steps to develop the cotton industry. The government established cotton research institutes and provided subsidies to cotton farmers. The government also encouraged the development of cotton textile mills.

Cotton in Banknotes

There is a misconception that money is made from regular paper. But if that were true, your money would be ruined if it got wet. The truth is, that most countries, including the USA, use a special material for making money, and it's a mix of 75% cotton and 25% linen. This way, your cash doesn't get destroyed if it gets wet.

Environmental Impacts of Cotton

From an environmental perspective, it's important to note that conventional cotton production is not very eco-friendly. It receives a low sustainability grade (E), while organic cotton ranks significantly higher (B). Regular cotton farming relies heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, posing risks to the environment, worker health, and even the end-users, as some chemicals may persist in the fabric after production. Retailers should consider offering eco-friendly alternatives and educating customers about sustainable fashion choices.

Cotton is a popular material used in clothing and textiles, but its production can harm the environment. Conventional cotton farming, which is the usual way of growing cotton, isn't very eco-friendly. It relies on lots of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which can be bad for the environment, the health of workers, and even the people who wear the clothes, as these chemicals can stick around in the fabric. Retailers should consider offering eco-friendly options and educating customers about sustainable fashion.

Water Usage and Pollution:

Cotton uses a lot of water when it's grown and made into clothes. To make just one cotton t-shirt, it takes as much water as one person would drink in two and a half years. When we dye cotton fabrics to give them colors, it uses about 5 trillion liters of water worldwide every year. And to make one kilogram of cotton fiber, it takes about 20,000 liters of water. So, you can see that cotton really uses a ton of water!

Soil Damage and Erosion:

Growing cotton can harm the soil. Most cotton farms only grow cotton, and this can make the soil lose its quality over time. It can also lead to deforestation and harm wildlife. The soil can erode, which means it washes away, especially when there aren't trees to hold it in place. This can damage aquatic life and increase water temperatures.

Soil erosion due to Cotton cultivation

Chemical Pollution:

Conventional cotton farming uses lots of chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers. These chemicals harm the environment over time and can also be dangerous to human health. They can get into the water and affect wildlife. Some of the pesticides used in cotton farming are harmful to bees, which are important for pollinating crops.

Pollution from Cotton Processing:

Turning cotton into clothes involves dyeing, bleaching, and other chemical treatments. This produces polluted wastewater that can harm rivers and lakes. The fashion industry contributes to industrial water pollution through this process.

Fashion retailers should be aware of several drawbacks associated with Bt cotton. Firstly, pests can develop resistance to Bt cotton over time, reducing its effectiveness in pest control. Secondly, BT cotton, while designed to target specific pests, can unintentionally harm beneficial insects like honeybees, which are crucial for pollinating crops and maintaining biodiversity.

Additionally, Bt cotton seeds are often more expensive than traditional ones, which can be a financial burden for farmers, especially in developing countries. Furthermore, Bt cotton's reliance on patented technology means farmers become dependent on specific seed companies, limiting their choices and making them vulnerable to price fluctuations and supply shortages. Lastly, cultivating Bt cotton may have environmental impacts, including increased water and chemical fertilizer usage, soil degradation, and potential unknown effects from introducing genetically modified organisms into ecosystems. Fashion retailers should consider these factors when sourcing cotton products and explore sustainable alternatives.

Better Cotton Initiative:

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) was founded in 2005 in response to the growing concerns about the environmental and social impacts of cotton production. The Better Cotton Initiative, or BCI, is a group that wants to make cotton farming better for everyone. They started talking about this in 2005, and in 2010, they began doing things to make cotton farming more sustainable. They worked in countries like Africa, Brazil, India, and Pakistan. Later, in 2013, they started working in more places like China, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Mozambique.

BCI is like a club of people and companies who care about cotton. They help farmers, brands, and shops do cotton farming in a way that's good for the Earth and the people who do the work. They made a list of rules called the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria that cover everything from how you start with the seeds to what you do after you pick the cotton. It's about things like saving water, keeping the soil healthy, using fewer chemicals, treating workers fairly, and being responsible.

Farmers who follow these rules can sell their cotton as "Better Cotton." Brands and shops can put a special logo on their products to show they used this kind of cotton, so you know it's more sustainable.

Lots of people and companies are part of BCI, and they work in more than 21 countries. They help about 10% of all the cotton in the world be more sustainable.

For farmers, BCI teaches them how to do better farming and helps them find better places to sell their cotton. Brands and shops like it because they can get cotton that's good for the Earth and tell you about it. And for you, it's a way to choose products that are made in a more Earth-friendly way.

BCI is a big group that's making cotton farming better for everyone. They're helping farmers, the environment, and you when you shop for clothes.

Organic Cotton Accelerator:

The Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) was founded in 2014 in response to the need to accelerate the adoption of organic cotton. Organic cotton is a sustainable alternative to conventional cotton, which is grown using harmful chemicals and pesticides. Organic cotton is better for the environment, better for farmers, and better for consumers.

The Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) is a team from the Netherlands that started in 2016. They want to make more cotton that's good for the Earth. Big brands, shops, and groups that care about organic cotton joined this team.

Organic Cotton Accelarator

They help farmers learn how to grow cotton without harmful stuff. They also help them find money and places to sell their organic cotton. They talk to brands and shops to use more organic cotton in their clothes. They also tell people why organic cotton is great. They want everyone to know where their cotton comes from. They make rules and checks for organic cotton.

Lots of friends help OCA, like brands, shops, groups, and even governments. They work in more than 20 countries and have helped over 100,000 farmers grow organic cotton.

OCA is a top group for organic cotton. They're making sure we have more organic cotton, and they're telling everyone about it.

Organic Alternatives of Cotton:

Here are some organic alternatives to cotton:

  • Hemp: Hemp is great because it doesn't need as much land or water as cotton. It also makes fabric that lasts longer and stays strong even when it's wet.

  • Bamboo: Bamboo is another good choice because it uses less water than cotton and can grow on its own without replanting. It makes soft fabric, similar to Egyptian cotton.

  • Ramie: Ramie is a lesser-known plant, but its fiber is shiny like silk and very absorbent. It's a bit tricky to make fabric from it because of its sticky resin, but the effort is worth it for breathable and comfy clothing.

  • Flax: Flax needs less water to grow and makes linen, which is super soft and breathable. However, it's a bit harder to find organic linen compared to cotton.

  • Jute: Jute comes from certain plants and is the second most produced natural textile after cotton. It's cheaper to make, requires less water and chemicals, and is biodegradable. It's often used for rugs and bags.

  • Silk: Silk is unique because it comes from silkworms. While it has a soft and smooth feel with a shiny look, some people find the way it's harvested to be less humane. However, there are more humane methods being developed. Silk is also great for warm weather because it quickly absorbs heat.

These alternatives to cotton have their own advantages and can be more sustainable choices for clothing and textiles.

Inorganic Alternatives of Cotton:

Here are some alternatives to cotton that are not organic:

  • Polyester: Polyester is a man-made fabric made from petroleum. It's tough and doesn't wrinkle easily, but it's not as breathable as cotton.

  • Rayon: Rayon is a fabric made from wood pulp, but it's not as sturdy as cotton. It feels soft and flows nicely.

  • Acrylic: Acrylic is another synthetic fabric made from petroleum. It's soft and warm, but it doesn't let your skin breathe as well as cotton.

  • Viscose: Viscose is similar to rayon and comes from wood pulp. It's soft and drapey but not as durable as cotton.

  • Modal: Modal is a type of rayon made from beechwood pulp. It's soft and lets your skin breathe, but it's not as strong as cotton.

These fabrics aren't grown using organic farming methods, but they're comfy and can be used for making all sorts of things, including clothes.

Expert Cotton Garment Manufacturers in India - NoName

NoName stands out as a leading White Label and OEM organic cotton clothing manufacturer in India. We are known for sustainable clothing in India and are the best private-label clothing manufacturer. Our primary focus is on crafting premium organic cotton fabrics and clothing, catering to fashion retailers and small brands. We take immense pride in our role as a trusted partner in the realm of garment manufacturing. Our unwavering commitment to excellence shines through in every piece we create, as we utilize the finest organic cotton materials available in the fashion industry.

NoName is clothing manufacturer in India

Our mission transcends mere manufacturing; we actively support local brands in their quest for top-quality cotton fabrics, ensuring they have convenient access to the highest-grade materials right here in India. Additionally, our global presence empowers us to maintain an international supply chain, sourcing raw cotton from renowned destinations such as China, Japan, India, and Turkey.

When you choose to collaborate with NoName as your organic cotton clothing manufacturer in India and garment manufacturer, you're not merely acquiring exceptional products; you're also forging connections with a vast global network. This network guarantees you seamless access to the finest cotton materials from diverse corners of the world. We're here to transform your cotton fashion dreams into reality, simplifying the process of creating outstanding clothing lines that will captivate and delight your customers.

Conclusion: In today's world, people are becoming more aware of the importance of sustainable and organic choices, especially when it comes to clothing. Organic cotton is in high demand because it's better for the environment, for the people who grow it, and for those who wear it.

NoName, a leading clothing manufacturer based in India, understands this demand and is dedicated to producing top-quality organic cotton fabrics and clothing. We take pride in being a trusted partner for fashion retailers and small brands looking to make responsible choices.

Our mission goes beyond just making clothes; we actively support local brands in their quest for premium organic cotton materials. We ensure that they have access to the highest-quality organic cotton from around the world, including renowned sources in China, Japan, India, and Turkey.

When you choose to work with NoName, you're not only getting exceptional products, but you're also joining a global network committed to sustainable fashion. We simplify the process of creating outstanding clothing lines that will delight your customers while making a positive impact on the environment.

So, in a world where organic cotton is the future of fashion, NoName is your reliable partner for high-quality organic cotton clothing. Make the responsible choice and embrace the organic cotton revolution with us.

Ready to embrace the organic cotton revolution in fashion? Choose NoName as your trusted partner for high-quality organic cotton clothing. Join us in making a positive impact on the environment while offering your customers sustainable and comfortable fashion choices.

Contact us today to start your journey towards eco-friendly and responsible fashion.

WhatsApp: +91-9717 508 508

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