The production of cotton for clothing, bedding and various other purposes is a worldwide business. One of the top countries in the world for producing cotton is the USA behind China and India. But does all of the cotton made in American reach the standard of American Cotton?
There are five states that dominated the production of cotton in the US – Texas, California, Arizona, Mississippi and Louisiana. Of the cotton that is grown across these states, 99% of it is what is called Upland cotton while the remaining 1% is called Pima cotton. So what is the difference? Think of it this way – Pima is your smart work shirt, your interview shirt or your formal best. Upland cotton is your watch the match with your mates shirt or go out shopping shirt. Both are great products but there is a quality difference. That is because the plants behind the shirt are slightly different.
Pima cotton is often sold as Supima, a brand name. Pima cotton comes from a cotton plant with the name Gossypium barbadense and is categorised as an extra long staple cotton or ELS cotton. This means that it is longer than normal cotton and has very long, silky fibres. It is a tropical plant that only grows where there is the right sunlight, rainfall and humidity as well as a lack of frost. The resulting cotton is also known for being harder for insects and fungus to damage due to a chemical within it called gossypol. Pima cotton gets its name from the Pima Indians who were instrumental in helping the state of Arizona set up their production of it in the early 1900s. The plant and its cotton has a much older history, with mankind raising and using it for thousands of years. It is the same type of cotton as Egyptian cotton and was once known as Sea Island cotton. It is something called American cotton though this can be somewhat confusing.
The other type of cotton grown across the US in abundance is the Upland cotton also known as Mexican cotton or Gossypium hirsutum. This plant comes from Mexica, the West Indies and across South and Central America and accounts for some 90% of worldwide production. Like Pima cotton, it has an ancient history with evidence for its cultivation dating back to 3500BC in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico. Upland cotton produces cotton strands of varying length, though never quite as long and silky as the Pima cotton. These can be known as long staple upland and short staple upland. The plants are also used in the production of cottonseed oil.
So while a shirt made from upland cotton is still American cotton, it isn’t as fine a quality as one made from Pima cotton. Pima cotton tends to be sturdier than many of the upland varieties meaning that while it may be more expensive, it stays in top quality for longer and feels great when wearing it. It can be machine washed with laundry detergent and even special bleaches following the washing instruction label. So what type of shirt is yours?