Stefanie Rudolph

The secret of the only true textile fibre

This secret, which is actually not meant to be one - for, to be perfectly honest, there is no such thing as the universally ideal fibre - comes across as fairly disenchanting, which is not at all to say, however, that the existing selection of many very good fibres is just as valuable. This series of articles will address the most prevalent types of fibre, their properties and the advantages and disadvantages of them, and provide some insight into our motivation for preferring various different fibres, or also entirely avoiding them. Of course, everyone has his or her secret favourites, but, for the sake of fairness, these articles will appear in alphabetical order.

Part 1: Cotton

Cotton fibres are pure, natural fibres from the cotton plant, and thus do not require to be subjected to a chemical, energy-intensive manufacturing process. All that the cotton plant needs is earth and water, actually less water than is often claimed.

Cotton Boll
Cotton Boll

In particular the water consumption is frequently raised as a topic in connection with cotton cultivation, nonetheless it should, at this point, be mentioned that half of the cotton plantations worldwide exclusively make use of rainwater reservoirs. Furthermore, only three per cent of the water used for agriculture worldwide is allocated to cotton fields, despite the fact that, according to the WWF, approximately half of all textiles worldwide consist of cotton.

Especially the increasing focus on organic cotton contributes towards improved conditions, as far as sustainability is concerned.

Organic cotton is made from natural seeds, and in addition, no pesticides or other harmful chemicals whatsoever are deployed. Pests, such as bugs, are combatted with insects, which, in turn, eliminate them.

Ordinary cotton is cultivated with genetically modified seeds, in order to create improved resistance to pests. Should this alone no longer suffice, it is necessary to resort to pesticides. However, innovations in the field of biotechnology have already enabled farmers to halve their use of pesticides over the past 20 years. Insecticides are, on the other hand, only used if the plants are still young and vulnerable. Once the woolly bud has opened, and the plant is mature, insecticides are no longer needed. In addition, cotton fabric goes through a number of washing cycles within the scope of the value creation chain, which means that any chemical residues which may still exist are entirely eliminated.

Cotton Seedling
Cotton Seedling

A further difference between organic and ordinary cotton is the quality of the soil. Ordinary cotton is cultivated on the same ground, over and over again, leading to a deterioration of the soil quality, depletion of nutrients and unhealthy harvests. As these plant cultures consequently need more water, they are subjected to reinforced irrigation, which leads to water being wasted. Organic cotton is rotated from one field to another, and the existing nutrients retain the water longer, so that less irrigation is required. This ultimately results in healthier crops.

Specific properties of cotton textiles

Besides the aspect of sustainability and environmental performance, fibres naturally continue to be rated based on their properties, and this is where cotton has a lot to offer.

Not only does cotton deflect moisture, but it is in fact simultaneously also breathable. A material that is very soft and pleasant to the skin, it nonetheless presents attractive drapability properties. In the field of heat insulation and elasticity, this fibre is a rock-solid choice, too. Cotton is, moreover, considered hypoallergenic, owing to these natural fibres having only an extremely slight tendency to cause allergic reactions. It does not cause any skin irritations either, and can be fully sterilised. The microbial resilience of cotton is low, however the fibres are very resistant to infestation by moths and beetles and any associated harm done. Cotton is, furthermore, very heat-resistant, so that it can be cleaned well, as it can even be washed at 100 degrees Celsius. Just like linen or silk, cotton belongs to the natural raw materials that can be dyed fairly well. Above all, clothing made from pure cotton has the advantage that the dye can be distributed over the textile surface evenly. For that reason, dyed articles of clothing made from cotton generally look very natural.

Like any other fibre, cotton also has its flaws, for, also with cotton, the maxim applies that there is a downside to everything.

Cotton fabrics, left in their natural form, are relatively prone to creasing, which can, however, if necessary, be remedied by treating the material in a special way. What can likewise be observed, in their untreated state, is their tendency to shrink when subjected to heat, both in combination with water and also without water. Although cotton can absorb water well, and in particular actually quite a lot of water in proportion to its own weight (around 1/5), it takes relatively long to dry. The hydrophilic property of cotton is simultaneously the reason that unwanted stains can spread well, and quickly, and become very noticeable. In addition to that, the fibre is not necessarily all that resilient when left in its natural state, and may become bleached when subjected to ultraviolet radiation.

Baumwolllaken in der Sonne
Cotton Sheets in the sun

Not all cotton is the same

What many people do not know is that there are significant differences between one kind of cotton and the next. The quality of the cotton is defined via its fibre length (pile). This basically works as follows: The longer the fibre, the higher the quality of the cotton. Some types of cotton have a short pile, while others have a long, or even extra long, pile. Yarns consisting of longer fibres make it possible to manufacture more durable and softer materials. Most cotton fibres that are used in popular fashion are short or of medium length. High quality designer brands, on the other hand, often use high quality cotton. The most widespread types of premium cotton are Pima or Supima and Egyptian cotton.

With Egyptian cotton, it works the same way as with olive oil from Italy, clocks from Switzerland or cars from Germany – the origin is synonymous with quality – with good reason.

Besides Pima, “genuine” Egyptian extra-long pile cotton is considered one of the purest kinds of cotton in the world. For instance, Giza 45 and Giza 70 are genuine extra-long pile types, which make it possible to have super soft, pure and durable fabric. The widespread GIZA 90, which is to be classified as a long-pile type of cotton, likewise enjoys great popularity, for example. Its fibres are a little bit shorter (less than 35 mm), and coarser than those of GIZA 45 or 70.

Pima, which originates from America, is these days cultivated not only in the USA, but also in Australia, Peru and Israel. Its extra long-piled fibres make Pima cotton remarkably soft and robust. The result is pure textile materials, which are resistant to fraying, tearing, forming creases and bleaching.

Supima (Superioir Pima) is the registered trademark name for 100% Pima cotton from the USA. The ‘Supima’ organisation founded in 1954 was established in Texas in order to protect the trademark of the same name. It does not, however, refer to a new type of cotton. Whereas Pima is frequently mixed with lower quality cotton, in the case of certified Supima cotton you can be fairly certain that it really is 100% American Pima. You can find further cotton qualities here.

We, at weba, have been cultivating our own GIZA organic cotton in Egypt since 2018. Since 2019 we have already been harvesting three types: GIZA 45, GIZA 96 (both with extra long pile) and GIZA 86 (long pile). Additional information on our cotton plantations is available in this video.

Why do we primarily use cotton?

Cotton Shirt

As a manufacturer of fabrics for men’s shirts, of which a major proportion is to be classified as Business Shirts, the cotton fibre has very significant positive traits for us, while its flaws are only of secondary importance. Pure, radiant colours, which are all based on a clean, white ground colour, are of exceedingly great importance in this segment - cotton has this property. In order to fit well, men’s shirts - and in particular business shirts - require a certain degree of durability, or the capacity to retain form and stability. Cotton achieves this with ease. It is, moreover, a fibre which can be processed easily and well in the weaving process. Due to its hypoallergenic properties, we additionally avoid the risk of skin irritations being caused to the wearer. In addition, properties such as iron-free or wrinkle-free, mentioned on cotton fabrics, are also particularly effective.

Why do we not exclusively use organic cotton?

Firstly, because organic cotton unfortunately continues to have only a very small share of the global market, and, secondly, because not every consumer is yet prepared to pay the higher prices for organic products. In a nutshell – from a global and overall perspective, there is excess demand in regard to organic cotton. Broken down to the individual perspective, it is only in rare cases that 100% of all customers of a company are interested exclusively in organic cotton. Nevertheless, the demand on the entire textile market is rising, and this, in turn, leads to an increasing number of organic cotton plantations. Thus, the members of the German Textile Alliance, for example, which cover around half of the German textile market, set the goal of covering at least 35 per cent of their requirement with sustainable cotton by 2020. Ten per cent of the entire quantity needs to be organic cotton. By 2025, the proportion of sustainable cotton is supposed to rise to 70 per cent overall, so that the proportion of that which is organic cotton increases to 20%. We, in turn, aim to procure 50% of our cotton from organic farming by the year 2025.

Stefanie Rudolph