Cotton is a soft, natural fiber that is used vastly in textile production. It grows in a protective capsule, and it belongs to a family that includes hibiscus and okra. The English word, cotton, comes from Arabic (al) quṭn قُطْن, as it was the Arab merchants who introduced cotton cloth to Europe around 800 AD. However, the use of cotton in textile production probably dates back to prehistoric times. A recent excavation in Mexican caves unveiled bolls and pieces of cotton cloth fragments that proved to be at least 7,000 years old. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, mass production and better utilization of cotton was made possible. This little plant is still used in the textiles that we use every day, such as clothing, bed sheets and towels.
Often called the “White Gold”, Egypt’s extra-long staple cotton, Gossypium barbadense, is grown in the moist atmosphere near the Nile. It is acclaimed to be the world’s finest cotton. The quality is due to a few things. First of all, Egyptian cotton is generally handpicked in order to avoid mixing the mature and immature plants. Secondly, it has exceptional length and brightness. The more the length is, the better the textile quality will be as it means less breakage and more uninterrupted fiber. Therefore, Egyptian cotton is widely used by luxury and upmarket brands. For example, Albini Group, one of the most renowned companies for producing the best fabrics for cotton shirts, use exclusively Egyptian cotton. The brand is very proud of the quality of the cotton they purchase from Egypt, and call it the most beautiful cotton bale in the world. They explain their choice of Egyptian cotton with the following words: “Egyptian cotton has been renowned for centuries for its preciousness. The particular climactic conditions and the fertility of the earth alongside the river Nile, especially at its delta allow the cultivation of the best cotton in the world, thanks to the unique ingredients offered by nature… Their splendidly silky handle is assured to remain and not diminish in time.”
How do we understand whether the sheets or clothes we are planning to buy are Egyptian cotton or not? Firstly, there is the authentic seal of Egyptian cotton, which is a cotton plant placed in a pyramid. Secondly, you can read the tag. As Real Simple explains, “Top-of-the-line sheets are 100 percent Egyptian cotton. Second best is 100 percent pima cotton, also known by the trademarked name Supima. If a label says simply, ‘100 percent cotton,’ assume that it’s American upland cotton, a rougher, less expensive variety.” Also, high thread count is another sign of quality. In the case of Egyptian cotton, higher thread count means that the fabric will be stronger and will last for years, and it will be breathable. Martha Stewart says that “You should always check the thread count, which refers to the number of threads woven per inch. In general, a sheet with a higher thread count will be more durable and feel softer. A thread count of 200 is a good standard; a count of 300 will be noticeably softer.” If cared well, Egyptian cotton will be getting better and softer by every wash, and will last for a quite a long time, about forty to fifty years at its best.
What about the production? Until 2001, Egyptian cotton was the country’s “chief cash crop”, but not anymore. Since 2009, Egypt is not in the top 10 cotton producers in the world list. According to Khaled Badawy, director of the Egyptian Center for Rural Studies, the Agriculture Ministry has stopped from buying cotton from local farmers because their product is above the average global market price. “Thousands of farmers, unable to cover the expenses of cultivation, have turned away from cotton in favor of more profitable cash crops, particularly fruits, for both domestic markets and for export” as Egypt Independent reports. Another hardship for the Egyptian cotton farmers is the cheap cotton production in China. In many labels you can see the words “100% Egyptian Cotton Made in China”. How is this possible? Valerianne, a brand that produces table, bath and bed textiles, explains that “Many ‘Egyptian’ cotton dealers have taken the goods to other countries such as China as they are able to produce more of the product faster and cheaper, many technical variances result”, and they add “the end product is one that will pill quickly and wear out too soon making Egyptian cotton react the same way an inexpensive short staple cotton would.” So, unfortunately, to make sure that the garments or sheets we buy are 100% Egyptian cotton, we need to know exactly what to look for.
Although real Egyptian cotton is expensive due to the various reasons mentioned, it is simply the best cotton to produce textiles with. Many world-renowned brands, such as Albini Group and The White Company, are using Egyptian cotton to offer the best quality textiles to their customers. If we know how to choose the authentic one, we simply can wear the most durable cotton shirt and sleep in the softest cotton bed sheets available.