Cotton: A 70-Year Global Journey

Cotton: A 70-Year Global JourneyBy Ehsan Soltani

Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll or protective sheath around the seeds of the cotton plant. The plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, and its use for fabric dates back to prehistoric times.

Cotton production accounts for 2.5 percent of the world’s arable land. Until the 1980s, cotton was the dominant fiber, accounting for about half of all textile fiber consumption. However, since the 1980s, consumption of chemical fibers (mainly polyester) has overtaken cotton, and the share of cotton in the total consumption of textile fibers decreased to 24 percent in 2020.

Despite the decline in its market share, cotton remains an important fiber in the global textile industry. It is a versatile fiber that can be used to create a wide range of products, from delicate garments to durable workwear. Cotton is also a sustainable fiber, as it can be grown and processed with minimal environmental impact.

Global cotton production has nearly tripled since the 1950s, reaching a record 25.7 million  metric tons (Mt) in 2021-22. The top four producers, India, China, the United States, and Brazil, accounted for 71 percent of global output, while the next four major producers, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, and Australia, produced 13.1 percent.

India’s cotton production has surpassed China’s since 2015-16. India’s cotton production more than doubled between the 1970s and 1990s, and then increased by 146 percent between the 1990s and 2010s. India is the second-largest consumer and third-largest exporter of cotton in the world, exporting 816 Mt of cotton in 2021-22.

China’s cotton production doubled between the 1970s and 1990s, reaching a peak of 8,070 Mt in 2007-08. However, production declined in the 2010s, falling to 5,730 Mt in 2021-22. China is the world’s largest consumer and importer of cotton, with consumption of 8,200 Mt and imports of 2,520 Mt in 2021-22.

Cotton: A 70-Year Global JourneyIndia and China’s share of global cotton production rose from approximately 22 percent in the 1940s-1960s to 36 percent in the 1980s-1990s, and then to 45 percent and 48 percent in the 2000s and 2010s, respectively. The removal of textile and clothing export quotas by the World Trade Organization in 2005 is widely credited with driving this growth.

The United States was once the world’s leading producer of cotton, but China surpassed it in 1982-83. U.S. cotton production increased steadily from 2.7 Mt in the 1940s–1980s to 3.7 Mt and 4 Mt in the 1990s and 2000s, respectively, reaching an all-time high of 5.1 Mt in 2004-05. U.S. cotton exports have exceeded domestic consumption since 2001-02, and the U.S. has been the world’s largest cotton exporter for many years.

Brazil’s cotton production surged by 270 percent between the 1990s and 2010s, reaching 3 Mt in 2019-20. About 60 percent of Brazilian cotton was exported in 2021-22. Cotton production in African countries, including Mali (340 Mt), Benin (332 Mt), Burkina Faso (265 Mt), Côte d’Ivoire (240 Mt), Cameroon (156 Mt), Tanzania (141 Mt), and Sudan (131 Mt), has grown in the past two decades to reach 1,605 Mt in 2021-22.

Editor’s Note: Ehsan Soltani is with West Lebanon, N.H.-based Econovis LLC

October 12, 2023

The Woolmark Co. Calls Time On Misleading Product Names With New Filter By Fabric Initiatitve

The Woolmark Co. Calls Time On Misleading Product Names With New Filter By Fabric InitiatitveTW Special Report

How many times have you been misled by terms like “silky,” “mesh” and “fleece”?

A recent YouGov study shows you are not alone. These ambiguous terms confuse consumers, making it difficult to identify the fibers in the fabric, especially when man-made materials are used to mimic natural fibers in clothing.

The Woolmark Co. has launched the Filter by Fabric initative to end this confusion, urging all fashion brands, retailers, publishers and content creators to commit to clear, honest product names that accurately communicate fabric composition. The campaign also encourages consumers to “Filter by Fabric” when shopping, focusing on the fabric’s impact and empowering them to make more informed and sustainably-conscious decisions.
A recent independent YouGov study reveals 77 percent of people believe clothing brands and retailers should clearly disclose fabric composition. However, this vital information is often hidden, misrepresented or undisclosed.

The same study found that 60 percent  of respondents would find sustainable choices easier if stores included fabric in the product name or allowed customers to filter by fabric.

A Simple Solution

By focusing on fabric consideration as a vital aspect of consumer purchases, Filter by Fabric accelerates the fashion industry’s movement toward transparency and sustainability.
John Roberts, managing director of The Woolmark Co., explained: “We need to clearly communicate the composition of fossil fuel-derived fabrics to prevent consumer deception. This simple, lasting action could initiate a significant transformation in the industry, encouraging transparency, responsibility, and mindful consumerism. Educating consumers is crucial for them to understand the importance of the information on apparel labels, similar to how they interpret food nutrition labels or appliance energy ratings.”

A Call for Real Change

Fashion brands, publishers, content creators and retailers can pledge their commitment at, and consumers can sign the same pledge to demand accurate product labeling.

1. Citizens: Urge Retailers to Include a Filter by Fabric Option
By signing this pledge, you send a powerful message to the fashion industry to adopt truthful product descriptions and a Filter by Fabric option. This action equips shoppers with essential information, promoting transparency and accountability in the fashion industry.

2. Fashion Industry: Allow Customers to Filter by Fabric
We invite the fashion industry to collaborate in this united effort for more informed consumer choices. Pledging your commitment to better fabric composition communication in product names showcases your dedication to responsible business practices. This move not only gains consumer trust but could also significantly reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

The Woolmark Co. is thrilled to announce the following organizations who have already pledged their support for the campaign:

  • Benetton;
  • Cubus;
  • Reformation;
  • Saul Nash;
  • Lagos Space Program;
  • Teatum Jones;
  • Dagsmejan;
  • Maggie Marilyn;
  • Haydenshapes;
  • Albus Lumen;
  • Plastic Soup Foundation; and
  • Variant 3D.

October 12, 2023

Interview With Bee&Sons Founder Deborah Bee; Brand Launching 100-Percent Recycled Cashmere Cardigan Collection

Interview With Bee&Sons Founder Deborah Bee; Brand Launching 100-Percent Recycled Cashmere Cardigan CollectionBee&Sons has unveiled its first boyfriend cardigan collection, designed for anyone and everyone who feels like snuggling up in 100-percent recycled cashmere.  

TW Special Report

Bee & Sons has introduced boyfriend cardigans in a four-part collection debut with two cardigans: Oskar, featuring an exclamation mark and Joey, featuring a questionmark. Although designed for men — specifically Bee’s four sons — the collection has already been seized by women — the girlfriends — as the ultimate boyfriend cardi. Following a philosophy for not creating waste, Bee&Sons’ new collection is created in small batches with a pre-order availability, with a wait time of up to two weeks. Bee&Sons uses the very best Italian yarns magicked out of textile waste in Prato. The collection is knitted in the United Kingdom by the best quality knitters.

TW: When establishing your brand, what was the first step that you took to begin making it sustainable? 

Bee: Choosing the right yarn. I wanted 100-percent recycled yarn but during lockdown I was restricted to 100-percent natural. As soon as i could get hold of recycled cashmere, I focused on that. However recycled yarn is notoriously difficult to knit because it’s recycled and we had to test it to make sure it was genuinely sustainable and wasn’t just going to pill and fall apart after three wears. There’s no point to using a yarn that isn’t long-lasting.

TW: What challenges did you encounter to minimize your environmental footprint? 

Bee: Wow — so many! You have to rethink everything. If you run out of boxes, you can’t just pop to WHSmith [bookstore]. You need to think about EVERYTHING before you do it. You can’t use foil or the wrong sort of sticky tape or bleached paper, for example. You have a to check your suppliers are sustainable,  that the knitters have the right working environment and that they aren’t [throwing] out their waste in the [trashcan]. Getting buy in from your supply chain also is hard. You must really believe in what you are saying otherwise suppliers just think you are a bit mad. I’ve had people say to me, “why don’t you just use this acrylic yarn? It looks the same and it’s so much cheaper.” You have to stick to your guns.

TW: How do you sustainably source your materials?

Bee: I do tons of research. Also, I get advice from my knitters. And there are sustainable forums that have lists of good suppliers.

TW: What dyes do you use? 

Bee: Recycled yarn requires no dyeing.

TW: Can you share some of the ethical production standards of the factory that you work with? 

The factory is working towards some certifications. I know what they do with their waste — they give it to me — and i know as much as i can know about their standards as I’m there all the time. I’m treated like one of the family.  I think some of the certifications are complicated and expensive so i trust my gut right now. Also, I am not sure that certifications stand up to much scrutiny.

TW: What are your sustainable goals for the future?

Bee: I’d love to start making my own yarn in the UK so i am not importing yarn from Italy. As it stands, the recycled cashmere i use is the very best you can buy. Super high quality so it will last and be loved a long time.

October 12, 2023

Waterless, Low-Carbon Footprint Scouring Using Compressed Carbon Dioxide As Non-Toxic Solvent

Waterless, Low-Carbon Footprint Scouring Using Compressed Carbon Dioxide As Non-Toxic SolventTW Special Report

In the search for textile processing technologies with low water- and carbon footprints, several novel, sustainable coloration technologies have been developed in the last decade, for both printing and dyeing operations. This can indeed lead to a significant sustainability improvement but the pre- and post-treatments have been largely left out of considerations until now, despite the fact that these have similar water consumptions and carbon footprints.

Scouring of fabrics of polyester and its blends with spandex in conventional jet machines, for instance, uses up to 18,000 liters of water per ton fabric for scouring and subsequent neutralization and generates 1,150 kilograms (kg) CO2 equivalents per ton fabric.

An alternative is solvent scouring, which is on the market but suffers from the inherent disadvantage that organic solvents have a bad reputation for being toxic and flammable. Potential of exposure of workers and the presence of traces of solvent in the end product has prevented this waterless, low-carbon footprint technology from becoming mainstream.

One solution

The Netherlands-based Dye-FF B.V. has developed a solution for waterless, low-carbon footprint scouring, using compressed carbon dioxide (CO2) as non-toxic solvent. Polyester and polyester-spandex fabric is rolled on a beam and perfused by the CO2, which dissolves and takes away all knitting and spinning oil from the fibers.

Gentle Process

The fact that the fabric is not moving in the machine means that even the most sensitive fabrics can be treated with this process. What is more, there will be no microfibers released from the fabric. Downstream of the scouring vessel, the oil is obtained from the machine pure and clean, offering the possibility of circularity by oil reuse.

The pressure and temperature inside the scouring vessel are 60 bar and 20°C, so no shrinking or fiber damage is caused. In addition, if a dope-dyed fabric is scoured, no dye extraction will take place. Relaxation and heat setting has to be done as usual in a tenter after the scouring if the fabric is to be dyed or printed.

Because of the low temperature of 20°C, the energy consumption using this method is low. On top of this, the tenter does not need to dry the fabric and thus extra energy is saved. The total carbon footprint of the process is only 540 kg of CO2 equivalents per ton of fabric — 50-percent lower than the typical 1,150 kg CO2 eq/ton that is characteristic for scouring synthetic fabrics in a jet machine.

Dye-FF has developed this experimental process on a 1-kg scale using an R&D machine designed built by its business partner Ozephius Stainless B.V., the Netherlands. It was found that the oil content of commercial fabric could be reduced in only one hour of total processing time, from 3 percent down to 0.2 percent or even 0 percent. A patent on the process and equipment is submitted and pending.

The Machine

From the experimental results, the company has designed the commercial scale equipment needed to scour 1.6 million kg of polyester or polyester-spandex in 140-kg batches on a beam. The machine will cost approximately $1.3 million depending on how many machines can be manufactured in series and in which country the machines are made. The lower machine operating cost, especially energy use, compensate for this higher investment cost, the nett effect being a lower total cost: $160/ton for CO2 scouring, versus $250/ton for conventional jet scouring.

The CO2 scouring technology can be used for any factory that makes polyester or polyester-spandex, be it as dope dyed fabric, conventional water-based dyeing or printing. In all cases, the same combination of sustainability and cost saving is found. In some cases, it can even mean completely waterless production of fabrics.

Scouring in CO2 – summarized:

  • Sustainable: no water and less energy;
  • Lower cost: 150 versus 250 USD/ton fabric (including machine depreciation);
  • Lower carbon footprint: 540 versus 1150 kg CO2/ton fabric;
  • No chemicals, only pure CO2;
  • Gentle fabric treatment;
  • Oil is obtained clean, pure and can be re-used; and
  • No microfibers are released.

With the technical and economic feasibility proven, and the carbon footprint calculated, Dye-FF B.V. now is looking for investors to fund the building of the first full-scale, commercial machine so that it can demonstrate the solution and its low carbon footprint to dyehouses and brands.

October 12, 2023

ROBOspin Increases Efficiency In Ring And Compact Spinning

ROBOspin Increases Efficiency In Ring And Compact Spinning
Figure 1: ROBOspin on a Rieter compact-spinning machine

TW Special Report

Two factors that have a particularly strong impact on spinning mill output are efficiency and productivity. The fully automated piecing robot ROBOspin for ring and compact-spinning machines offers a rise in productivity as well as consistent quality during piecing. Spinning mills around the world reduce their manpower requirements by 50 percent and the robot reliably reaches up to 95 percent piecing efficiency.

ROBOspin Increases Efficiency In Ring And Compact Spinning
Figure 2: The Managing Director of Poomex, Durai Arun, and his team are very satisfied with ROBOspin.

ROBOspin is the industry’s first fully automated piecing robot (See Figure 1). On the market since 2019, it is proving its worth in a variety of countries such as the US, Turkey, and India. The piecing robot is a response to the constant challenges of spinning mills to find dedicated operating personnel to quickly repair ends down and thus ensure full machine performance. Working in the ring spinning department is challenging due to long walking distances, high noise levels, and the dusty environment. “ROBOspin is the perfect automation solution to efficiently schedule the workforce. Our technical team is very happy with the operation and maintenance of the ROBOspin,” said Durai Arun, managing director of Poomex Clothing Co. in Tiruppur, India.

ROBOspin was installed at Poomex Clothing in 2020 on an existing ring spinning machine G 32 (See Figure 2). “The compact design and consistency in piecing quality are the standout features of this robot,” Arun added.

The Key To High Efficiency

ROBOspin shortens the time for ends down detection and its repair as much as possible – this is the key to higher machine efficiency. The downtime of spinning positions while waiting for operating personnel to repair the ends down is reduced significantly. This increases production and minimizes raw material waste. With ROBOspin, the spindle speed can thus be increased, which boosts productivity while the efficiency remains the same.

ROBOspin Increases Efficiency In Ring And Compact Spinning
Figure 3: The individual spindle monitoring system ISM detects the affected spinning position.

Fully Automated From A To Z

The fully automated piecing robot ROBOspin repairs ends down that occur during production or doffing. This improves the efficiency of the spinning positions and ensures higher productivity and a reduction in labor costs.

Each machine has one robot per machine side. Ends down are detected by the individual spindle monitoring system ISM (See Figure 3). ROBOspin travels directly to the affected spinning position and repairs the ends down in the shortest possible time. The entire piecing cycle runs fully automatically, from searching for the yarn end on the cop to threading into the traveler and placing the yarn behind the delivery roller.
Consistent performance with minimal personnel deployment

ROBOspin runs with consistently high performance in various spinning mills around the world. ROBOspin piecing efficiency reaches up to 95 percent, and the robot reduces personnel requirements in the ring spinning department by 50 percent. With Rieter’s unique yarn end search device, piecing is carried out without affecting the yarn layers on the cop. In addition, the automated piecing process ensures consistent piecer quality. The operator does not have to handle the cop during the cycle, and top-quality yarn is produced.

October 12, 2023

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