The fabric called denim – Cotton
As being a denim head, it’s interesting to know all about the origin of the fabric, the different weights and the way a pair of jeans is made. It’s fascinating that the more you get to know about denim, the more you get hooked. For some of us, it’s enough to know about the origin and the weight of the fabric, while others want to know all the ins and outs. In the next few weeks, we will look more closely into the fabric called denim. Every week, we will highlight a different subject and explain it with a concise article.
When looking into a pair of jeans, the fabric is one of the first things that will grab your attention. The fabric is what you feel, what you see and define how the jeans fit your legs. The quality of the fabric will also determine the lifespan of a pair of jeans and the way it will fade over time.
The quality of the fabric mainly depends on two elements, namely; the materials and the process. These two elements both need to be outstanding in order to create a pair of high-quality jeans. In this article, we will highlight the most important material needed in order to create the denim fabric, i.e. cotton.
The type and quality of the cotton determining the quality of the denim. Moreover, it will determine whether it has a soft or rough feeling and it affects the way the fabric fades!
Cotton is a soft natural fiber that grows in a boll in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world and has been cultivated and used for more than 7000 years. Cotton is produced in over 100 different countries, but six of them, China, India, Pakistan, USA, Brazil and Uzbekistan, contribute to about 80% of the production. Over the years, cotton is bred and genetically engineered to improve the durability of the fibers. The versatility of cotton is enormous and for that reason, almost every part of the plant can be used. Besides clothes, there are a lot of unexpected items made of cotton, like for example; Bank notes, margarine, oil and cosmetics.
Cotton is by far the most important raw material used to produce a pair of jeans. Most of the raw’s without stretch are made of 100% cotton and even raw’s with stretch still feature over 95% of cotton. Cotton is very suitable for jeans because of its strength and durability, while still being both comfortable and breathable.
As mentioned before, cotton plants grow in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The reason for this is that the plants need a lot of sunshine, warmth and water to grow. Whereas it grows up to 6 meters in the tropics, it ranges from 1 to 2 meters in height under cultivation. Depending on the type of cotton, the plant needs around 150 days to grow from just a seed to a plant that is ready to be harvested. Each cotton plant produces around 350 grams per season which is enough to produce fabric for 0,5 pair of jeans.
Once the cotton has been harvested, the cotton is vacuumed into tubes that carry it through a dryer in order to reduce the moisture and improve the quality of the fibers. After that, the seeds and other small objects need to be separated from the fibers before it can be processed. The process of drying and cleaning is called ginning. After the ginning process, the cotton makes its way through a press where it is compressed into bales of 500 pounds (237 kilos).
Photo courtesy of Blue Owl.
As mentioned, the quality of the cotton is essential for the quality of the denim fabric. Also, apart from the impact it has on the feel and durability of the jeans, it has a strong influence on how the jeans will fade.
The quality of cotton depends on many aspects, for example, the fineness of the fibers, but also the strength and color (whiteness) are important factors when it comes to the quality.
However, one of the most important characteristics for determining the quality of cotton is the length of the staples, which are also called fibers. In general, the longer the length of the staples, the softer and more durable the jeans will be. Examples of long staple cotton types are; Zimbabwean cotton, Egyptian Giza cotton, and Pima cotton. These three can be considered as the high-end cotton types. There are several denim brands, like for example Momotaro Jeans, that use long staple cotton. Generally, these pairs of jeans are more expensive and of higher in quality and durability.
Now we have spoken about cotton, the most important raw material in order to create a pair of jeans, we also created a foundation of the new ‘the fabric called denim’ series. Next week, we will continue by diving into the next steps in the processing of the cotton.