ECOM Cotton’s merchandising roots can be traced back to 1849, when the company was founded in Barcelona, Spain. Although it began with the goal of supporting cotton imports for the Spanish textile industry, the ECOM vision gradually broadened to encompass the entire global cotton industry.
Cotton is an annual field crop that is grown in a wide variety of regions. The largest areas of production are China, USA, CIS, West Africa and Brazil. Cotton, as a plant, generally requires large amounts of sunshine, but is prone to insect infestations and damage. Substantial inputs are required to produce the crop, making it one of the most capital intensive field crops.
Cotton is harvested either by hand or machine. Countries like China, India and those in West Africa still rely heavily on hand picking. Other countries like the United States and Australia are mostly machine harvested. The two methods of machine harvesting are spindle or stripper.
Ginning, in its strictest sense, is the process of separating cotton fibers from the seeds.Today’s modem cotton gin is required to do much more. To convert hand or mechanically harvested cotton into a marketable product, gins have to dry and clean (remove plant parts and field trash) from the seed cotton, separate the fiber from the seed, further clean the fibers and place the fiber into an acceptable package, while preserving the quality of the fiber.
Cotton classification, or classing, is the process of describing the quality of cotton in terms of grade, staple length and micronaire. In the past, this classing has been done with the hand and the eye.
Micronaire determinations are performed with an airflow measurement which indicates fiber fineness.
After ginning, cotton is generally shipped to a warehouse/gin yard and sampled to establish its fiber characteristics. Cotton can be maintained in-store for extended periods, usually without suffering any deterioration.
Proper handling cotton is vitally important. As a natural fiber, cotton requires strict handling and logistics procedures to ensure that fibers are not damaged or contaminated. Contamination from non-cotton fibers is major problem for mills as it affects their processing and dyeing requirements.
Bales of cotton are purchased by spinning mills who blend various qualities of cotton and then spin the cotton fiber into cotton yarn. The yarn is then knitted or woven into fabrics which are then cut and sewn into finished goods. The process from yarn to finished goods can be in one integrated fabric mill or in many different mills that each perform different steps in the fabrication process.
Cotton is a very soft, cool and comfortable fabric which is why it is particularly suited to underwear and garments worn close to the skin. The ends of cotton fibers are spun very tightly into the yarn so that the fabric doesn’t irritate skin or cause static electricity. Its versatility is what makes it the most popular clothing fiber across the world.