Why Cotton Is Still King
The United Nations declared October 7 as World Cotton Day in 2021 to highlight the nearly 30 million growers of this natural fiber around the world. Current events affecting this cash crop worldwide are also impacting the available supply of promotional apparel. Here are two to keep an eye on:
First: The United States is the third largest producer of raw cotton worldwide. However, severe drought conditions in Texas and other cotton growing regions this year mean that U.S. cotton farmers may have to abandon as much as half their plantings. Such a reduction could result in increased prices for raw fibers, which would translate into higher prices, especially for suppliers who rely on USA-grown cotton.
Second: The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which took full effect on June 21, complicates the import of cotton apparel and other goods from China, the second-largest producer of cotton and the largest consumer (via textile manufacturing). The new law bans all imports from the Xinjiang province under the presumption that all goods from the area are produced with forced labor and imposes sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for forced labor in the region. In January 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began detaining cotton products produced in the region at all U.S. ports of entry.
That’s two potential strikes. But there’s still plenty of good news about this familiar fabric, a staple of T-shirts, tote bags and other promo items.
For example, South American and African growers produce a significant amount of cotton – much of it grown on family farms. Brazil and Pakistan round out the top five cotton-producing countries, and Brazil partnered to promote sustainable development of cotton in the region almost a decade ago with the UN and seven neighboring countries. Through the +Cotton project, these partners work toward more sustainable and inclusive production systems, as well as fair trade.
Consumers increasingly want “dirt-to-shirt” information about sustainability, fair trade and fair labor practices. Here are four potential benefits of choosing cotton for promo apparel programs:
1. Cotton is biodegradable, unlike microplastics, which are increasingly cited as a significant source of ocean pollution. Simply laundering clothing made from synthetic fibers can release thousands of microscopic fibers into the wash water – and these eventually make their way into rivers, lakes and oceans.
2. Cotton is grown worldwide, meaning a shortage in the U.S. may not create a worldwide shortage. Cotton Portal provides information on market access, country-specific business contacts and more. There are lots of options for organically grown fibers, ethical sourcing, fair trade and other criteria. (Check out the PPAI course titled “A Tour Through the Cotton Supply Chain” for more information.)
3. Many resources are available to help navigate CSR issues when it comes to sourcing cotton, such as traceability and sustainability. For example, the Better Cotton organization seeks to “help cotton communities survive and thrive, while protecting and restoring the environment.” More than a fifth of the world’s cotton is produced under its Better Cotton Standard.
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4. Cotton is recyclable. Cotton Incorporated, a collective of U.S. growers and importers, created the Blue Jeans Go Green program to collect denim, diverting it from landfills and recycling it into insulation (some of which is distributed to Habitat For Humanity affiliates).
Here are some 100% cotton garment options for a variety of promo apparel needs:
There are dozens if not hundreds of options for blank T-shirts, but the Bayside Made In USA Unisex Union Made Crew is not only 100% preshrunk cotton but made in the USA by unionized workers. This tee comes in 20 colors (shown in Carolina blue; dark ash is poly/cotton blend) and sizes S-4XL. Women’s cut also available in seven colors.
Bayside Made in America / PPAI 213725, S4 / www.usabayside.com
This classic Women’s Jersey Long Sleeve Tee, made of soft 100% combed cotton, features a semi-relaxed fit and comfortable crew neck. Sweatshop-free and eco-friendly, the manufacturer is Platinum WRAP Certified and strives for zero-waste operations. Available in 10 colors (shown in heather slate; athletic heather and deep heather are cotton/poly blend) and sizes S-2X.
BELLA + CANVAS / PPAI 304892, S6 / www.bellacanvas.com
The Fruit Of The Loom Adult Sofspun Jersey Full-Zip Hooded Sweatshirt, made with sustainably sourced USA-grown cotton, is ideal for layering. This classic hoodie features a tear-away label for comfort and a high-contrast zipper and cords for contemporary style. Available in admiral blue (shown), athletic heather (poly/cotton blend) and black; sizes S-3X.
alphabroder | Prime Line / PPAI 156993, S16 / www.alphabroder.com
Cotton is a great hypoallergenic choice for kids. This Sport-Tek Youth Colorblock Raglan Jersey features a tag-free label for comfort and comes in 15 color combos (shown in white/deep orange) and youth sizes XS-XL. Short sleeves also available, as well as companion adult sizes.
SanMar / PPAI 110788, S16 / www.sanmar.com
The unstructured Low Profile 100% Organic Cotton Cap is made of 100% washed organic cotton. One size, available in khaki (shown), olive, brown, red and white. Adjust to fit using the hook-and-loop strap on the back.
Mega Cap / PPAI 223859, S5 / www.megacapinc.com
Made of 100% combed ringspun cotton, the American Apparel Infant Baby Rib Onesie features fabric trim at the neckline, sleeves and leg openings, as well as metallic closure snaps. Not intended for sleepwear. Available in eight colors (shown in lemon yellow; heather grey is poly/cotton blend) and four sizes ranging from 3 months to 24 months.
S&S Activewear / PPAI 256121, S12 / www.ssactivewear.com