Cotton…Farm to Fabric


We have all seen the commercials, heard the theme song. The Fabric of Our Lives is a catchy little tune we all know, whether we admit it or not. It really is our lives, like the song says…but until recently, I never really knew HOW MUCH. Nor did I realize how much we take it for granted.

Walk into any mall, any clothing store. Any home store, shoe store. Look around. All those jeans? The cute little tops? The sheets, the socks, the pillows, the tablecloths?

A farmer made those.

A farmer.

A farmer, who likely lives in a house much like yours, got up early one morning, invested a huge amount of money in seed, tractors, and land, and planted your favorite jean jacket. He invested his family time, his kid’s college fund, his retirement, perhaps, planting cotton seeds that may or may not grow.

What if it rains too much? What if the seeds wash away? What if there is a drought? What if bugs get the plants? What if there’s a hurricane? A fire? A blight?

I met a cotton farmer last month just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, as part of a Farm to Fabric Tour. He could have been my uncle, he was so much like the rest of us, and yet, he owned a cotton farm responsible for a huge amount of crop. He grew up on that very farm, learning after his father, and his grandfather. His children are away at school, studying business and agriculture, and they will someday take his legacy and make it their own. He was humble, a praying man, and he knows he has absolutely no control over what the elements do to his farm.

“It takes faith. Put a seed in the ground, & you’re not promised anything. I just try to do the best with what I have.” -Joey Scott, the owner of Scott Brothers Farms. How humbling, right? He gambles, every year. It’s a big deal if you really stop and think about it. There really aren’t any do overs in farming…a season is a season.

And even then, and even after seeing the incredible amount of equipment that it took to run such a farm, all that money invested in something that is trying to be bought from him at the lowest possible price, I still didn’t really GET it.

Cotton is a pretty darned big deal.

It grows on a bush, full of white puffs, and tiny little seeds that you’d never consider using for anything. And yet, this fluff goes through so many stages to wind up as your socks, and the seeds are pressed to make oil, so that you can get drunk off of the deliciousness of a beignet in New Orleans. Nothing goes to waste.

I could try to tell you how the fuzz becomes fabric, but you don’t have all day, and I’d likely get it wrong. But think about it. That fuzz is tiny little fibers. The best cotton has longer, more uniform fibers. These fibers are what make your expensive sheets feel so awesome at 5am. But these fibers are blown around in a machine that removes the seeds, and then placed in another machine that turns it into a big soft rope of fibers, and then spun spun spun until that rope becomes a long string, and then thread.

At the Cotton Incorporated Headquarters, we saw all of these machines.

What was surprising, is that Cotton Inc. doesn’t makes anything. Doesn’t sell anything. Doesn’t make money at all. What it does? It creates opportunity. The cotton farmers fund Cotton Inc., so that the scientists and big thinkers there can work with their cotton, and develop new ways to use it. From moisture wicking athletic clothing creations, to fanciful weaving techniques, to tearing down old blue jeans to recycle into home insulation…Cotton Inc. is the middle man doing the work for farmers to showcase how very important their crops are.

I am a believer.

Just knowing how much work goes into a single thread now overwhelms me. The entire experience overwhelmed me. Sure, I have been on farm and factory tours before, but this one was gravitationally different. So much work! Planting a tomato, then picking it, and bagging it is a world different than cotton. There are a million steps from seed to string, and I am humbled at the idea of it. Now, I can see a pair of $50 jeans and know that they are worth every penny. And that when I have hopefully grown too small for said jeans, I can donate them to make insulation.

So cool.

I hope you will find it as fascinating as I did…I truly know how lucky I am to have gotten to experience this trip. I wish you could, too! But, in case that doesn’t happen, here are some links for you to check out that will step in as the next best thing. Enjoy!

Here’s a VIDEO of my actual tour. It’s almost like being there! (you can even see how Cotton, Inc. used a laser to make my logo on that denim! Awesome!)

· Cotton Today explains how farming practices like biotech (GMOs) and no-fill are keeping our planet healthy

· Learn more about the Blue Jeans Go Green program, video and impact to date

· Discover Monsanto allows you to ask us questions about how today’s food, fiber and fuel is grown more sustainably

Disclaimer: As mentioned, I was a member of a media tour to tour Cotton, Inc and surrounding farms. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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