How American Cotton Is Grown and Traced [VIDEO]

Cotton is one of the fundamental materials used in apparel, but rarely do we think about where it comes from. We partnered with Cotton Incorporated to find out more about what happens before the milling process and where it all begins. With a better understanding of cotton, we aim to provide brands with the knowledge and insight that enables them to push the boundaries of their own products.

In November Matthew and I visited Memphis, TN for the first time to capture the story behind American cotton. We drove an hour south from Memphis, to the rural outskirts of Mariana, AK to meet two farming families growing cotton, the Feltons and the McClendons. While all American cotton picking and ginning (separating the seed from the fiber) is now mechanized and automated, there is still very much a labor of love involved with growing and caring for a crop. Mr. McClendon wakes up at 4am to walk through the acres of cotton to ensure it is growing and blossoming properly. For the Feltons, the two brothers are working together on the farm (and recently took it over), utilizing new technologies to aid their crop. And the granddaughter is quick to join in on the family business taking frequent rides on the cotton picker.

The Feltons and cotton producing process:

Mr. McClendon and his farm:

Here are some photos behind the scenes of our trip, and what looks like a bakery is actually the USDA classing office, where the cotton is graded:

Six Facts About Cotton You Probably Didn’t Know:

  1. Every single bale of cotton produced in the United States is tagged with a Permanent Bale Identification barcode that can trace its origin back to the field in which it was grown.

  2. Cotton is grown in 17 states, stretching from Virginia to California.

  3. Business revenue stimulated by cotton in the U.S. economy is estimated at some $100 billion

  4. The U.S. commonly supplies 12 million bales or more of the world’s cotton exports, accounting for over 30 percent of the total world export market.

  5. Overseas sales of U.S. cotton make a significant contribution to the reduction in the U.S. trade deficit.  Annual values of U.S. cotton sold overseas recently have averaged $7 billion.

  6. Every single bale of U.S. cotton is tested in a USDA Classing Office to measure its fiber properties, color and leaf grade – all of which influence the selling price.

Data source here.

To find mills and cotton-related suppliers visit the Cotton Inc Maker’s Row page:

Official press release about our partnership here.