The importance of cotton, the oldest source of raw material for making garments, has finally been recognised. Only last year, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) decided to mark the 7th of October to celebrate the global importance of cotton. The US-based International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), a more than 8 decades old organisation working for the benefit of cotton growers, has identified three primary themes for this year; Cotton is the World’s Fibre of Choice, Cotton: the solution to Microsfibre Pollution, and Cotton is the Future.
The importance of cotton in the fashion value chain cannot be undermined, and despite the large quantity of man-made fibre-based fabrics being used in the apparel market, cotton has retained its position as a classic and pride possession for masses and connoisseurs alike.
For India, the significance has been further heightened by the recent decision of the US government to impose a curb on the import of cotton clothing from China… a rejoicing time for Indian exporters!
What makes cotton so sought after?
Cotton is also called ‘White Gold’. Across the globe, 25.6 million tons cotton was produced in 2018-19. Around 150 million people in about 80 countries make a living from cotton around the globe.
As far as India is concerned, cotton is one of the main cash crops for 10 leading Indian states including Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
As per the data by DGCIS, Kolkata exported cotton worth Rs. 13976.71 crore to the world in 2017-18.
The Textile Ministry’s Committee on Cotton Production and Consumption has projected India’s cotton production for 2019-20 of 357 lakh bales (each of 170 kg) for the year 2019-20. It has shown a rise of about 2 per cent in the yield at 453.82 kg per hectare as against 444.74 kg last year. International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) projected that India produced and consumed 5.75 and 5.53 million metric tons of cotton in 2019-20 which is the second highest after China.
Customers preferring cotton-based apparels are not only in India, but also in the US. According to the MonitorTM research, 92 per cent consumers in the US say better quality apparels are made from natural fibres like cotton.
|Leading Bodies ‘Caring’ for Cotton|
|Cotton Corporation of India|
|The Cotton Association of India|
|Central Institute of Cotton Research (ICAR)|
|Cotton Council International (CCI)|
|Better Cotton Initiative|
Did you know?
India is the world’s top producer of cotton, while China is the top consumer of the same. At the same time, China and the US are the top countries as far as export of cotton is concerned. In 2019, China exported cotton worth US $ 14.1 billion which is 26.6 per cent of the total cotton export of the world. The US exported cotton worth US $ 7.9 billion, and India remained at the third position with US $ 6.3 billion. (Data collected from Worldstopexports.com)
The original torchbearer of sustainability
There are debates on pesticides, water consumption, human rights, biodiversity, and farmers regarding cotton. Cotton is the most abundantly produced natural fibre in the world; it is a renewable material and biodegradable within a few months in water as well as in soil.
As far as its production and water consumption are concerned, it is an exceptionally drought-resistant plant and grows especially in dry, arid areas. This is also a fact that to produce 2 pounds of fibre of cotton, it requires 320 gallons of water, not the commonly cited figure of 5,283 gallons.
Moving forward, now brands are focusing on organic and recycled cotton. Even on a larger level, efforts continue to be made in this regard; just a few days back, the US initiated restrictions on textile imports from Xinjiang (China), a major cotton-producing belt, which accounts for an estimated 80 per cent of China’s cotton output. The reason behind was told to be illegal and inhumane forced labour in the region.
However, cotton doesn’t come without its share of challenges, mostly from polyester and other oil-based fibres that give a tough competition to cotton. In addition, high prices of seeds, fertilisers etc. for farmers as well as reoccurring pest attacks make for low productivity. With transparency becoming a key word in the global trade, the lack of the same across the supply chain is another major concern.
Cotton – Brands’ favourite classic!
Over 36 major brands including Levi’s, Burberry, Nike, adidas, Ikea, etc. pledge to achieve sustainable cotton by 2025. Some are dedicated to achieving this target even before! For example, H&M is the world’s biggest user of sustainable cotton including organic, recycled and cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). 95 per cent of cotton that the group sources today is either recycled or sourced more sustainably. Similarly, BESTSELLER has a target to source 100 per cent of its cotton more sustainably by 2022.
In India, some leading apparel brands and retailers are supporting cotton farmers. Ensuring higher income and better health of cotton farmers, C&A is making some commendable efforts in this regard, and is associated with Vasudha Farms Initiative and a few other organisations for the same.