The ‘fluff’ of the world, and the pride of India

Cotton is a loved product. A product that shares a golden history with India. Let’s see the journey of cotton balls from fields to wardrobes and from centuries-old ways to newer developments in the field of cotton.
Image caption: A cotton field; Image source: Fibre2Fashion

Image caption: A cotton field; Image source: Fibre2Fashion

Years ago, the beauties of Rome loved a certain fabric that was soft to touch, felt light and looked graceful when worn. It was a rare commodity at that time. However, by the 1st century, cotton from India became one of the most demanded commodities by Rome. The roman in exchange gave pearls and gold for this wonderful fabric. A Roman orator alone used to give 20 million gold coins every year to India in exchange for cotton clothes for the Roman women.

We are sure that even in millennia years forward, you just love wearing cotton. It’s sweat absorbing in the summers and insulating in the winters. It’s hypoallergenic, comfortable, durable and weatherproof fabric. It is amazing to snuggle yourself in cotton clothes at night or sleep on a cotton bedsheet. The feeling of cotton is a different feeling altogether!

In fact, in all other European countries, Indian cloth became a fashion statement. India held on to its monopoly of cotton cultivation, production and trade for more than 2000 years. It was a forerunner in textiles, so much that the European nations had to eventually ban the product because they were losing a lot of their gold to India. Perhaps one of the earliest trade bans in the world!

Cotton grows in small beautiful balls of fluff. Herodotus, a Greek historian in his book Historia, says, “In India, there are plants that produce sheep’s wool.” In fact, for a long line greek referred to Indian cotton as ‘wool that grew on plants.’

Do you know that cotton growing in balls has great significance for reproduction? The cotton balls often air travel to far-off lands carrying with them the cotton plant's seed. As soon as it finds a suitable condition, a new cotton plant grows!

These cotton balls are either handpicked or plucked by machines. Seeds are removed from these balls. These seeds are often used to make cotton oil, if you heard of it, it’s mostly used in salad dressings.

Cotton is important to developed nations but for underdeveloped and developing nations, it is pivotal. This is why four sub-Saharan countries- Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali came together and proposed the idea of World Cotton Day to WTO. After officially accepting the proposal, October 7 is celebrated across the globe as World Cotton Day, which creates an opportunity to spread awareness of step by step process of procuring cotton and selling it in the market so that the developing nations get more benefits at every step of the cotton value chain.

For India, this day is extremely important, for it is the largest producer of cotton contributing to an enormous 22% of the world’s total cotton production. It is one of the most important crops and one of the oldest industries that support 5.8 million farmers and 10 million people involved in other processing of cotton.

Even though India has a great history in cotton, it lost its position in textile, centuries ago. Till the 1970s we used to import cotton but through government schemes and hybrid varieties, we are now self-sufficient in our cotton needs.

Though, we have a long way to go as shown by our glorious past. We need to pick up the strings that were broken by industrialisation and modernisation and move forward with the pace of the world.

The cotton is filtered out of any insects it might have, or any leftover stems. Now, this ‘yarn’ is taken to factories for further processing. Then it is spun through the pull and twist process. It makes them into long threads of cotton. These long threads are put in a criss-cross pattern to create fabrics that form the stuff in wardrobes.

But to many, cotton is more than the clothes in the wardrobe. It life-sustaining product for 28.67 million growers and affects 100 million families across 75 countries. It is grown in 5 continents and different varieties of cotton are obtained depending on the climate and soil.

The African countries and the Latin American countries all claim to be the first to produce cotton. The truth is all these varieties of cotton are different and indigenous to different countries across the globe. Since cotton is a labour-intensive product, it provides employment at each and every stage to farmers, pickers, spinners and weavers.

The 7th of October is a day to celebrate those whose life it is to produce, process and transform cotton into numerous goods that reach us.

Image caption: Celebrating World Cotton Day by the United Nations; Image source: ICAC

Image caption: Celebrating World Cotton Day by the United Nations; Image source: ICAC

Image caption: A harvest-ready cotton ball in fields of Andhra Pradesh; Image caption: Wikipedia

Image caption: A harvest-ready cotton ball in fields of Andhra Pradesh; Image caption: Wikipedia

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