Supima Cotton: Properties, Production, and Origins

Supima Cotton fabric

What is Supima Cotton Fabric?

Supima cotton is a top-tier cotton sourced from the Gossypium barbadense plant. Celebrated for its exceptional softness and strength, Supima cotton is produced and certified through unique processes that distinguish it from regular Pima cotton.

The fibers from Gossypium barbadense are classified as extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, with lengths of at least 34 millimeters. In contrast, most cotton fibers are 20 millimeters or shorter. This extra length boosts the tensile strength and overall quality of the yarn, making Supima cotton one of the finest cottons in the world.

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Gossypium barbadense thrives in various tropical and subtropical regions, where its cotton fiber has been used to produce fabric in South America and the West Indies for thousands of years. This plant, which grows as a low tree, is easily recognizable by its bright yellow flowers.

Although Supima and Pima cotton fabrics are distinct, both are derived from Gossypium barbadense fibers. These cotton fabrics are commonly used in high-end consumer textiles. Unlike other upscale textiles that require cold water washing, Supima and Pima cotton can be washed in warm water and even tumble dried.

One of the most valued qualities of Supima cotton is its exceptional resistance to pilling. Those bothersome balls of tangled fibers usually appear on most cotton products after about ten washes. However, with Supima cotton, you can enjoy garments and household textiles for years without seeing a single pill. Supima cotton is renowned for its longevity, often lasting decades without showing significant signs of wear and tear. Genuine Supima cotton is certified by the American Supima Association (ASA), an organization of farmers and textile manufacturers dedicated to preserving the high quality of Supima cotton. This certification ensures that true Supima fabric is exclusively available in the USA.

How Supima Cotton Fabric is Produced

While many cotton producers choose to automate their manufacturing processes, Supima cotton production maintains significant manual involvement. Initially, Gossypium barbadense cotton producers typically handpick the cotton seeds, even if subsequent processes are mechanized.

After harvesting, the seeds are stripped of their fibers, which are then compressed into bales. These bales are transported to large-scale production facilities where they are opened, and the fibers are fed into a mixing machine.

After mixing, the Gossypium barbadense fibers undergo carding, a process where they are aligned into a web of rope-like strands. Carding can be performed manually or by machine, although most producers automate the subsequent step: combing.

Supima cotton is mainly used to create high-quality consumer apparel and household textiles such as sheets. Despite its excellent durability, its higher cost generally limits its use in commercial applications.

Supima cotton is popularly used for making T-shirts, dress shirts, underwear, nightgowns, and pajamas. Its remarkable softness often makes it a preferred alternative to silk, suitable for virtually any garment or accessory traditionally crafted from silk. Some manufacturers even blend Supima cotton with silk to produce distinctive and luxurious fabrics.

Where Supima Cotton Fabric is Produced?

Supima cotton is grown exclusively in the United States, with farms spread across the southern half of the country, all of which are members of the ASA. While most of these farms are in California, there are also producers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

The roots of Supima cotton cultivation in the United States go back to a partnership between the USDA and representatives of the Pima Indian tribe in the early 1900s. Historically, Pima Indians have grown Pima cotton, and the USDA sought to revive the production of Gossypium barbadense in the country.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Gossypium barbadense cotton was commonly cultivated on barrier islands along the coasts of Georgia and North Carolina. Initially introduced from Bermuda and other tropical islands, this cotton strain also spread northward from South America.

Gossypium barbadense cotton gained popularity both in the United States and internationally. However, the widespread adoption of the cotton gin led to a decline in its production. Nonetheless, the USDA’s experimental Gossypium barbadense program proved highly successful, especially in Arizona, where Pima cotton production rapidly expanded.

Pima cotton became so popular that some unscrupulous companies started falsely labeling their products as Pima cotton, even when they contained lower-quality long-staple or short-staple cotton. Concerned about the devaluation of authentic Pima cotton in a saturated market, farmers in Arizona and other parts of the U.S. formed an organization to protect the integrity of genuine Pima cotton in both domestic and global markets.

Supima cotton and Pima cotton are almost identical, but when consumers see the “Supima” label, they can be confident they’re getting the real deal. This term blends “superior” and “Pima,” and it’s strictly used for cotton that meets ASA standards. Supima cotton is cultivated and processed solely in the United States, and the ASA has no intentions of altering this practice.

How expensive is Supima cotton fabric?

Supima cotton is renowned as one of the most expensive types of cotton worldwide, and this high cost stems from several factors. First and foremost, its exceptional quality outshines most other cotton varieties, naturally leading to a higher price in the market.

Furthermore, Supima cotton commands an even higher price than regular Pima cotton. When buying fabric labeled as “Pima cotton,” it can be challenging to verify its authenticity unless one closely monitors the manufacturing process to ensure the length of the cotton fibers spun into yarn.

In contrast, all Supima cotton undergoes thorough inspection and certification by the ASA, guaranteeing its authenticity to consumers. This assurance contributes to its premium pricing, as consumers value the certainty of receiving genuine Supima cotton for their investment.

Typically, Supima cotton costs about three times more than standard cotton. Whether purchasing bulk fabric or finished garments, buyers should expect to pay significantly more to ensure they are getting authentic Pima cotton. It’s approximately twice the cost of organic cotton and roughly 75 percent more expensive than regular Pima cotton.

What varieties of Supima cotton fabric are available?

There’s only one genuine type of cotton known as “Supima.” All Supima cotton is grown under the careful oversight of the ASA, guaranteeing its authenticity. Any other cotton, no matter how similar it may appear, cannot be labeled as Supima unless it meets the strict standards established by this organization.

However, there are several cotton varieties that share similarities with Supima, and it’s crucial to grasp these differences when deciding on the right cotton for your needs:

1. Other types of Gossypium barbadense: Apart from Supima and Pima cotton, there are other strains of Gossypium barbadense cotton to consider. We’ve already discussed the distinctions between Supima and Pima cotton, which are important to remember when selecting cotton fabric.

2. Sea Island cotton: Although rare today, Sea Island cotton was historically cultivated by Westerners in the West Indies and on American barrier islands. It’s essential to recognize that Sea Island cotton and Supima cotton are technically distinct.

3. Egyptian cotton: There’s a misconception that Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton are synonymous, but this isn’t accurate. Most Egyptian cotton is made from LS cotton, which is less luxurious than ELS cotton used in Supima. While premium types like Giza 45 may rival Supima in fiber length and quality, the majority of Egyptian cotton is of lower quality compared to Pima.

Similar to Pima cotton, some manufacturers mislabel their fabric as Egyptian cotton when it’s actually made from SS cotton fibers. “Egyptian cotton” strictly refers to cotton produced in Egypt.

Understanding these nuances ensures that you can make an educated decision when selecting the best cotton fabric for your specific application.

What environmental impact does Supima cotton fabric have?

Supima cotton stands out as one of the least environmentally impactful types of cotton. It represents just five percent of total cotton production in the USA, and not all Pima cotton grown in America meets the stringent standards to qualify as Supima.

The limited scale of Supima cotton production inherently reduces its environmental footprint compared to other textiles. Additionally, the ASA enforces rigorous guidelines to ensure that Supima cotton is cultivated without harmful or toxic practices. The exclusive cultivation of Supima cotton within the USA further enhances its environmental credentials.

Although these regulations are not perfect, oversight from agencies like the USDA and EPA ensures that American producers adhere to strict standards, thereby minimizing the use of environmentally hazardous manufacturing processes. In contrast, if Supima cotton were produced in countries such as China, India, or Indonesia, it could potentially pose higher environmental risks.

Supima Cotton Certifications

Every piece of Supima cotton fabric is certified as authentic by the ASA. If a Supima cotton product doesn’t have the ASA seal, it’s not genuine Supima; it’s probably Pima cotton or another long-staple variety like Egyptian cotton.

Additionally, some Supima cotton may also be USDA organic certified. While ASA approval doesn’t require organic certification, many Supima growers prefer organic farming practices because of the ASA’s rigorous standards.

Supima Cotton: Properties, Production, and Origins
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