The life and death of your white cotton tee

People don’t give much thought to where their clothing comes from or how big the carbon footprint is for clothing production. Yes, they may know their Gucci from their Pucci but have no idea the journey one garment takes.The first thing you need to know is that cotton is a plant that grows wild in many countries but has been cultivated for human use for centuries dating all the way back to 3000 B.C.

Growing cotton is not an easy process, farmers have to ensure conditions are ideal by making sure the plant gets enough water and that the soil has enough nutrients. Cotton is also susceptible to fungal diseases, needs to be protected from weeds, insects and pests. It’s important to note that use of pesticides is harmful to the environment and farmers are looking at other ways to get rid of pests. Pest management also adds to farmers cost in raising crop one option is using other insects who feed on pests to protect their crop.

Crop must be harvested before weather and rain can damage the quality. Once the plant is fully grown and the leaves have dried and fallen off, the plant will open and the cotton can be collected. After cotton has been picked the fibre needs to be separated the seed, leaves and other foreign matter. It has to be sufficiently dried to reduce moisture to improve quality of fibre (now called lint) before it can be compressed into bales. A standard bale of cotton is: 1.4m tall, 0.7m wide and half a metre thick weighing 226kgs – this will now be called a universal which is enough cotton to make 325 pairs of denim jeans.

After baling, the cotton is then transported to storage yards, textile mills or exported. Textile mills, after purchasing bales processes it into yarn (fibres twisted to form threads) or cloth (fabric created from weaving or knitting). Woven cloth from the loom is called greige and mills will now sell this to factories around the world. Once greige is brought fabric can be put through numerous treatments such as softening or dyeing.

Retailers worldwide will place their orders with factories which are predominantly in the East due to cheaper labour. Here fabric goes through the whole clothing production process of dyeing, cutting and sewing. Retailers have to liaise daily with factories to ensure colours, prints, and fits are approved on time and to resolves any issues. Factories will send weekly production schedules to ensure that orders placed are all on track to meet the required shipment date. Once completed orders has been shipped and arrived in the intended country, containers needs to be unloaded and delivered to the warehouses. At the warehouse stock is allocated to each store and once again trucks are dispatched to deliver the stock.

All this before you are able to go into a store and purchase the iconic white tee for less than R100, which will most probably be discarded at the end of the season.


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