Cotton in the news again for giving rise to a science known as element analysis.

The thumbnail version:

  • The cotton in a T-shirt can take a long and complex journey
  • Until recently there was no easy way to pin down its origin

The full version:

The Guardian recently ran a story about how, fives years ago, Welspun was mired in a scandal. Welspun, a manufacturer of more than 45 million meters of cotton a year, labelled it’s cotton as “Egyptian” until some of it’s customers conducted inquiries and found that in fact much of the cotton labeled in this way was not Egyptian.

Not from where it says it’s from?

And here’s the part of the story that showed how complex the supply chain in T-shirt manufacturing can be and how difficult it is to trace the origins of the cotton in a particular Tee. Quoting from the Guardian: “The cotton business is a labyrinthine, and the supply chains of products—running from the source farm to the shop shelf—have grown increasingly complex. A T-shirt sold in New Delhi might be made of cotton grown in India, blended in other cotton from Australia, spun into yarn in Vietnam, woven into cloth in Turkey, sown and cut in Portugal, bought by a Norwegian company, and shipped back to India.”

And this, writes the Guardian, is a relatively simple supply chain.

Things have become a whole lot more transparent since the origin of the cotton on a T-shirt can be pinned down to a specific farm. This is due to a geochemist, Prof Russel Frew of New Zealand, researching and developing the science known as element analysis.

Now well-known cotton brands are using element analysis to avoid any unpleasant surprises about the origin of their cotton such as, for instance, finding that the raw materials of some of their products were harvested with child or forced labour.

Have you ever wondered about the origin and the journey of the cotton in the Tees you are asked to print?