Conundrum in Egyptian cotton

While washing a shirt brand that is popular for the quality of its ‘Egyptian cotton’ fabric, I wondered whether the civil unrest in Egypt might affect cotton supplies. Egypt has long been known as the world’s best producer of the finest extra-long staple cotton, which is stronger, softer and longer-lasting than others. Market experts forecast that the Egyptian political upheaval will likely cause limitations on the export of cotton, but will that have any impact on us here in Australia? Well, the answer seems to be ‘no’.

Surprisingly, I have learned from my research that much of what is billed as ‘Egyptian cotton’ is not. In fact, only three to five per cent of all cotton sold on the international market is the highest quality long and narrow fibre. Shorter fibre and lesser grade cotton is also grown in Egypt. It seems that many manufacturers use different grades of Egyptian cotton and even other cotton to twist two fibres together and create the very long ‘Egyptian’ cotton fibre which they then market as the genuine article. The definition of what is ‘Egyptian’ cotton is not regulated. It can also be difficult to see or feel the differences between the genuine article and the ‘imposter’. The difference lies in how the fabric reacts after being laundered and used. A good set of Egyptian cotton sheets or an Egyptian shirt will get softer with use and last longer. This is because the long staple of the genuine cotton boast fibres with a very strong and smooth surface. Other cottons have raised fibres that will pill over time and eventually get holes and tears.

Genuine Egyptian cotton is often labelled with the Egyptian Government’s seal. Some manufacturers also source their cotton directly from Egypt and will be able to demonstrate their fabric’s origin. I suppose the best bet for anyone interested in buying Egyptian cotton products is to thoroughly check out the label. If it says made in Vietnam, China or India, then raise your sceptic’s antenna.

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