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Pima Cotton: Are You Getting the Real Thing?

In increasingly desperate attempts to maximize profits, some spinners and fabric manufacturers are taking advantage of uninformed buyers. They are betting that fabrics will not be tested for fiber content – this deception is particularly true of Pima Cotton[1].

What can you do to protect your brand and your customers? What steps should you take (instead of waiting for the FTC or independent testing laboratories to take action)? How can you keep your supply chain honest, and avoid doing business with companies you cannot trust?

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There are three main cotton fiber indexes which spinners use to select their cotton: Length, Strength, and Micronaire (fiber fineness). Longer fibers are normally finer and stronger. Longer and stronger fibers translate into stronger fabrics (mullen burst and/or tensile tear.) Finer cottons, such as Supima®[2], will be stronger than others.

There are several actions you can take to protect yourself from Pima deception:

  1. Establish a benchmark of mullen burst and tensile strengths. If you have access to the yarns, test them for twist levels and count. If testing fabric, greige is recommended. This way, variables –like fabric finishes– are eliminated. Even in finished state, weak fibers result in weaker fabric strengths.  These tests are less time consuming and less expensive than other methods. Remember to be consistent in your testing.
  2. To know what you are buying with absolute certainty, fiber length must be tested. Spun yarn spinners use laboratory equipment to fine tune machine settings for optimizing quality (Buhler tests with AFIS®, by USTER, a single fiber analysis tool). By using AFIS, we want to understand the fiber length distribution in a population of several thousand fibers. Below is a graph showing a sample output:


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For ELS cotton yarns (in greige), we want the UQL to be 34mm or longer.  If testing combed ELS, the Short Fiber Content (SFC) must be as low as possible (<10%).

Below is a test result performed by the USDA on Buhler’s Supima® combed ring spun cotton yarn:


The next table shows fiber analysis in finished fabric state. Note that the fiber length is slightly shorter.

This analysis will show that after each process, fiber length gets shorter, for several reasons: Spinning, knitting and weaving will generate lint.  This lint is generated by fiber-to-metal abrasion shearing off fiber on the surface of the yarn or fabric. If the fabric is enzyme, there will be a lint in the dye bath. It is reasonable to conclude that subsequent processing will reduce fiber length, to a certain extent.


The table below indicates that something is terribly wrong in fabric fiber testing.  The results are no better than a regular cotton, and low-quality cotton at that:


This sub-par performance is found in a garment already on retail shelves. The product is mislabeled, and the consumers who purchase the garment are mislead to think they are buying premium goods, likely at premium prices. This is clearly against FTC regulation, and certainly unethical.

True Pima cotton produces beautiful fabric, clearly of higher value and commanding a higher price point. If the consumer cannot see or experience this value, Pima Cotton is no longer Pima Cotton.

This problem is only going to get worse as Pima cotton prices continue to rise. Honest supply chain partners must leverage this knowledge by asking the right questions, requesting more fiber testing by their testing providers, or testing themselves.

By David Sasso
Vice President, Sales; Buhler Quality Yarns, Corp.

David has worked for Buhler since 2001, bringing with him his extensive experience in production, manufacturing, engineering, and sales. In his current role, his major focus has been in establishing retail and brand relationships and integrating into their supply chains. His background is primarily in yarn spinning, but he also has experience in weaving and knitting. David has a degree in textile management from North Carolina State University.


[1] Pima Cotton: A generic term for Extra Long Staple (ELS), cotton fiber with a length of ≈ 1 â…œ” or longer, grown in parts of the south western United States, Australia and Peru. This type of cotton is one of the longest cotton staple lengths in the world and is among the softest and most durable of the cotton fibers. Current pricing for ELS is $1.99/lb. at time of publication.

By comparison, Long Staple Cotton (LS) has a generally accepted length range in the US is 1 ¼” but less than 1 â…œ” (Current pricing for LS is $1.25/lb.) and Regular Cotton has a fiber with a length up to 1 ¼”. (Current pricing for Regular Cotton is $0.93/lb.)

[2] Supima® The name “Supima®” is a licensed trademark owned by Supima and its members. It is used to promote textile and apparel products made of 100% American Pima cotton, but is strictly controlled by the grower organization.