I’m sure everyone by now has heard all there needs to be known about Zimbabwe cotton, how it’s long staple can produce a weave so soft, denim mills are charging a premium for them. It has taken the industry by storm with the much accredited hype surrounding it, but has anyone heard of Xinjiang cotton? It has since been used by a select few Japanese brands in the past decade, and recently exclusively used by Chinese brand, Red Cloud & Co. on all their denim models. I was rather curious about this cotton and began a comprehensive research on the subject matter, I shall start with it’s geography.
Xinjiang sits on the north-west portion of China, that borders Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Due to its unique location, Xinjiang’s environment is semi-arid and very cool, as expected from the Gobi Desert which spans from Xinjiang to Mongolia. This wasteland that was unsuitable for cultivation found its way to being the first nuclear test site in 1964 in Lop Nur, a province of Xinjiang. It became very much a military province, housing both a garrison and a prison. One would be surprised then, that the cultural revolution invoked by Chairman Mao had started in the 1950s, his plan was to transform wastelands into rich agricultural lands to resolve the growing famine problem. 200,000 soldiers were commissioned into cultivating the land in resource rich Xinjiang, the soldiers and several thousand civilians that were lured by false promises to Xinjiang, formed the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Since then, Xinjiang has produced melons, tomatoes and nuts, but the most important produce has to be cotton.
China is the largest exporter of cotton in the world, and Xinjiang is the country’s top cotton producing state, with more than 30% of the entire cotton produce coming from Xinjiang, of which, the province of Shihezi is one of the primary producing areas. What makes Xinjiang cotton special is how soft it becomes when its woven into a length of cloth. I was very much surprised myself when I felt the fabric produced by Red Cloud & Co. It felt just as soft as Zimbabwe, with a nice slightly hairy texture. Honestly, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. Here’s why, Zimbabwe cotton is a long staple variety, with lengths varying between 3.8-4.5cm. Xinjiang cotton is also of the long staple variety with lengths averaging around 4cm as well. Here’s a picture that compares Xinjiang to Supima cotton.
Zimbabwe cotton staples might be a tiny bit longer, but it would make a pretty insignificant difference once its woven into cloth. I noticed a few key factors in producing long staple cotton. Both Zimbabwe and Xinjiang have semi-arid climates, and both are harvested by hand. Machined cotton harvesters shorten the staple lengths which is why Texas cotton is so short and uniformed. Hand picking is extremely labor intensive, which can only be done in regions where labor is relatively cheap, to remain competitive in the cotton industry. However, with that said, denim made from Zimbabwe cotton is much more expensive than denim made from the relatively unknown Xinjiang cotton!
With the growing awareness from consumers in the market, I expect the demand for Xinjiang cotton to increase in years to come, driving up prices and reinforcing China’s stake in the market. Look out Zimbabwe, you’ve got major competition.
Image sources: china-briefing.com, alrroya.com, compound-eye.org