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L’Histoire de Mode~Naturally Colored Cotton



Naturally colored cotton is cotton that has been bred to

grow on the plant to have colors other than the yellowish off-white

typical of modern commercial cotton fibers. Colors grown include

red, green and several shades of brown. The cotton’s natural color

does not fade. Yields are typically lower and the fiber is shorter and

weaker but has a softer feel than the more commonly available “white” cotton.

Since it doesn’t have pesticides, chemicals, bleaches or artificial dyes,

fewer allergies and respiratory problems are found. This form of cotton

also feels softer to the skin and has a pleasant smell. Naturally

Colored Cotton is still relatively rare because it requires specialized

harvest techniques and facilities, making it more expensive to harvest

than white cotton. By the 1990s most indigenous colored cotton landraces

or cultivars grown in Africa, Asia and Central and South America were

replaced by all-white, commercial varieties.

Naturally colored cotton is believed to have originated in the Americas

around 5000 years ago in the Andes. Naturally colored cotton today mostly comes

from pre-Colombian stocks created by the indigenous peoples of South

America (Vreeland, 1999). Mochica Indians could be attributed with growing naturally

colored cotton of myriad hues, which they maintained for over the last two

millenniums on the northern coast of Peru.

Naturally colored cotton comes from pigments found in

cotton pigments and produce shades ranging from tan to green

and brown. Naturally-pigmented green cotton derives its color from

caffeic-acid, a derivative of innamic acid, found in the suberin (wax)

layer which is deposited in alternating layers with cellulose around the outside

of the cotton fiber.While green colored cotton comes from wax layers, brown

and tan cottons derive their color from tannin vacuoles in the

lumen of the fiber cells.

The naturally colored cotton has a small fiber and is not suitable

for heavy machine spinning. During the World War II the insufficient supply

of dye led to the cultivation of green and brown cotton in the Soviet Union.

The US government also showed interest in cultivation of naturally colored cotton

but later aborted the project due to low yield and short staple length.

Later on US government instructed a famous agronomist, J.O.Ware, to study the Soviet cotton plants to determine whether they were commercially viable in the U.S. Ware and his colleagues concluded that the green and brown cotton plants yielded too little lint that was too short in staple length. Colored cotton was officially regulated to obscurity. Only in a few places where people still entranced by its possibilities.”

Due to smaller fiber, it becomes unpractical to use naturally colored cotton

for clothing manufacturers. But now, colored cotton is literally squeezed in with the conventional

white cotton to make its fiber longer and stronger than other naturally colored cotton to be

used in typical looms. Since this hybrid cotton fiber is stronger, it is

being used by Levis, L.L. Bean, Eileen Fisher, and

Fieldcrest for clothes like khakis.

A new arrival on the Western fashion market, naturally pigmented

cotton originally flourished some 5,000 years ago. Its revival today

draws on stocks first developed and cultivated by Indians in South and

Central America. Recent commercial cultivation currently uses

pre-Colombian stocks created by the indigenous peoples of South America.

Commercial cultivation still continues in South America as many big US

companies such as Patagonia, Levi Strauss and Esprit are buying naturally

grown cotton along with white cotton which requires significant

amount of insecticides and pesticides.

As mentioned the naturally colored cotton had smaller fiber which were

not suitable for mechanical looms used today, therefore kept naturally

colored cotton to enter in the commercial market. In 1982, Sally Fox

a graduate in Integrated Pest Management from University of California with a

Masters Degree started researching on colored cotton and integrated her knowledge

and experience in technology and introduced first long fiber of naturally colored cotton.

Sally Fox later started her company, Natural Cotton Colors, Inc. and got patents in different shades

including: green, Coyote brown, Buffalo brown, and Palo Verde green under FoxFiber®.

Later on the technology was further improved by a cotton breeder Raymond Bird in 1984.

Bird began experimenting in Reedley, California with red, green and brown cotton to

improve fiber quality. Later on Raymond Bird along with his brother and C. Harvey

Campbell Jr., a California agronomist and cotton breeder, and formed BC Cotton Inc.

to work with naturally colored cottons. Naturally colored cotton usually

come in four standard colors – green, brown, red (a reddish brown)

and mocha (similar to tan).

There is experimental evidence to demonstrate that

naturally-pigmented cottons, especially green cotton, have excellent

sun protection properties, when compared with unbleached white

cotton that needs to be treated with dyes or finishes to obtain similar

properties. It is hypothesized that the pigments in naturally-pigmented

cotton fibers are present to provide protection from ultraviolet radiation

for the embryonic cotton seeds, however they can also provide protection

from the sun’s harmful rays for consumers who wear garments manufactured

from these naturally-pigmented fibers. The UPF values of the naturally-pigmented

cottons examined in a university study remained high enough, even after 80 AFUs

(AATCC Fading Units)of light exposure and repeated laundering, that the fabrics

merited sun protection ratings of “good” to “very good” according to ASTM 6603

voluntary labeling guidelines for UV-protective textiles.

Naturally colored cotton is unique and exceptionally different from

white cotton as it does not need to be dyed. According to, agronomists the cost

of dying could be up to half of the value, and also environmentally friendly,

as it eliminates disposal costs for toxic dye waste. According to Dr. Frank

Werber, National Program Leader for Fabric and Materials, Agriculture Research

Service, USDA, naturally colored cotton is ecologically valid as well as economical.

Elimination of dyeing in production could save from $.60-1.50 per pound of fabric.

Naturally colored cotton is also resistant to change as compared with the

conventional dyed white cotton. After laundering, the color becomes

stronger and more intense, a characteristic documented during research

studies at Texas Tech University. The length of time required to “bring out” the

color varies with color and variety. Eventually, the colors may start to return

to their original color. Some naturally colored cotton darkens with

exposure to the sun. However, green is less stable and fades

to tan when exposed to sunlight.

Due to the non-industrialized product naturally colored cottons

yield less per acre, but growers are paid higher prices for their harvest.

In 1993, colored cotton prices ranged from $3.60 to $4.50 per pound

compared to conventional white cotton at $.60 to $.90 per pound.


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