Egyptian cotton is considered the best in the world. It is also the most rare, the most expensive, and bizarrely the less in demand. So what makes this breed of cotton superior to average cotton and why is it not as sought after as it should be?
When it comes to cotton the most essential aspect to its quality is the length of its fibers: the longer the fibers, the better the cotton. This is because longer staple translate into more uninterrupted fiber to use when making the yarn. Uninterrupted fibers have fewer splices, giving stronger threads and a longer lasting fabric. Also because the fabric is stronger, the extra-long fibers can be made into very fine yarn, resulting in a softer and more lustrous fabric that simply can’t be given by short-stapled cotton.
Cottons that have the longest fibers all come from Gossypium Barbadense, a plant requiring full sun, high humidity rainfalls that gives unusually long silky fibers. Gossypium Barbadense is responsible for all Extra Long Staples cottons (ELS), these include the breeds WISICA Sea Island (from where the plant originates), American Pima, Indian Suvin, Chinese Xinjiang and Egyptian Giza. Egyptian Giza is the breed that can develop the longest staples and is therefore considered the finest.
There are many Egyptian Giza fiber grades but these can be broken into two groups: those that are ELS and the inferior Long staples (LS). Long staple fibers include Giza 86, Giza 89 and Giza 90. It is a very high quality cotton, which is slightly better than the well-known American brand of ‘Supima’ cotton even if the latter is labeled ELS and the former LS.
Egyptian Extra-long staple fibers
Egyptian Giza was cultivated in 1820 by Mohammed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt. Mohammed imported the Brazilian and West Indian Sea Island Cotton seeds, as he noticed how wonderful the foreign fabrics produced from these raw materials were. The combination of the best seeds in the world together with the exceptional environment provided by the Nile Delta where rain, sun, humidity and soil irrigation combined to produce a climatic heaven for the cultivation of Gossypium Barbadense, resulting in the best cotton in the world.
Unfortunately today the mass market has taken monopoly on the demand for textiles and especially cotton linen. According to an article in Le Monde, Egyptian cotton sales represent only 3% of total cotton sales. The Egyptian government has even seized to subsidize its production, which has encouraged farmers to grow cereals instead, which are more profitable. The production of the White Gold that is Egyptian Giza could fall by 35% by next season.
When buying Egyptian cotton products it is important to be mindful of counterfeit. Bed sheets being sold for $39.99 as Egyptian cotton sheet sets are certainly not ELS Giza. While it may be entirely true that cotton in these sheets was grown in Egypt, it does not mean it is Egyptian Giza Cotton from Gossypium Barbadense. As mentioned, only 3% of the cotton produced is the world-renowned ELS Egyptian cotton.
By choosing sheets made with Egyptian Giza cotton or American Supima you encourage the cultivation of more noble raw material, and the production of something that will last longer.