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Why Cotton Gets Mislabeled

Before popping your favorite shirts, sheets, or towels in the washer, you most likely look at the label for instructions on how to properly wash your items. But there is one part of the label that you may be overlooking — the fabric content. Clothing and linen labels will tell you the percentage of the material within the item, such as 100% cotton, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story. 

A label that says the sheets are 100% cotton describes what your sheets are made of, but not its quality. In the past few years, studies and corporate honesty have revealed that cotton products are mislabeled in terms of their content and quality. In 2016, Welspun India Ltd. was caught in an Egyptian cotton labeling snafus. Target performed an internal investigation and revealed that Welspun Egyptian Cotton 500-thread count sheets were produced with another type of non-Egyptian cotton. These Egyptian Cotton sheets were sold by several, large retailers and were advertised as “100% Egyptian cotton”. This investigation spurred Welspun to admit to their mislabeling tactics and resulted in two class-action lawsuits against the company.

How and why does this happen? Let’s dive in to understand how and why mislabeling occurs in the cotton supply chain.

What Are You Really Wearing?

If you’re like most people, when you purchase a new shirt and peek at the tag, you trust that what you see is what you get. But many consumers are becoming more aware of these false labeling tactics. In an advertorial report released by Applied DNA Science (ADNAS), the technology company found that of 29 products tested, 89% of them were not compliant with their labeled fiber content. Instead the products were made of a blend of cottons, and not solely made of the fibers consumers associate with the product, such as fine and long-lasting fibers for Egyptian cotton.

ADNAS was able to determine the different types of fabric within cotton products through their fiberTyping® technology. fiberTyping® is a patented genomic DNA test that identifies exactly what kind of cotton products were made with.  ADNAS uses this technology to identify if blended fabric was used at any point in the supply chain.

Of 29 products tested, 89% of them were not compliant with their labeled fiber content.

This practice of mislabeling is happening for two reasons: increased global cotton prices and demand for high-quality products at low prices. Most consumers believe that sheets with higher thread counts are better quality, so disreputable companies will produce this “high-quality” feel by wrapping multiple pieces of low-grade cotton together to create a double or triple-ply thread. By blending various types of cotton together, producers can keep costs low but create the illusion of a luxury look and feel. But don’t be fooled - it won’t last. Bottom line? Higher thread count doesn’t guarantee higher quality.

The Rules and Regulations of Cotton Labeling

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission recently updated the requirements for clothing labels with the Textile Act and Rules. According to the FTC, a product cannot be labeled “100% Cotton” unless it only contains cotton. That means any product that claims it is made of 100% cotton, but actually has other material in it, will be considered deceptive by the FTC.

While label integrity is improving and helping to reduce mislabeling, false cotton claims can easily slip through the cracks.

The Farm to Shelf Movement

Instead of just trusting a label, you deserve to know exactly what your cotton products are made of, where it’s grown, who it’s grown by, and whether it’s been grown ethically. That’s why we do things differently at HomeGrown Cotton so you have a clear choice if you’re looking for cotton you can believe in.

After our upland cotton is harvested, American family farms take it to the gin. At the gin, seeds are removed and the cotton is baled. From there, the cotton is spun into yarn then woven into fabric. Cotton has a long journey from the farm to the shelf. That’s why we use a revolutionary verification system to tag, track, and test our cotton to ensure it is never contaminated or compromised with foreign fabrics. When you see the HomeGrown Cotton label, you can trust that it is verified  to be 100% cotton grown on American soil by family farmers.

In addition to the HomeGrown Cotton label, here are a few more ways you can define quality, cotton products:

  • The type of cotton used: The only way you can identify the quality of cotton is if you know where it was grown. That’s why we only use 100% upland cotton grown on America’s family farms at HomeGrown Cotton to ensure you always receive a quality, verified product.
  • A clean supply chain: After cotton is spun, it is woven into fabric. Even thread that’s 100% pure cotton can be woven together with lower-quality thread. So it’s important to know the manufacturer’s process for creating the products you love.
  • Ethical and sustainable practices: Do you research to find out if companies have ethical and sustainable practices. For example, cotton grown in Uzbekistan is often rife with harmful pesticides and grown using unethical labor practices, but many disreputable companies continue to source their cotton from here.

Next time you buy sheets or a new shirt, remember to look at the label. If it says it is 100% cotton, then ask yourself if that’s the whole story.

HomeGrown cotton is made from 100% verified cotton and grown right in the United States. Learn more about the different types of fabrics you can expect to be made with HomeGrown cotton here.


Whether you’re a manufacturer looking to enhance your cotton products or a customer just wanting to know a bit more, we’d love to hear from you.

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