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Raw Denim Basics – Know Your Cotton Types

As any regular readers of the site will know, the world of raw denim offers a seemingly endless variety of fabric weights, dyes, stitching, and other details. But in the end, pretty much every pair is just a different recipe with the same ingredients: denim, hardware, and thread.

Many of the higher-end brands tout not only the rigorous craft that went into weaving their denim but also the cotton that went through the looms. If terms like “extra long staple Zimbabwean cotton” only inspire blank stares, fear not! We’ve outlined the differences in some of the main cotton types used in denim below.

Staple Length

“Staple Length” refers to the length of the fibers of any given material. In terms of cotton, this is the average length within a sample of a species. Cotton with longer staple lengths tends to produce softer and hairier fabrics than those with shorter ones.

Upland Cotton

Raw Denim Basics - Know Your Cotton Types

Upland cotton. (Image courtesy of The Telegraph UK)

Easily the most widely grown, Upland Cotton is truly the workhorse of the textile industry. 9 out of 10 cotton plants in the entire world are a variety of upland.

Upland strains can range in staple lengths but are often processed to uniformity, making a harder, less supple fabric. If a denim label just says “100% Cotton,” it’s safe to assume that its 100% Upland cotton.

Pima Cotton

A long-staple cotton variety named after the Pima Indians who cultivated it in Arizona in the early twentieth century. Pima is one of the most durable and absorbent varieties while still remaining lightweight, making it a popular choice for luxury sheets, t-shirts, oxford cloth, and a handful of denim manufacturers.

Turkish Cotton

Raw Denim Basics - Know Your Cotton Types

Turkish cotton APCs. (Image courtesy of Context Clothing)

Once only known for towels and bathrobes, in the last ten years Turkey has transformed itself into a denim-producing powerhouse. Denim woven from the Turkish long-staple fiber is known for its natural shine and strength. A.P.C and Nudie source most of the denim used in their jeans from Turkish milled cotton.

Zimbabwean Cotton

Raw Denim Basics - Know Your Cotton Types

Zimbabwean farmers harvest cotton by hand. (Image courtesy of BBC)

One of the longest staple cottons on the planet and also one of the rarest. This variety is only grown by a handful of farmers in Southern Africa and only harvested by hand.

Labels like Momotaro, IronHeartKicking Mule Workshop, and 45rpm work primarily in Zimbabwe denim for its substantial weight, luster, and ability to soak up indigo. Zimbabwean cotton is also best for producing the naturally uneven slub yarns that create vertical falling.

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