Peruvian Pima Cotton, Peruvian Cotton: A Luxurious Fabric

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Cotton is one of the most prized fabrics in the world and has a long history of market trade, playing a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution in Britain and throughout much of the United States’ existence.

While all cotton fibers possess that notable softness and fluffiness, not all cottons are created equal. Peruvian Pima cotton is a luxury cotton, highly valued in the global market, and held above all others in quality.


A Brief History

Classified scientifically as Gossypium barbadense, Pima cotton gained its name from the Pima Indians, the first to harvest the fibers in the United States. In the early 1900s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture set up an experimental farm in hopes to cultivate this species of cotton.

But this cotton had a long history before the Pima Indians. The cotton had been cultivated in South America, namely Peru, for centuries, if not whole millennia. To Peruvians, the fiber was known as “gamuza,” which is Spanish for “suede.” Archaeologists have found Pima cotton fragments in Peru that date as far back as 3100 B.C.

The Incas also cultivated and wove Pima cotton to great effect in both practical and artistic pursuits. The Spanish Conquistadors were impressed by the Incas’ weaving techniques and quality of textiles, but many of these techniques were lost during Spain’s conquest of South America, unfortunately.

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Set Apart from the Rest

Cotton is naturally comfortable, absorbent, and strong. However, like coffee or fine wine, the quality of cotton varies greatly depending on numerous factors. Pima cotton is heralded as the best for three reasons:

  • Optimal growing conditions: Most Pima cotton is grown along the northern coastal valleys of Peru, though some small acreages exist in California, West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Peru is Pima cotton’s ideal setting, known for its nearly perfect temperatures all year round and a rich soil that naturally soaks up just the right amount of moisture for the cotton plants. These impeccable conditions result in a beautiful, silky luster and soft texture.
  • Extra long staple: As it turns out, length matters. With cotton—or any natural fiber—the longer and smoother the filament, the softer the fiber. The average cotton fiber measures between half an inch to three-quarters of an inch. Peruvian Pima cotton fiber is about twice the length of normal cotton, measuring an inch and three-eighths. This adds to the fiber’s durability and makes it highly resistant to pilling.
  • Harvested by hand: Most commercial cotton is harvested by machines, but these machines often lead to scratchy impurities, disturbing the fiber’s smoothness and creating an unattractive yellow cast. Peruvian Pima cotton is picked entirely by hand, which leads to fewer imperfections and a smoother finish. Handpicking also results in a pure white shade that takes beautifully to dyes. Harvesting by hand is also more environmentally friendly.

These factors result in cotton that is softer, stronger, and more absorbent than other cottons. Pima cotton is generally hypoallergenic, making it a better choice for those with sensitive skin. Many tout that products made from Pima cotton will last 50 percent longer than products made from other forms of cotton. Pima cotton is used most often in shirts and woven sweaters for the fiber’s superior warmth and light weight.

Similarities to Egyptian Cotton

Pima cotton bears some similarities to forms of Egyptian cotton, which is more frequently used in bed sheets and towels. Egyptian cotton has a much finer weave than other types of cotton, which is optimal for towels due to the softness and absorbency of the fibers.

Like Pima cotton, Egyptian cotton is a form of extra long staple cotton. While Pima cotton is slightly shorter, it yields a thread that can be woven into fabrics multiple times to create a fabric that is both durable and soft.

Pima cotton clothing feels luxurious on the skin while remaining light and breathable. It comes in a wide array of vibrant colors, and is a versatile, long-lasting closet staple.