How North Carolina-Based Cotton Incorporated Helps the Cotton Industry Thrive


Photo credit: Marianne Krohn/Unsplash

Your favorite jeans, T-shirts and sweatpants all have something in common. Check the labels and you’ll find they most likely contain cotton. This natural product is one of the world’s most popular fibers because of its durability, comfort, ease of cleaning and ability to control moisture. It’s also a driver of the North Carolina agriculture economy.

Not only is the state one of the nation’s top 10 cotton producers, but it’s also home to the world headquarters of Cotton Incorporated, the research and marketing company for U.S. upland cotton.

Four years after Congress passed the Cotton Research and Promotion Act of 1966, the organization was established as a not-for-profit to promote cotton, which at the time was losing market share to new synthetic fibers. Fifty years and thousands of synthetic leisure suits later, the cotton industry is going strong, thanks in part to the efforts of Cotton Incorporated.

“Our task is to improve the demand for and the profitability of cotton,” says Ryan Vulcan, associate director of communications for Cotton Incorporated. “We focus our efforts on research and promotion across the whole supply chain, from agriculture research to consumer marketing, from improving farm-level efficiencies to supporting innovations in fabric construction and engaging with the fashion industry.”

Cotton Incorporated

Photo credit: Cotton Incorporated

From Field to Hanger

Cotton Incorporated makes a field-to-fashion commitment that benefits the grower, the associated industries, the environment and the consumer.

For instance, their innovative research into soil conservation and water and pest management has resulted in technological advancements that improve production efficiency and sustainability. Over the past 40 years, cotton growers have increased yields by 50% without significantly increasing planted acres.

“We work directly with growers through our agricultural sustainability programs,” Vulcan says. “They put in a great deal of time, effort and energy to produce the best product and to be good stewards of the land.”

See more: Farm Facts: Cotton

Cotton Incorporated also takes a leading role in identifying new uses for cotton byproducts, which are already used in unexpected items such as ice cream and sausage casings. Working with collaborators, Cotton Incorporated has also helped cotton and cotton byproducts find their way into biodegradable packing materials, sound-dampening wall coverings and hydromulch used to stave land erosion on construction projects. The company also partnered with Bonded Logic, an Arizona-based company, on the Blue Jeans Go Green™ program, which diverts unwanted denim from landfills and transforms it into housing insulation.

Cotton Incorporated

Photo credit: Cotton Incorporated

Looking to the Future

The innovation doesn’t stop there. Cotton Incorporated is at the forefront of promoting technologies and applications that help make textile manufacturing more efficient, effective and inspired.

Laser etching is one such innovation the organization showcases. Vulcan explains that the technology can create a variety of finishing effects on denim, woven and knit fabrics, offering an alternative to traditional processes, which helps reduce the impact of denim finishing.

See more: Cotton of the Carolinas

“Laser etching uses a computer to generate tears, patterns and textures into the fabric,” Vulcan says. “This allows for more precision and consistency in design execution, which inspires design and uses fewer inputs than stone washing, for instance.”

Through Cotton Incorporated’s branded technology solutions, cotton is also being reinvented as a true performance fiber. Innovations such as TransDRY®, WICKING WINDOWS™ and STORM COTTON™ technologies create cotton fibers that can manage moisture as well as or better than many top-performing synthetics, repelling moisture with exceptional durability over the life of the garment.


Cotton Incorporated is also taking cotton apparel design to the next level by launching 3D downloadable fabric files.

“Cotton Incorporated has a vast library of cotton fabric constructions called FABRICAST™,” Vulcan shares. “Currently, we are in the process of making those available for 3D fashion design applications. Basically, the applications translate how a fabric will lay and drape so that designers can visualize on a computer screen how a given fabric will look and move as a garment.”

A timely option given the workplace challenges of 2020, this approach also helps to eliminate waste and aid with real-time buying decisions.

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Learn more about Cotton Incorporated’s products and efforts at

Plus, it continues Cotton Incorporated’s 50-year tradition of providing design inspiration to the fashion and textile industries.

“At our headquarters, we have all the machinery, including baling, carding and knitting machines, and looms and lasers,” Vulcan says. “So we can test, explore and discover new ways to amplify technologies and techniques that can be used by designers, mills, brands and retailers across the world.”

– Cathy Lockman

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