Don’t confuse ‘cotton gin’ with your fave booze

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Ok, so there’s been a big explosion of craft gin in South Africa, but in case you were wondering, there is no relation between a “cotton gin” and the alcoholic drink. Seriously. In this case “gin” is simply the shortened version of “engine” – the super duper machine that removes cotton fibre from cotton seeds.

Yes, your favourite cotton clothing items actually originate from a tree. Cotton is a heat-loving plant. It is the material in which the plants’ seeds are embedded. The cotton plant requires between 180 and 200 days from planting to reach full maturity and be ready for harvest. That’s a helluva long time to ultimately create cotton fabric, which allows your skin to remain comfortable as you exercise, keeping moisture from building up between your skin and clothing.

Interestingly enough, cotton fibre and its by-products are also used in the production of a massive range of other products, including bank notes, margarine, rubber and medical supplies. The first light bulb made by Thomas Edison in the late 1800’s used a cotton thread filament, but cotton actually dates to at least 7 000 years ago, making it one of the world’s oldest known fibres. The earliest reports of cotton growing in South Africa date back to 1516.


  • In the 2014/15 production year alone, South Africa’s cotton crop produced 94 000 bales of cotton fibre, each weighing 200kg. That equates to around 19 million pairs of denim jeans, or 63 million T-shirts.
  • A single cotton bale can produce approximately 200 pairs of denim jeans or 670 T-shirts.
  • The cotton plant is very versatile. Its different parts can be used in multiple products, from baking ingredients to livestock feed; packaging to clothing; linen to soap, among many others.
  • The word cotton is derived from “qutun”, an Arabic word.
  • Cotton grows naturally in different colours: in white, brown, pink and green.

Cotton SA is a Food For Mzansi partner. Our work is supported by the contributions of our partners, who have no right of control over editorial content. Read more on our Partners page.

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