Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What does that mean exactly?

You may have seen some of these terms on a label for a garment, or even home textile product, but do you know what it really means?

Wrinkle Free & Permanent Press

I clearly remember a sales representative giving a demonstration about wrinkle free men's khaki pants. He would hold up two pairs of pants, both worn on separate business days, to demonstrate how the pant with a wrinkle-free finish had considerably less wrinkles than the untreated pant. He told a story of how one customer complained because the "wrinkle-free" pants had wrinkled; well, "wrinkle-free" can be a misleading term. Both permanent press and wrinkle free products have been chemically treated so the fabric will resist or decrease wrinkling so the surface maintains its shape longer. In other technical words, the chemicals act as catalysts that cross-link polymer chains in cotton weaving, giving the material some elasticity and resilience. However, because of the chemicals used in the treatment the fabric tends to be weakened. So though the pants or shirt may resist wrinkling they may also not last as long as a regular pair of pants or shirt.

Down Fill/Down Feathers

While at Gap, Inc. my boss went on a business trip to Asia where she go to visit some unique factories such as a cashmere factory in Mongolia and a down feather factory in China. I remember her telling us about seeing the process at the down factory; like how the blowers separated the regular top feathers from the down feathers. Actually about 50% of down comes from China and are typically white goose down.

Any how, the down of birds is a layer of fine feathers under the tougher exterior feather. It is the light, fluffy undercoating that waterfowl like geese and ducks have to keep them warm. Therefore it has excellent thermal properties. Hence why down is valued in jackets and bedding. Down gives about three times the warmth per ounce compared to synthetics. Due to its ability to loft, or to fill the space it occupies is greater, longer lasting and more uniform. Down insulation is rated by fill power, measured as the number of cubic inches displaced by a given ounce . Higher fill power downs will thus be better insulators than lower fills-this quality difference accounts for the price difference. Be sure to check that the label says 100% down feather, as some manufacturers will mix down and regular feathers together to save costs. Which will subsequently reduce the warmth and long-term quality of the product.

Thread Count

You generally see this term on labels for cotton products such as cotton sheets or towels. This term brings memories back of my fabric testing and quality course at university when we would count threads in one square inch of fabric. (So the number of threads that are counted in that one inch of square fabric is what the thread count was). That included the number of threads on both the vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft). The higher the count the more fine a fabric is, the lower the more coarse. Good quality sheets are around 150-200.

Some manufacturers will market their products with a very high thread count-be very suspicious of anything with a label of 500 thread count or more. What they probably have done is actually counted the individual threads in a plied yarn. A plied yarn is made by twisting together several fine threads. For instance, the fabric may actually be a 250 thread count but the label will claim 1,000 thread count because they count those individual smaller threads that were twisted together. So in such an instance, there is no difference between the fineness of the fabric of the sheets labeled "1000 thread count" and those of the sheets, perhaps next to it on the shelf in the store, labeled"250 thread count". However, because of the marketing you'll be charged more for the "higher" thread count.

Egyptian Cotton

Egyptian cotton refers to an extra long staple cotton that is grown in Egypt which is more durable and softer than American pima cotton, which is why it is more expensive.

Because a continuous fiber is used when creating the yarns it is actually stronger than most cottons. The yarn is smaller in diameter so it means more yarns can be used per square inch. So the result, is a fabric that is lightweight yet very durable. Egyptian cotton may feel stiff at first but with laundering they soften. Typically less lint is produced during growth of Egyptian cotton and therefore Egyptian cotton fabric products are less likely to pill after laundering like other fabrics.

Organic Cotton

While at Gap, Inc. I went on a field trip, organized by Cotton, Inc., to visit a cotton farm in the San Joaquin Valley. This was actually my first time to see cotton fields in person. I remember the farmer pointing out which fields were cotton and which had organic cotton crops. Unfortunately, it had cost more for him to grow the organic cotton and the demand was much lower than expected, so he told us how he wouldn't be growing organic cotton the next season.

Organic cotton is a better product in terms of the environment but why it costs more for cotton farmers to produce it, is because the growth and yield is reduced significantly due to the abstinence of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Also, there is other investments that must be made by the grower in order for the cotton to be certified organic. Such as: fields have to go through a three year "cleansing" process; barriers and buzzers must be set up on the fields to detect any contamination from run-off from nearby non-organic fields; and other stipulations must be met in order for the product to be labeled as organic cotton.

But there are people who can and are willing to pay more for organic cotton that compensate for the extra cost that farmers incur who grow organic cotton. Generally these individuals are well aware of the multiple environmental benefits of organic cotton such as: groundwater quality is ensured with no fear of chemical run-offs; no toxic chemicals in the cotton; conservation of biodiversity; and so forth.

Made in the USA

Country of origin must be disclosed on textiles, wool and fur products in the USA. However, there is a difference between "Made in the USA" and "Assembled in the USA". For example, a garment may be nearly finished overseas and the last final and minor touches are completed in the USA so it can technically be marketed as "Made in the USA". However, those garments where the majority, if not all, of the assembly took place in the USA can be labeled "Assembled in the USA". Remember, even if assembly takes place in the USA the actual components, or parts, can be gathered from outside the USA.

Sweat Free

I was actually President of the United Students Against Sweatshops chapter at my university for two years. So I am very familiar with this term. It indicates that the clothing was not made in a sweatshop. A sweatshop will generally have these types of issues:

* Employer does not adhere to labor laws. This is most commonly seen in regards to employees being paid below minimum wage and young children employed whose age is below minimum age.

* Employer does not provide benefits as stipulated either in employment contract or regulated by government. Such as health care, mandated breaks, overtime pay and so forth.

* Poor and hazardous working conditions!!!

* Employees are subject to ongoing abuse and harassment with little or no protection of their rights.

Worsted Wool

Wool has been combed and carded before going into the spinning process to be made into yarn. They do these processed first to removes any short and brittle fibers. Then just the longer strands remain, which are then spun into yarn that is more durable and smooth. Because of the strength and fineness of the yarn clothing made out of worsted wool is very durable and maintains their shape-so they can keep a crease whilst resist wrinkling. That's why lots of your quality woolen suits are made of worsted wool.

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