The Cotton Labs: The Finishing Touch

For our last post on the Cotton labs, we talked trends: how designs become a reality. This time, we’re taking a deeper look at applications (that include lasers!) and finishing.

The Lab.

Let’s start by taking a walk through the chemistry lab. What appears to be a lab reminiscent of school science class is actually of huge importance to the industry and its consumers. This team is in charge of the execution of color trends – all those mood boards, color directions and hues that the Product Trend Analysis team develops seasons in advance, this team makes them a reality. How saturated should the cotton fiber be? Is the color balance right? It’s up to them to fine-tune the all the details.


Heavy Metals.

Then there’s foiling: a technique that reminded me of screen-printing. This multi-step process starts by taking a piece of fabric and putting it on a print table. The team then applies an adhesive through a screen (that has a print etched into it), and a magnet under the table drags a metal bar across the print screen to apply the adhesive evenly to the fabric. The fabric is then put in an oven to dry. When the adhesive is dry, the fabric and the foil are combined in a heated press (think of a Panini press). Once removed from the press, the foil and fabric are pulled apart and you are left with a beautiful, shiny print aesthetic that you have probably seen many times in final products, without ever realizing how much care & technique went into it!


Set to Print.

There have been many tech advances that all of the teams here at the Cotton Lab have embraced, and the Textile Chemistry Research team is no exception.

You know when you purchase a pair of jeans and there is a whisker affect around the front pockets? That can be done using a laser treatment that ‘prints’ (it burns away the top layer of dye and fiber) the whiskers through digital imaging technology. The laser can also create a textured finish, or cut right through the fabric! Not going to lie, it was pretty amazing to see it in action.

This team can also print original designs directly on to the fabric by using a really large version of your desktop printer that is loaded with textile dyes that bond with the fabric. It allows them to print anything from geometric designs to photographic images. Similar to when I touched the water-repellent Storm Fabric, I expected the printed fabric to be a bit harsh to the hand (that is what has sometimes happened when touching clothes in a store), but it was as soft as a cotton sweatshirt!


The Touch, the Feel.

One thing to remember is that once a knit or woven is created, even after it’s dyed, the process is not finished. Think of your favorite sweatshirt. You remember that feeling of first time you put it on, how soft it was against your skin? The cotton doesn’t feel like that right away and is carefully handled to achieve that touch (photo below on the right is the ‘before’, photo on the left is the ‘after’ that you hopefully experience).

We hope you’ve enjoyed our adventure at the Cotton labs! Ask us anything at @discovercotton.

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