The Perfect T-Shirt Material: Extra-long Staple Cotton

SANVT Journal

Cotton is the world’s most popular natural fabric. There’s nothing quite like it - especially when it comes to T-shirts. Yet, a mistake t-shirt buyers often make is thinking cotton is just cotton. That a “100% cotton” tag is all you need to be assured of a t-shirt’s quality.


This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth: with raw cotton there’s a huge difference between the top and bottom qualities – influenced by climate, soil, plant species, wind, weather, rain, frost, insect damage, right down to the attention to detail from those who pick it. And the most important quality of cotton is always the length of its fibre. The longer and smoother the fibre, the easier it is to spin – spelling the difference between a smooth cut shirt and a dish towel.

Cotton that is classified as “extra-long staple cotton”(also known as ELS and Pima) usually has cotton fibres that average above 35mm; compared to more commonly used cotton, which typically averages less than 25mm. As one of the most exclusive kinds of cotton, it is estimated that extra-long staple cotton grown in the US (American Pima) represents less than 1% of cotton grown in the world.

ELS cotton (aka Pima) is always grown from the same cotton plant species: 'Gossypium barbadense'. Shorter staple cottons are grown from other types of cotton plant that are cheaper and easier to cultivate.


Egyptian cotton is technically a comparable fibre to American ELS Pima cotton. It should be grown from the exact same species: Gossypium barbadense. However, experts in the industry say you don’t always know what you’re buying. As outlined in Bloomberg; research carried out in 2016 showed that 83% of tested products labelled 100% Egyptian ELS were partially or entirely made from another type of cotton.

Additionally, much of the cotton grown in Egypt that can be accurately called “Egyptian cotton” is merely long staple, not ELS, meaning the fibres are shorter, weaker, and coarser than ELS cotton.

SANVT works closely with closely with its suppliers to ensure highest quality ELS cotton



  • Extra long staple cotton is longer and stronger
  • Fabric that’s more durable and keeps shape better
  • Colour is also more uniform and longer-lasting
  • Garments feel better and softer
  • A flowing, slightly lustrous appearance
  • Extra-long staple cotton items are friendlier on the skin

Cottons may look the same to the untrained eye but, as we've said, extra-long staple cotton and regular cotton are actually two entirely different species. Individual extra-long staple cotton fibres are 35% longer and about 45% stronger than conventional cotton varieties.

This longer fibre resists pulling, breaking, and tearing – resulting in garments that are incredibly resilient and keep their form to the last. There are also fewer short fibres, which is why garments made from longer fibres keep their shapes longer and are resistant to abrasion.

Longer fibres also secure the strength and softness of garments, while shorter fibres produce yarns that are rougher and subject to pilling (when small balls of fibre become visible on a garment after use).

Colour is another benefit: long staple cotton’s fibre density leads to a uniform colour, as fabrics absorb dye with a deep, long-lasting penetration. And items stay fresh for a longer, retaining their colour better than those made from regular cottons. This also means that white shirts made with extra-long staple cotton stay whiter than conventional white shirts.

Ultimately, yarns made of ELS cotton create the most luxurious and highest quality fabrics – ensuring skin friendliness, softness, cooling, moisture absorption, breathability and above all durability. In our case, this cotton creates The Perfect T-shirt.


  • ELS cotton garments last a lot longer, needing fewer replacements
  • Workers’ conditions tend to be more humane in key growing regions like the USA
  • ELS cotton tends not to be grown organically - but this is changing.

Recently, American ELS farmers have been ensuring the best quality cotton in the world with as little impact on the environment as possible. New techniques, from GPS-navigated tractors that plant and harvest the cotton to satellite technology and soil monitors, are ensuring better sustainability.

Farmers are also making efforts to cut down on water use – having switched from flooding to drip irrigation (which uses a network of tubes to let water drip slowly to the plants’ roots). This drip method halves the amount of water required to grow one acre of cotton, while most Egyptian and Asian cotton producers are still using traditional and more wasteful irrigation methods.


We want to make a T-Shirt that looks great and will last a very long time. So, at SANVT, we use only the finest raw materials available. Our Perfect T-shirt - a 185 GSM midweight tee - is made from highest-grade extra-long-staple cotton, exclusively grown in the United States of America. Working closely with our suppliers helps to ensure the purity of our ELS cotton.

The Perfect White T-shirt - made from premium 185 GSM cotton

We are convinced that better quality also leads to less waste, which is the first step towards a more sustainable approach towards fashion.

Buy less. Buy better.

Interested in garments made from 100% organic cotton? Then we have plenty of those too - such as our 235 GSM Heavyweight T-shirt.