Cotton Sheets, Caveat Emptor

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Agricultural employees harvest cotton in a field in Benha, Egypt. Welspun India, a giant home textile manufacturer, is in trouble for falsely advertising bedding products as containing Egyptian cotton. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

We are in the business of providing comfortable bedding as responsibly as possible, and we are as vigilant on sheets as anything else. So, in the spirit of FYI:

Those luxury Egyptian cotton sheets you own may not be luxurious – or Egyptian

Target and Walmart are pulling bedding off their shelves after a falsely labeled Egyptian cotton products controversy involving manufacturer Welspun India

Alison Moodie

Egyptian cotton, which can be spun into fine, long fiber to make sheets with a high thread count, is synonymous with luxury bedding. But in the last four months, it’s been at the center of a controversy that has caused many Americans to wonder whether the Egyptian cotton sheets they rely on for a good night’s sleep actually contain any cotton from Egypt.

The controversy involves Welspun India, a giant home textile manufacturer. Target, Walmart and a handful of other big US retailers have pulled hundreds of thousands of bedding sheets off shelves after discovering that Welspun had sold them falsely labeled Egyptian cotton products.

Welspun has seen its stock price tumble since Target led the defection in August when an investigation by the retailer found the 750,000 sheets and pillow cases that Welspun labeled as 100% Egyptian cotton were actually fake. Bed, Bath & Beyond, also one of Welspun’s top customers, is the latest to stop selling the manufacturer’s 100% Egyptian cotton sheets, Bloomberg reported.

Welspun, which sells its goods in more than 50 countries and generated $871.4m in annual revenue, is now facing consumer lawsuits over the fake sheets. Most recently, a suit was filed against Walmart, alleging that the store knew about the problem for years but didn’t pull the sheets until two months ago.

The trouble Welspun is in demonstrates both the difficulties of monitoring a supply chain that stretches around the world and the power of a label to entice consumers to pay more for products they perceive to be superior. The Egyptian cotton label doesn’t present a verified claim of quality – all it signifies is that the cotton is grown in Egypt. The connection to luxury comes from the recognition that the cotton makes for strong, soft and tightly woven fabric. There are around 10 varieties of cotton farmed in Egypt, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

The trouble of verifying a product’s origin and quality pops up in many products, not just bedding. It’s fairly common in the food business: Whole Foods and Safeway, for example, are among the major supermarkets that have gotten in trouble for selling extra virgin oil from Italy that didn’t meet either claim.

Welspun is now facing a credibility check from one of the industry groups it belongs to: the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which aims to promote the production of sustainable cotton. Part of the BCI’s role is to set standards to ensure the cotton its members use is in fact sustainably grown and harvested. Matthew Kempen, a spokesperson for the initiative, noted that the phrase “Egyptian cotton” is more of an indicator of quality and sustainability, and that BCI doesn’t verify the origins of cotton.

“As a matter of precaution we shall be contacting Welspun about the incident to request that they share their corrective actions with us, and we shall remind them that members contribute to credibility of BCI as a framework,” said Kempen…

Read the whole article here.

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