体育投注网平台In 1994, Ayman Nassar, an Egyptian-American who grew up in California, briefly abandoned his studies at the University of Colorado and followed his older brother to Egypt. “There were so many opportunities,” Nassar told me. The Nassars come from a family of Egyptian industrialists. They had owned a leather tannery in Alexandria which was nationalized by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, in the sweeping socialist reforms of the nineteen-sixties—an event that precipitated the Nassar family’s departure to the U.S. Now Egypt had relaxed many of its socialist policies, reducing subsidies, loosening price controls, and privatizing much of its public sector. With the help of a grandfather who had remained in the country, the Nassar brothers tried their hand at various industries before building a name for themselves in cotton. They started by trading in raw cotton, and eventually opened their own spinning and weaving factories.
The fame of Egyptian cotton is much like that of Italian olive oil or French wine, where provenance has become a shortcut for quality. A quick search on Amazon returns seven thousand results for “Egyptian cotton” in bedding and sheets alone. Several are appended with the word “luxury.” Cotton is the only commodity for which the adjective “Egyptian” adds grandeur, the way “German” does for cars and “French” does for most things. “People still, whether rightfully or not, place a value on Egyptian cotton,” Rami Helali, a co-founder of Kotn, a clothing company that primarily uses Egyptian cotton, told me. “I think they see the name and they think ‘luxury’ and ‘expensive.’ ” Egypt is one of a handful of countries—along with the United States, Israel, and Turkmenistan—that grow a particularly lustrous type of cotton called extra-long-staple cotton, known in the U.S. as Pima cotton. Extra-long-staple varieties make up three per cent of the world’s cotton production. “I have seen it,” Helali told me, of one such variety that grows in Egypt. “It is a shocking, shocking thing. It looks like silk.”
But, as the Nassar brothers were building their business, Egyptian cotton, much like the rest of Egypt, was in quiet decline. When the government liberalized the cotton sector, it also stopped subsidizing cotton farmers directly and left private companies to trade in cotton seeds freely. “There were no procedures to monitor those companies,” Mohammed Khedr, the head of the Cotton Arbitration & Testing General Organization (CATGO), told me. Crop rotation was left to the discretion of farmers, who responded too readily to the whims of the market, eroding the fertility of the Nile Valley. “I would say in late 2009, 2010, is kind of when I started personally hearing less about Egyptian cotton,” Steven Birkhold, a former C.E.O. of Lacoste and Diesel U.S.A., told me. “I used to travel frequently to a lot of our key partners, whether it be the ginning mills or the spinners, and that’s kind of when we stopped paying attention—from brands like Diesel, Lacoste, Lee Jeans—to Egyptian cotton.”
On January 25, 2011, encouraged by the success of protests in Tunisia that led to the departure of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, thousands of Egyptians flooded the streets to protest the corruption and aggression of President Hosni Mubarak and his administration. Very quickly, Mubarak was forced out, and new governments were shuffled at high speed. In this context, the health of the country’s cotton was further ignored. The best cotton plants are a hybrid of different species selected for particular qualities. Some farmers began to cut corners, ignoring the “isolation distance” required between cotton fields of different varieties. Their seeds became badly cross-pollinated. The Egyptian government, which controls all seed research, has long struggled to come up with new ones. “It’s like having too small a gene pool,” James Hayward, the C.E.O. of Applied DNA Sciences, which makes DNA tags that allow manufacturers to trace products through supply chains, told me. (Birkhold is currently a consultant for Applied DNA.) “If it’s inbred, it just gets weaker and weaker faster and faster.” There are about ten varieties of cotton grown in Egypt, all of which are officially categorized by Egypt’s CATGO as long or extra-long. (Long-staple cotton grown in Upper Egypt is considered by some traders to be not very long, after all.) Among them are such prized varieties as Giza 86, considered by traders to be “the bread and butter” of Egyptian cottons, and Giza 45, which has the longest staple. “If you don’t guard the germ plasm and protect it, the genetics decay,” Hayward said. “There were Egyptian cottons that stopped being extra-long-staple. The staple got shorter and shorter and shorter.” Giza 45 is a hybrid from the nineteen-fifties. The government had since failed to come up with a similarly exceptional new hybrid. “They kept on planting it, and the quality and volume went down,” Nassar said. As Giza 45 started to fade, the Nassars anxiously built up their inventory. “We would go select and graze it out.” Though they still believe they have more Giza 45 than anyone else, they stopped buying it in 2009.
After cotton is ginned, it is classified according to fibre length, uniformity, color, and other determinants of quality—results that are later made available to buyers. By 2013, the cotton harvest was turning out so poorly that Khedr stopped going to the classing facilities. “I wouldn’t go down to supervise the agents because, really, we’d tell them, ‘The cotton you see in front of you is not Egyptian cotton,’ ” he said. “ ‘It’s nothing at all.’ ”
体育投注网平台The Egyptian cotton industry was born from a single American event—the Civil War. Cotton had been so little known in medieval Europe that it was imagined to be a mixture of plant and animal—a “vegetable lamb,” Sven Beckert, a professor of history at Harvard, writes, in “.” Some people theorized that little sheep grew on plants, bending down at night to drink water; other myths told of sheep held to the ground by low stems. As late as 1728, an encyclopedia entry describes a vegetable lamb that grows in Tartary—a term for areas of north, central, and east Asia unknown to European geographers.
体育投注网平台Cotton had long thrived in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In 70 C.E., Pliny the Elder found in Upper Egypt a shrub whose fruit looked like a “nut with a beard, and containing in the inside a silky substance, the down of which is spun into threads.” Well into the nineteenth century, the Indian subcontinent had a peerless cotton operation. A nineteenth-century cotton expert from Leeds reported that fine Indian cloths must be “the work of fairies, or insects, rather than men.” They were so fine they seemed like “webs of woven wind.”
Cotton-growing and -manufacturing skills moved to southern Europe with the Arab conquests and the spread of Islam. Most European languages borrowed their words from the Arabic qutun. (The German baumwolle and the Czech bavlna, which translate roughly to “tree wool,” maintain their roots in European legend.) With the advent of industrialization, cotton attracted opportunists everywhere. By the mid-nineteenth century, cotton was driving an industrial revolution in England and slavery in the American South. Before the Civil War, eighty per cent of the cotton used by British textile mills came from the American South. As the war escalated, cotton prices increased, and British textile manufacturers started looking for alternatives.