I recently visited the farm in central California where we get much of our cotton. Some members of our product design and engineering team even rode around in a helicopter to be able to see it all. Others posed for photos in between the rows. It was a great capstone to the 18 months of R&D we put into the Casper sheets.
We learned a lot along the way. We discovered how bed sheets can be engineered to help manage temperature, humidity, and airflow, but one of my favorite learnings, and something that few people ever give any love, is how important the type of cotton is to how a textile wears and feels.
A lot of labels say “100% cotton,” but that’s almost like saying a meal is “100% food.” There are at least four types of cotton grown commercially all over the world. There’s Asiatic cotton, which is native to India, Upland cotton, which is native primarily to Latin and South America, Egyptian cotton, and Pima cotton, which is a name for extra-long fiber cotton that was first cultivated in the Southwestern United States in the early 20th century. There are even more varieties than that, some of it that just grows wild.
Each type of cotton will create a different kind of textile. When you pull the cotton apart, you can see why. Asiatic cotton has a short fiber, Upland cotton has a medium-length fiber, Egyptian cotton (a name given to any cotton grown in Egypt), and Pima cotton, which is one of the longest cotton fibers in the world. One of the key phases in making the Casper sheets was to choose which species of cotton to use.
The reason the choice of cotton matters so much to how soft a textile is has to do with how textiles are constructed. Textiles are woven from yarn, and yarn is woven from fibers. As short or even medium-length cotton fibers are wound around each other to create a yarn, they don’t lay flat on a microscopic level. They stick up like grass and this is what leads to a feeling of “scratchiness.” As long fibers are wrapped around each other to create a yarn, they lay flat. The resulting textile feels soft, smooth and gets better wash after wash. The longer the fiber, the more naturally soft the textile.
Sometimes, manufacturers try to use chemicals as a shortcut to softness. During our R&D, we noticed that some t-shirts, bed sheets, and other textiles lose their softness after a few washes. This is because manufacturers sometimes add things like silicone to textiles, in order to mask underlying scratchiness caused by short fibers. The problem, however, is that these finishings wear or wash off quickly. This wasn’t a direction we wanted to go in.
I ended up choosing Supima cotton for the Casper sheets. Supima is a branded version of Pima that can be traced directly back to its source (in our case central California), and it’s 35% longer than standard cottons. Along with authentic Egyptian cotton, it’s one of the best fibers in the world. It’s why the Casper sheets are super-soft naturally (especially after a few washes).
As a designer, it’s always fun to see people curl up with something you helped make.
— Brit is a senior designer at Casper.