Cotton, the Social Fabric

The world’s first global commodity spawned a network of traders, producers and consumers, whose interactions shaped the modern world, as Giorgio Riello explains.

Block-printed ceremonial hanging with hunting scene, made in Gujarat for the Indonesian market, c.1700. British MuseumJeans are the quintessential global commodity, an item of apparel made from a type of cloth, denim, that is one of the most widely traded goods in the world. As the most common cotton product, denim jeans embody the interconnected world economy of the late 20th and early 21st century. Raw cotton, spun yarn and cotton textiles are among the most treasured commodities worldwide. Cotton is the material of clothing and furnishing and – notwithstanding the success of synthetic fibres in the 20th century – is still the most popular fabric for garments of everyday use.

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