A lot of attention has been paid lately to the increasingly competitive mattress industry, and the growing lack of transparency for consumers, but it turns out that we should be just as concerned about what covers our mattresses. Two recent studies show that an overwhelming majority of fabric labels on our sheet sets have been faked.
With Black Friday just days away (and even better "white sales" on bedding just around the corner in January), many consumers are statistically going to get duped into paying a premium for a mislabeled, misleading, or just plain fake product. That's according to two DNA testing studies on cotton bedding and a leading trade industry for Egyptian Cotton — which estimates that up to 90 percent of products labeled with the premium pedigree are actually fakes, containing "not a wisp of the fiber."
The Applied DNA Sciences (ADNAS) published back-to-back studies in 2009 and 2012 about the "Truth About Testing for Premium Cotton" studies, for which bedding and other fabrics were tested using a DNA test on the gene of the cotton. ADNAS found that 80 percent of fabric tags were not labeled correctly: "100% Egyptian cotton" was found to actually be a blend of cottons, not solely made of the fine and long-lasting fibers that consumers associate with the premium label (and average $500 to $800 per set price tags).
In the retail bedding marketplace, that research played out in August of 2016 when it was discovered that bedding brand Fieldcrest had misrepresented the fiber content of their "100% Egyptian Cotton" sheet sets in the Wellspun product line — leading Target and Walmart to pull the products from store shelves and refund customers for up to the previous three years of purchases (at an estimated cost to each company of $90 million, according to Bloomberg).
Lori Morris and Kari LePage, founders of Lime & Leaf — a new company producing American-made bedding — say that they want to arm consumers with more knowledge about fiber transparency, which has become a major issue worldwide. We chatted with them briefly for a few tips about how to avoid being tricked into buying cotton bedding fakes with exaggerated labels and tags.
"When we started our business, we looked into all types of cotton and suppliers, and we were surprised to learn about false tagging," says LePage.
"A label stating 100 percent cotton tells you the content, but not the quality," adds Morris. "If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Do your research on the fabric and company before you buy."
Here's a breakdown of the types of cotton used in bedding and ways to look for truth in labeling for premium cotton sheet sets this season:
Beware the label — especially if it says Egyptian. Real Egyptian cotton sheets are often found in high-end and specialty stores and are expensive — a set could easily be $500 to $800. If something is labeled Egyptian cotton and the price seems too good to be true, it very likely is. Proceed with caution. Check out these resources from the Cotton Egypt Association, a non-profit association formed in 2005 to protect the "legacy of luxury" of Egyptian cotton.
A luxury American-grown cotton sometimes called "the cashmere of cottons", Supima is the marketing brand name for Pima cotton — a sustainably grown, extra-long staple cotton, with resilient, long-lasting, and soft cotton fibers that resist pulling, breaking, and tearing. The Supima Association of America verifies provenance, guaranteeing that the quality of the sheet sets that you're being sold are what you get — especially if you buy from a licensed Supima dealer, found at Supima.com along with more resources and FAQs for gauging cotton authenticity.
Known for its shorter length and rougher feel, Upland cotton (also known as American cotton) is a less expensive and less durable "short staple" cotton that is the most common cotton found in sheeting. If a label reads "100% cotton" or even "organic cotton", it is most likely Upland or short staple cotton. Because the fibers are shorter, more of them need to be woven together to give the yarn strength — which is where thread count labeling can get misleading — and these are the cotton sheets that pill more easily with washing and extended use. Brands using Upland cotton might promote higher thread counts to sound more impressive and imply that these products are of higher quality. In 2013, Consumer Reports published an entire expose on the myths and misleading marketing related to higher thread count sheets.