The Economics of Turning Cotton Into Jeans

A long-running graphic illustrating some of the costs of the making a pair of blue jeans has been revived again on Facebook, but unlike many memes that appear and reappear time and again, it is largely accurate.

The graphic originated in November 2014; it showed a photograph of a cotton module alongside the caption:

The 2580 pairs of blue jeans made from this cotton module retail for about $103,200. The farmer receives $4000 for it.

The graphic has since been posted on Pinterest and other platforms, and saw light again on Facebook in October 2019 when a separate post was shared thousands of times.

One expert told us that the math used regarding most of the claims in the meme does stand up to scrutiny. Kevin Worthington, broadcast division director for the Alabama Farmers Federation, broke down the process for us:

The cotton picker goes through the field collecting the “lint” and, when its basket becomes full, dumps the raw cotton into a module builder. Here it is compressed into the module that looks very much like a loaf of bread. This is done to make it easier to transport and to protect the cotton from the weather.

By the time a module is completed, it will contain between 13 and 15 bales of cotton. One bale of cotton can produce 215 pair of jeans so some quick math would indicate that a module would actually produce nearly 2800 pairs of jeans.

Worthington also said, that the $4,000 estimate for the module “is about right”:

The average price for cotton is 67 cents per pound and a bale weighs 480 lbs. Again, considering a minimum of 13 bales per module, that brings the total to just short of $4200.

Regarding the cost, I cannot address the total cost of the jeans but (13 bales x 480 lbs. x .67 = 4180.80.)

Because the cost is nearly the same — allowing for some fluctuation, which should be expected due to variations in the price of cotton worldwide — we rate this meme True.