Throwback Tech: The Cotton Gin

When we consider technology as it relates to apparel in 2017, we might think of things like Fitbits, solar charged apparel and accessories or 3D printed clothing and sneakers that are oftentimes, more editorial than anything. But the one thing we have to keep in mind is that technology needs to mature, needs to have its clumsy steps to be worth its weight and to make any impact on society. As long as there are inventors and dreamers, we will have technology that continues to advance and serve in ways we can’t even imagine.

This week we look at a pretty influential advance in textile technology from 1794-the cotton gin.

Related story: The (Near) Impossibility of Organic Cotton Traceability

In 1794, U.S.-born inventor Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin, a machine that at that time revolutionized the production of cotton by speeding up the process of removing seeds from cotton fiber. According to, by the mid-19th century, cotton had become America’s leading export. Despite its success, the gin made little money for Whitney due to patent-infringement issues. Also, his invention offered Southern planters a justification to maintain and expand slavery even as a growing number of Americans supported its abolition. writes “While farmers were delighted with the idea of a machine that could boost cotton production so dramatically, they had no intention of sharing a significant percentage of their profits with Whitney and Miller. Instead, the design for the cotton gin was pirated and plantation owners constructed their own machines–many of them an improvement over Whitney’s original model.”

We’ll call these pirates, early hackers.

More on the cotton gin here.

To learn more about how tech is taking on sustainable strategies, check out the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator’s Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool.