Jute is a member of the family of "soft" vegetable fibres, second only to cotton in amount produced, and traditionally one of the cheapest natural fibres. It falls into the category of bast fibre (produced from the skin of the plant) and White Jute (Corchorus Capsularis) is known to have been cultivated in India more than four hundred years ago, to be spun into cloth by artisans, and also used in ropes and twines.
Tossa Jute (Corchorus Olitorius) which is silkier and stronger than White Jute - has traditionally been grown around the area of the Ganges Delta, and was already in such large-scale production two hundred years ago to allow export of raw fibre to a nascent Jute-spinning industry in Dundee.
Large-scale spinning of Jute began in Dundee centuries ago, when machinery used for Flax spinning was adapted to produce Jute yarns, using fibre sourced from the India sub-continent. The principal use for these yarns was for cheap packaging - the term "Gunny bag" derives from a Hindi word - but as Jute spinning industries developed in countries across the world, the uses of Jute and Jute products expanded rapidly.
At one stage the future of Jute was threatened by the increase in use of synthetic fibres, but the environmental advantages of natural fibre and the closure of Jute spinning and weaving plants in many of the developed nations of the world, which resulted in the transfer of production of finished articles back to the point of origin of the fibre itself, have reduced the costs of production and enabled jute to maintain a stable level of consumption for an extended period.
Tossa Jute is known as the "Golden Fibre", from the lustrous appearance of the threads, although Tossa can range in colour from dark to reddish, depending upon the area of cultivation.
Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal until the Partition of India, and East Pakistan until independence), together with the Indian state of West Bengal, produces most of the world's Jute fibre.
There is also cultivation of Jute, or its allied fibre Kenaf (Hibiscus Cannabinus) - a coarser textured plant - in other Asian countries eg; Myanmar, Thailand, China.
New uses of Jute in the non-woven sectors have opened up fresh areas, to offset the decline in the production of more traditional articles.