Cotton Incorporated, aims to improve the demand profitability of cotton through research and marketing as cotton continues to face unremitting competition from synthetic fibers. The organization is funded by U.S. upland cotton growers and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, is trying to increase market shares in traditional markets, while looking to other markets where cotton is usually not the first fiber of choice.
The Cotton Board, which administers the cotton research and program on June 14 conducted its inaugural Women in Agriculture Tour where women who work in the cotton industry toured Cotton Incorporatedâ€™s Cary, N.C. research facility and heard presentations by Cotton Incorporated officials on the continuing challenges facing cotton in the textile industry and steps the company is taking to ensure upland cotton remains competitive.
Cotton Incorporated vice president of corporate strategy and program metrics, Kim Kitchings addressing 64 women from 16 of the 17 cotton producing states said that cotton has seen a significant drop of 10 percent in the apparel market over the past few years. This represents about 30 million bales over a decade.
Kitchings said that it is important and they must take it very seriously. The board are working to regain share but the trend to leisure wear, or the use of athletic wear in every day wear, is a challenge for cotton. Now, consumers, instead of wearing khakis or Dockers, are wearing yoga pants. Some of this is friendly to cotton and some of it is not. But they want to make sure it becomes friendly to cotton.
Another big challenge for cotton was the collapse in oil prices last year which also meant that polyester prices dropped since polyester is derived from oil. While cotton prices have fallen, polyester prices has fallen even more and synthetic fibers continue to be less expensive than cotton.
Thatâ€™s not good when retailers and brands are looking at their margins. They tend to make more money when they substitute polyester for cotton. The Board want to give them every reason, every advantage not to do that and they are continuing to show that consumers demand cotton in the marketplace.
Mark Messura, Cotton Incorporated senior vice president of global supply chain marketing, said that the challenge for cotton in the textile business is that cotton is a natural fiber but not a natural choice for manufacturers.
In manufacturing, consistent ingredient are required. Cotton is not that, Messura explained. Cotton is great for a whole lot of reasons, primarily because consumers who wear it know it and love it, and thatâ€™s a message they keep promoting. But from the manufacturing side, when it comes to making clothes or towels or bedding sheets or other types of products, cotton is not the first choice.
Even the best textile mills in the world throw away three to eight percent of a bale of cotton even when they paid for a full bale due to short fibers and other defects, while every single fiber in a bale of polyester or nylon is used with zero waste.
He said that they grow a great product, but they have to work hard to sell that product and influence more manufacturers to use cotton.
In its work with manufacturers and retailers, Cotton Incorporated demonstrates how they can do something different with cotton. For example, trans dry technology allows moisture to move away from the body in clothing, which ensures greater comfort. Cotton Incorporated licenses manufacturers to use trans dry technology for free, but they have to agree to use cotton, Messura said.
Denim remains one of the most important markets for cotton, representing one out of every five pounds sold at retail. To continue to develop the denim market, Cotton Incorporated has adapted water repellent denim that allows denim to both breathe and be water repellent. This allows cotton to stay competitive in this category by offering something new, Messura said.
Another market where cottonâ€™s share is low but the potential is huge is non-wovens, which includes diapers, disposable cleaning wipes and feminine hygiene products. The Seal of Cotton is very important for these products. The Seal is well recognized by consumes and they transfer that over to these products as a positive perception for cotton.
Through it all, efforts must continue to build cottonâ€™s market share in both traditional and non-traditional markets, Messura stressed.
Cotton needs to strategically diversify. They need to get cotton in a whole range of products, not just denim, not just menswear but in a lot of different things so that when the market goes up or down, they are protected and have diverse demand for cotton.
Agricultural research is also a critical part of Cotton Incorporatedâ€™s work with the company seeking ways to help cotton farmers with profitability squeezes, said Kater Hake, vice president of agricultural research.
There are three agricultural commodities that have a petroleum alternative, corn ethanol, soy biodiesel and cotton, with polyester, Hake said. That means they are particularly vulnerable to consumer whims.
The cotton farmers need to stress on quality to remain competitive to synthetics as textile companies can do a lot more if given high quality of cotton. Also consumers need to understand that modern cotton production is sustainable and Cotton Incorporated continues to educate them on this.
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