High cotton prices of a few years ago forced many textile mills into blends with more man-made fibers.
Recent surveys of cotton customers indicate that it might not have been a wise choice.
This is especially true when cotton sits close to the skin.
When textile manufacturers around the world began bumping up the percentage of manmade fibers in fabric and apparel in response to high cotton prices of 2010-11, word was that it would take quite a while for cotton to regain blend share.
But according to recent queries by Cotton Incorporated, consumers aren’t exactly happy with the substitution away from cotton toward synthetic fibers. Now it’s up to retailers to figure out what they want to do about it.
There’s no doubt that cotton did lose blend share of somewhere between 5 and 10 percentage points in the apparel and home textiles markets between 2011 and 2012, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Retail Monitor, an audit conducted each quarter that examines 100,000 items in stores around the United States.
The audit found that in men’s pants and knit shirts and women’s pants, there was a movement away from 100 percent cotton offerings to cotton-to-polyester blends of 80/20 and 60/40. In men’s woven shirts, sportswear and women’s tops, there was a decrease in 100 percent cotton offerings and increase in 100 percent polyester or rayon offerings.
There were also increases in prices across all product categories, which combined with a sagging economy, have prompted more pragmatism among consumers. According to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor, a survey of over 6,000 people regarding their clothing purchases, not only are consumers spending less money than they did in 2008, they are also becoming more strategic in their purchasing decisions, shopping at multiple stores and doing more comparison shopping.
Consumers want durability and long-lasting properties in the clothes they buy, the Lifestyle Monitor shows. They want strong fibers and apparel that is well-made. This holds true whether they shop at Walmart or Saks Fifth Avenue. They expect their clothing to last. Brand is not that important.
The survey revealed that many consumers don’t think highly of the durability of products they purchased in 2012. In fact, they are noticing thinner fabrics and some cheapening in value.
About half of respondents have noticed fiber substitution in products, and about 40 percent have recognized that quality has decreased.
Time will tell if consumers associate durability declines with substitution of man-made fibers. One thing is certain. Cotton Incorporated’s tagline, “The Touch, the Feel of Cotton,” still tugs strongly at consumer perceptions.
Cotton Incorporated’s survey indicated that consumers are most offended when cotton presence is decreased in fabrics that sit close to the body, such as T-shirts, underwear, jeans towels and sheets.
The survey also indicated that consumers are willing to pay more to keep cotton in their clothing, especially those that make contact with the body.
The ball is now in the retailers’ court to respond to these consumer preferences. The good news for the cotton industry is that Cotton Incorporated’s surveys have proven once again that cotton’s most outspoken fan is and always will be human skin – sensitive as it is.