Consumers are increasingly choosing cotton over other fabrics when buying clothing and home fabrics, according to a recent analysis of the 2000 fiber market.

“Once at a low of 34 percent of the retail market in 1975, cotton now makes up over 60 percent of all fiber sold at retail for apparel and home fabrics,” said Mark Messura, vice president of strategic planning with Cotton Incorporated in Cary, N.C. “More than 15 million-bale equivalents of cotton were sold at retail in 2000. That bale count is up 6 percent from 1999's 14.5 million bales sold, and up a staggering 71 percent from the 8.9 million bales sold in 1990.”

Cotton Incorporated, which analyzes and tracks cotton's retail share and bale usage in various apparel categories, reports that cotton consumption per capita in the United States for 2000 was 34.6 pounds. Of that figure, apparel and home fabrics accounted for 78 percent. The other 22 percent can be attributed to markets such as nonwovens, industrial uses and commercial textiles.

Of the 15.2 million bales of cotton sold at retail in 2000, 87 percent was used for apparel products and 13 percent went to home fabrics.

According to Messura, cotton's share of men's apparel is significantly higher than that of women's apparel. Cotton's share for men's tops, bottoms, and sweat apparel was 83.4 percent for the first 10 months of 2001, while cotton's share for the same product categories for women was 67.7 percent.

Historically, cotton's share for men's apparel has been higher than for women's apparel. However, according to bale usage in apparel in 2000, 43 percent is attributed to women's apparel, 37 percent is for men's apparel, and children's apparel accounts for a combined 20 percent of total cotton bales used.

Although women's apparel uses more bales of cotton and sells more dollars and units of cotton apparel, its cotton's share is still lower than men's apparel.

In the female apparel category, shirts took the largest share of the pie, consuming 1.5 million bales of cotton in 2000, while jeans used 916,509 bales of cotton, and slacks used 591,491 bales.

“Womenswear serves as a challenge for cotton, an ideal area to expand cotton's share. Cotton has a definite presence in women's apparel, even though cotton's share is lower than men's apparel, and is seeing growth in several product categories,” Messura said.

One product category that represents the potential for growth in the cotton women's apparel market is slacks. Currently, cotton slacks enjoy a 47 percent share in the pants market. However, a 1 percent gain to 48 percent market share could consume an additional 11,500 bales of cotton annually.

Menswear also saw healthy cotton usage in 2000, Messura said, with 1.3 million cotton bales used in jeans (248,151 bales less than women's jeans) and 1.2 million bales used for sport shirts.

Although men's cotton apparel saw positive growth from 1999 to 2000, it did not have the double-digit changes found in women's cotton apparel. “Growth for cotton in menswear is slower than womenswear mainly because women's apparel is driven more by fashion while men's apparel tends to be more functional, with a core consistency of cotton,” he said. “Even though men's apparel already has a high cotton share, it continues to gain ground in the retail market.”