Cotton Council International is getting U.S. cotton back into the conversation for a whole new generation of global apparel customers, through a timely re-launch of its 25-year flagship brand COTTON USA. The re-launch will include a new COTTON USA mark.

Twenty-five years ago, Cotton Council International developed COTTON USA and the original COTTON USA mark to create and demand a premium for U.S. cotton through the supply chain to end consumers around the world. At that time, CCI was one of the first organizations to recognize the difference between a commodity and a brand, noted Rob Miller, with CCI. “A commodity just sells on price. And a brand is something else altogether.”

Since then, the promotion of COTTON USA as a brand has resulted in the licensing of 50,000 product lines and over 3 billion products carrying the name COTTON USA around the world. This translates to over 100 million bales of U.S. cotton.

But now it’s time for a change, noted Miller. “We’ve lost tremendous market share to synthetic fibers. And now there are those out there who say that synthetic fibers are better for you and better for the environment than cotton. It’s a different generation of consumers. For them, polyester is not disco anymore. It’s something you can wear every day.”

Entry into the consciousness of this new consumer is through brand, says Miller, who spent eight years living in Asia. “Globally, we have brand-crazy consumers. If you walk down the streets of Hong Kong, people are lined up outside stores waiting to buy products like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. They’re not looking for sales. It’s any day of the week. There is a tremendous power to brand at retail, especially in the developing world and markets in Asia.”

CCI staffers sat down recently to figure out how to give the COTTON USA brand more punch in purchasing decisions.

“We went through a process of trying to better understand the advantages of U.S. cotton, how we talk about it with manufacturers and retailers, and how we can get the consumer excited about COTTON USA. In describing CCI, our cotton producers and our industry, we came up with the three really strong words – genuine, passionate and visionary.”

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CCI will also take a modernized and revitalized message about U.S. cotton to consumers throughout the supply chain, stressing cotton’s purity, quality and responsibility.

“For a spinning mill, purity means contamination-free, or below contamination,” Miller said. “I’ve been in the spinning mills of Vietnam where you’ll have U.S. cotton running through one line. In another line, there will be cotton from somewhere else, and you’ll have 20 to 25 people picking out the feathers and the sticks and other strange things that are in the bale of cotton.

“When you think about purity for consumers, 100 percent cotton is pure. It’s safe. It is comfortable, it doesn’t irritate your skin, and it’s natural. We can use that one concept and talk about the advantages of U.S. cotton all the way to the end consumer.”

CCI will also emphasize the high quality of U.S. cotton to consumers. “The COTTON USA brand is built into the seed and preserved through the growing process by producers and ginners. When U.S. cotton gets to the garment level, it’s about us partnering with the best manufacturers in the world,” Miller said. “When it is labeled COTTON USA, it has the benefit of being really good cotton made by really good manufacturers.”

Texas producer talks U.S. cotton in Germany

During a recent event for retailers and brands held in Berlin, Germany, Texas cotton producer, and CCI first vice president Dahlen Hancock detailed the technological advances and the environmental safeguards and regulations that govern U.S. cotton production and discussed their effect on the future and the importance to the apparel supply chain.

“Responsibility along the apparel supply chain starts with the fiber, and as a fourth generation farmer from Texas, I’m particularly sensitive to the importance of being kind to the earth and to our land,” Hancock told the group. “I followed in the farming footsteps of my father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and I farm my land responsibly so that my two sons will have that same opportunity.”

 “The industry is also working with Cotton Incorporated on technologies that will lessen cotton’s environmental footprint in the manufacturing process that minimize energy and minimize waste,” Miller said.

Cotton faces an uphill battle regaining lost market share, Miller says. While price spikes in cotton explain some of the growth in synthetic fiber substitution, it doesn’t explain a 300 percent growth in synthetics versus a much smaller growth rate in cotton. Miller says synthetics are not only cheaper than cotton, but its technology is getting better.

“We need to work to get back the market share, but we need to be vigilant, especially when it comes to the argument that somehow this fiber that drips out of a barrel of oil is better for you than cotton.”

Social media will be a crucial component of the re-launch, Miller noted. “Right now it’s easier to reach a global consumer than any other given time in history because of the way information is spread and read now. We need to fill the airwaves with COTTON USA messages.”

To develop and express its new brand identity, CCI worked with AR New York, a brand-focused agency that is part of the Publicis global network of agencies. AR’s clients have included global companies such as Revlon, Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic, Valentino, Lands’ End, DFS and Jimmy Choo.

A new COTTON USA mark will replace the original mark created in 1989. It features a cotton boll “with seven twists and turns, one for each segment of our industry,” Miller said. “The mark starts with the earth and ends with the earth. That’s an important part of the story as well.”

In conjunction with the National Cotton Council, CCI works to promote U.S. cotton exports through COTTON USA in more than 50 countries globally. With offices in Washington, Memphis, London, Hong Kong, Seoul and Shanghai and dedicated representatives in numerous other countries, CCI plays the lead role in educating and strengthening the market for U.S. cotton and U.S. cotton products around the world.

For more information on CCI, please visit www.cottonusa.org.