The unprecedented rise in cotton offers some challenges as well as opportunities for the U.S. cotton industry. Synthetic fibers, not other cotton producing countries, represent cotton’s most pressing competition for market share, Worsham said.
A price of $2 a pound makes cotton higher than manmade fibers. “We anticipate a small drop in demand.”
But a recent announcement gives cotton some new traction and illustrates the value of product development at Cotton Incorporated.
David Early, Senior Director, Supply Chain Marketing, said a new product, TransDry, wicks moisture away from inside to the outside of a fabric, making it an ideal candidate for sports apparel, which had been “heavily dominated by synthetics.”
Under Armour was a key competitor and at one time labeled cotton as “the enemy.”
“Two years ago, Under Armour came to Cotton Incorporated and asked us to help put cotton in a product,” Early said. “We developed a fabric and tested it with athletes.”
Under Armour announced the new product, which contains 90 percent cotton, in January. “That’s a significant win for the cotton industry,” Early said.
Product development is a key aspect of the Cotton Incorporated mission, Worsham said. Other key efforts include water-repellant, wrinkle-free, and fire-retardant fabrics.
Cotton Incorporated also continues to present its sustainability message and to dispel misinformation about cotton’s environmental footprint. “Sustainability will be an aggressive effort and we will be on the offensive against misinformation about cotton and the environment,” Worsham said. “Cotton is the natural fiber.”
That initiative will seek ways to reduce water, energy and chemical use throughout the cotton fabric production process, from seed to disposal by consumers.
Worsham said surveys continue to show a strong consumer preference for cotton. Cotton currently accounts for about 60 percent of the U.S. apparel market, up from 45 percent in 1986.