This year’s Supima annual meeting was not your father’s fuddy-duddy Oldsmobile event. Instead, professional models strutted down a fashion runway decked out in the latest clothing designs showcasing American Pima cotton.

The Pima clothing fashion video was included in a PowerPoint presentation shared by Supima’s marketing and promotions Vice-President Buxton Midyette. The video highlighted how Pima cotton fashions were a tremendous success during the 2011 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week held in New York City.

This event illustrates how Supima has crafted its marketing wizardry to successfully promote American Pima cotton directly through clothing brands and retailers. These companies, who become Supima licensees, agree to use 100-percent American Pima cotton, exclusively, in clothing and home fashion products.

Supima, based in Phoenix, Ariz., is the non-profit promotional organization of American Pima cotton growers which started in 1954.

About 95 percent of American Pima cotton is grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The balance is grown in West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

For more on cotton, see: Cotton fire rages as round bales burn in gin yard — photos

Pima cotton, gossypium barbadense, is a generic name for extra-long staple cotton grown in the U.S., Australia, Peru, and a few other locations around the world. According to the Supima website, Pima cotton has a minimum staple length of 1 and 3/8 inches which is longer than Upland cotton, a stronger fiber, and increased fiber fineness.

Supima launched its brand-retailer program about five years ago. It will continue as the cornerstone of Pima cotton promotion in the future.

Jesse Curlee, Supima president and chief executive officer, says the clothing brand-retailer licensee agreement expands American Pima cotton sales. The relationship benefits all parties and sells more Pima fiber than promotional dollars alone ever could.

Since the program’s launch, Supima now partners with dozens of retailers around the world including Brooks Brothers, Bloomingdales, Marks and Spencer, Lands’ End, and Uniglo.

Brooks Brothers placed the Supima name on signage and Pima clothing in all of its store window displays during March in stores in the U.S., Canada, China, and Japan. Brooks Brothers is expanding the promotion to stores in other countries and in its online catalogue.

Lands’ End boasts Pima information in an advertisement which reads “3 percent of cotton grown in the U.S. qualities as Supima,” and, “77,933 feet of silky Supima cotton yarns in just one No Iron Pinpoint Shirt.”

“There is no way we could do buy this kind of publicity,” Curlee said in Coalinga, Calif., during Supima’s 58th annual meeting.

Cotton business has changed

Prior to becoming well known in the apparel and home fashion world as a brand, Supima primarily directed its promotional efforts to spinners, weavers, and knitters. These segments of the supply chain remain important to Supima.

The cotton business has changed. Many of Supima’s customers, including Fieldcrest, Cannon, WestPoint, and Springs Industries, had their own brands or were vertical.

Today, many of these companies no longer exist. Home furnishings are made by manufacturers in China, India, and Pakistan. Manufacturers take orders from brands and retailers and use the type of cotton which the companies request.

Today, Supima spends more time developing these relationships with brands and retailers.

Supima’s close relationships with brands and retailers have opened doors for related ventures. Once the mega retailer Marks and Spencer selected Pima as the sole cotton in its entire line of towels and sheets, other retailers followed suit.

Every brand and retailer signs a licensing agreement with Supima. Today, Supima has 360-plus licensing agreements in 32 countries. The agreements provide almost half of Supima’s operating revenue.

Don Cameron, Supima chairman of the board, shared the latest American Pima crop details. Cameron predicts production in the four Pima-production states will total 650,000 to 670,000 bales this year.

Cameron expects excellent crop quality overall, plus good yields in the 1,400-pounds-per-acre range in California which could exceed last year’s figure.

This year’s estimated acreage of about 237,000 American Pima acres (all four states) is about 22 percent lower than last year’s acreage. The heavy Pima plantings were largely tied to record Pima prices above $3 per pound in 2010.

During this year’s spring planting, Cameron says cooler weather conditions raised fears of possible lower lint yields at harvest. Yet “perfect weather” from midsummer through harvest should result in higher yields than previously expected.

Cameron grows Pima cotton at Terranova Ranch in Helm, Calif.

The 2012-2013 American Pima marketing year is under way. A major concern is the industry’s second-highest carryover — about 900,000 bales, by the book.

Cameron says the figure does not account for 73,000 bales sold last year but not shipped before the end of the 2011-2012 marketing year which ended this July 31. In addition, about 127,000 bales were committed for purchase, but not sold by the end of July.  

700,00 bale carryover

In reality, about 700,000 bales remained unsold as the 2012-2013 marketing year began. This number is the second-largest carryover on record.

Supima President Jesse Curlee noted, “700,000 bales is a large number but a manageable level. A little improvement in Pima demand can move the cotton.”

Cameron said, “No matter how you spin it — it’s a lot of cotton. As always, demand will be a determining factor for pricing over the next 12 months.”

The all-time record carryover preceded the 2007-2008 marketing year.

“The bottom line is we have a lot of Pima cotton for consumption,” Cameron said. “This is why Supima’s marketing programs are so vitally needed today.”

The Supima chairman says actual Pima sales were relatively strong this past season. He calls this “good news,” given the economically-challenged world economy and related overall global declines in retail textile sales.

On the American Pima export side, shipments for the 2011-2012 marketing year totaled 594,000 bales, yet total actual sales for the season were more than 670,000 bales.

“This makes last season the sixth-highest export period on record and only 42,000 bales from the fourth largest on record,” Cameron said. “That’s not bad given the current global economy.”

Marc Lewkowitz, Supima executive vice-president, said China purchases about half of all American Pima exports (63,000 bales), followed by India at 18 percent, and Pakistan at 9 percent.