November 11 2016
Competing with yoga pants: Cotton explores athleisurewear market
By JOSIE MUSICO
Synthetic fibers are inexpensive.
Yoga pants are a top fashion trend.
That combination means trouble for West Texas¢ top cash crop.
“We have a demand problem,” said Bob Stanley, a Lubbock-based communications manager for the Cotton Board.
The Cotton Board is affiliated with Cotton Inc., the research and marketing company perhaps best known for its “fabric of our lives” jingle.
Cotton Inc. recognizes the growing popularity of athleisurewear, athletic-inspired clothing that can be worn in other settings. Think hoodies, yoga pants, T-shirts designed to trap water and sweat.
Those products are traditionally made from synthetics. But rather than try to sway customers away from athleisurewear and back into jeans, Cotton Inc. is taking more of a can¢t-beat-¢em-join-¢em approach.
“That¢s an area of potential gain for cotton, if we can get into the market for athleisurewear,” Stanley said.
Formal surveys still indicate folks prefer cotton over synthetic fabrics. It¢s soft and comfortable, and there¢s an aesthetic value to knowing it grew naturally in a field.
Why, then, do they buy polyester?
Worldwide, China holds a dominant role in textile production. In that country, synthetic fibers cost only about half as much as cotton.
That means those man-made materials are somewhat of a default; mills tend to use cotton mainly when requested.
The trick is convince them cotton is worth the expense.
“We have to build the demand so the voice of the consumer is loud enough that the companies will use cotton rather than the synthetic fibers,” Stanley said.
The concept of expensive cotton might conflict with what you¢ve heard recently about farmers worrying about low prices. The problem is when prices reach barely-break-even levels for producers, they are still higher-priced than synthetics.
That¢s why as farmers hope for a price jump, they shouldn¢t necessarily want a higher-the-better number. Think of cotton like any other nonessential consumer good — set the price too high, and people will buy something else instead.
If cotton prices were to reach, say, $2 a pound, convincing mills and their customers to substitute it for synthetics would be even harder.
Darren Hudson, a Texas Tech agricultural economist, points out an ideal price range:
“As long as we¢re in the 70- to 850-cent range, that doesn¢t tend to alter demand relationships too much,” he said. “The big issue is we can¢t get too far away from polyester price.”
In 1971, global cotton consumption averaged about 7.5 pounds per person, according to figures Hudson presented. It spiked in 2007 at 9 pounds per person; now it¢s back to that amount from 45 years ago.
Hudson said, “On the demand side, we would like to be better, but we¢re not at historically low levels.”
Browsing through labels at Lubbock¢s Academy Sports + Outdoors store suggests polyester is overwhelmingly the main choice in athletic clothing. Some shirts and pants also contained other sythentics such as spandex; only a few had any cotton.
That¢s what the cotton industry is working to change.
Plains Cotton Growers spokeswoman Mary Jane Buerkle encourages shoppers to show their support for the area¢s top crop.
“It is critical that we as consumers take the time to check the tag whenever we¢re making a clothing or textile product,” she said. “Be sure if it¢s not 100 percent cotton that it at least has a good amount of cotton in it. That goes back to our producers — they need us purchasing the products that they grew the fiber to make.”
And putting cotton into fabrics isn¢t an all-or-nothing scenario. Blends — think 50-cotton-50-poly labels, for example — are good, too.
“We¢re not saying that a product has to be all cotton for us to be interested,” Stanley said. “We¢re embracing blends.”
New research compares other fabrics¢ benefits and looks for ways cotton can compete. For example, synthetics are usually good at repelling moisture; traditional, untreated cotton tends to stay wet longer.
In response, a big part of cotton¢s branch into athletic clothing is exploring moisture-management techniques. Examples are Cotton Inc.¢s new technologies: STORM, TransDRY and WICKING WINDOWS. Garments made with them aim to keep moisture away from the body and onto the fabric, where it evaporates quickly.
Now, Stanley cheers on the Red Raiders in his favorite Under Armour Charged Cotton T-shirt, bright red and adorned with Texas Tech¢s logo.
So far, a majority of garments from those new technologies are tops, such as shirts and jackets. What about cotton yoga pants?
Stanley is optimistic they¢ll be here soon:
“They¢re working on it.”
Source: Lubbock Online