Higher price of cotton has designers looking for alternatives

Spools of cotton


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Fashion week's in full swing in New York. Some big trends this year? relaxed cuts and lots of texture. And fabrics usually reserved for an evening on the town -- say, silk, fur and the like -- are making more appearances during the day. But everyday cotton is now becoming something of a luxury.

Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith reports.

STACEY VANEK SMITH: At the Cynthia Rowley fashion show, models glide along a glowing gold runway in patent leather jackets, slouchy silk jumpsuits, tattered velvet skirts, and, that old mainstay, cotton. Backstage, designer Rowley says the rising price of cotton has changed its status.

CYNTHIA ROWLEY: Now there are fabrics that maybe we took for granted that can be more like a luxury fabric.

Wholesale cotton prices jumped more than 90 percent last year; drought, conflict in the Middle East, increased demand from China and India and market speculation all played a role. And prices don't look like they'll be coming down anytime soon. So designers and retailers are scrambling to come up with new fabrics for spring and summer, says Candice Corlett, with WSL Strategic Retail.

CANDICE CORLETT: Retailers are very much caught in the middle because they are now being squeezed between higher prices to buy the goods and a shopper who has learned to walk away if the prices are too high.

Designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Derek Lam are using more blends and alternative fabrics like polyester and rayon. They're also turning to more eco-friendly fabrics, says Milton Pedraza, with the Luxury Institute.

MILTON PEDRAZA: The meteoric rise of cotton has precipitated another trend, which is to use new products such as bamboo, or to use recycled fabrics.

H&M's forthcoming "Conscious Collection" uses recycled polyester and cellulose fabric as well as organic cotton. Speedo recently created a line of dresses from recycled swimsuits.

CORLETT: You know, it's been cotton for a long time, but what's coming next? This is an opportunity for creative marketers.

Candice Corlett's prediction for the next big fabric?

CORLETT: I think that they'll be a lot of adjectives preceding the word "cotton."

Wrinkle-free cotton, seaweed cotton, polyester cotton, recycled cotton. Corlett says cotton won't disappear from our wardrobes, but the pure stuff will probably be more common on the runways than it will on discount racks. She predicts cotton will be less the fabric of our lives and more the fabric of the good life.

In New York, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.


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