But the biggest threat to cotton's future viability isn't rayon, nylon, or even polyester -- it's the cell phone. And education. And healthcare, food, and fuel.
That was the primary message delivered by Cotton Incorporated's Mark Messura during his presentation at the annual meeting of the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF), held in Hanoi, Vietnam Nov. 4-6.
"Without question, the competition between cotton and synthetic fibers is intense, but the real concern for all of us in the textile industry is that people today have increasingly diverse expenses" that eat into their expenditures on clothing, he said. In the United States, for example, clothing's share of total consumer spending has dropped from 5.7% in 1989, to 4.7% in 1999, to 3.5% in 2011.
At the same time, healthcare expenditures have grown from 5.1% to 5.3% to 6.7% during that time period. Fuel expenditures have increased from 3.5% in 1989 to 5.3% in 2011, while education expenditures jumped from 1.3% to 2.1% during that timeframe.
While cotton and synthetic fibers will continue to fight tooth and nail for market share, the bigger picture for cotton is the ability to expand its number of uses and applications.
"Between 80% and 85% of all cotton produced in the world goes into clothing, and clothing will continue dominate the end uses for cotton," he said.
"But it's also used in oil, ice cream, animal feed and construction materials. Textile companies might not be able to spin cotton seed, so those applications don't necessarily impact mill owners. But they are critically important to the economic health of cotton farmers, so expanding the number of applications cotton can be used in will be a driving force for production in the future.
"The quality of cotton fiber is constantly changing and improving through technology," Messura continued. "Cotton isn't a synthetic fiber, but it is an enginneered fiber, and it's constantly evolving."
Meanwhile, environmental friendliness and sustainability -- commonly thought of as crucial factors for consumers when they make purchasing decisions -- are fundamentally supply chain issues, not market issues, he added.
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