The South may be cotton country, but this week in the North, in the home textiles market in New York, sellers and retailers have clearly looked away from the fabric of our lives.
As the industry gathered for its biannual trade show — the first in nearly three years with pre-pandemic conditions — the high price of cotton along with limited access combined to drive companies into fiber alternatives and fabrics. This has been accelerated by the widespread introduction of products using recycled components, performance fabrics often made from synthetic materials, and the continued acceptance of linen and cellulose-based fibers such as modal for sheets and towels. .
All of these dynamics played out against a market segment that has been hit hard by post-pandemic consumer shifts from home furnishings to travel and entertainment purchases, not to mention a wholesale market disrupted by the shutdown in 2020 from its main exhibition building in Manhattan. and the relocation of no less than two-thirds of showrooms to new addresses.
But it was the growing cotton crisis that seemed to be the main focus of the show, which was aimed primarily at national retailers buying big programs, rather than independent specialty retailers. Cotton prices have soared as much as 200% from levels a year ago and are even worse for premium fibers such as Supima, which now sells for more than $3 a pound.
The main driver of these price increases has been the fundamental law of supply and demand. Drought conditions in the United States, which is the world’s third-largest cotton producer, pushed harvest levels up to 25% in some areas, causing one of the smallest fall cotton harvests in a century . Elsewhere in the world, droughts have also decimated cotton levels, while in Pakistan and India the opposite is the case, with floods wiping out large amounts of the 2022 crop. Chinese culture, which is more man-made: an American ban on cotton from the Xinjiang region due to alleged political persecution of the local population by the Chinese government.
The last time cotton peaked this high was in 2010 and 2011 – a time when many companies turned to polyester as an alternative, leading to the rise of microfiber products which remained strong vendors (sheets in particular, but also bedding in general and some towels). This time around, many sellers are trying mixed constructions that still use cotton, but blended with polyester, cellulose fibers, and even hemp.
As the appetite for new home textile products waned and inflation drove up average selling prices, products that used less cotton captured the interest of buyers. This meshed well with introductions touting recycled materials, whether natural or synthetic, as well as treatments promising performance attributes such as temperature control and feel-good properties.
For the home textile sector, it was yet another turning point on the way back to normal. With natural and political challenges, a disjointed market, and a clientele that may have all the linens and towels they will need right now, fall market week has proven that the journey is going to take some time.
Home page image: © Phillip Minnis/Adobe Stock
Warren Shoulberg is the former editor of several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and was quoted by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. Its Retail Watch columns offer in-depth industry insights into key markets and product categories.