COTTON GAINS SHARE IN WOMEN'S APPAREL

Byline: M. McN.

NEW YORK--Higher prices for cotton have not dented the fiber's growing presence in women's apparel, according to a midyear report from Cotton Incorporated.
Figures compiled for the organization by NPD, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based consumer research group, show that cotton's share of the women's apparel market at retail on a fabric weight basis hit 46.5 percent for the first six months of this year, compared to 44.7 percent for the same period last year.
Cotton's share of the overall apparel market rose two percentage points, to 56.1 percent during the first half.
"Since women's wear is twice the size of men's wear in terms of overall cotton use, it's a very significant jump," said Ira Livingston, Cotton Inc.'s senior vice president, U.S. marketing. Livingston, interviewed at Cotton Inc.'s headquarters here, said that while cotton's share of the men's apparel market grew to 72.3 percent from 69.9 percent, "because of the amount of cotton used in women's apparel, the women's increase is equivalent to a 3.6 percent jump in men's wear."
In the largest single women's category--shirts, in both knits and wovens--cotton's share grew to 61.5 percent, up from 58 percent in the 1994 period. To put that figure into perspective, of the 1.14 million bales of fiber sold as women's shirts, cotton comprised 826,000 bales. One bale of fiber is 480 pounds.
Dresses, the second ranked category by fiber usage, consumed 458,000 bales of fiber, 143,000 of which, or 31 percent, was cotton. That figure represents a 2 percent increase over last year's total.
Of the 417,000 bales of total fiber consumed on women's slacks (excluding denim), cotton's share was 186,000 bales, or 44.5 percent, up from 43.5 percent a year earlier.
The women's sweater market remained unchanged at 41.2 percent, or 78,000 bales of the 189,000 bales of fiber.
Cotton's dominant category, women's jeans, was up from 97.4 percent to 97.6 percent. Of the 189,000 bales of fiber used in women's jeans, 185,000 were cotton.
"A change in consumer lifestyles is definitely helping to push the needle in our direction," said Livingston, noting that in 1975, cotton had a 34 percent share of the apparel market and a 15 percent piece of women's wear. "And while we're well aware of new fibers in the market, the consumer is the ultimate arbiter. We don't take them for granted."
As for the price of cotton as it relates to market share, Livingston said, "When cotton was at its market share low, it was 22 cents a pound while polyester was around $1.25. Price is a factor, but there are other things that matter, such as what the consumer likes."

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