COTTON INC., IMPORTERS JOIN FORCES

Byline: Michael McNamara

NEW YORK--Looking to expand its global reach, Cotton Incorporated said Friday it has created an alliance with a former adversary--the importers of textile products.
In discussing the move, which president and chief executive officer, J. Nicholas Hahn called "a beginning of a new era for Cotton Inc.," Cotton Inc. and the import community-- led by six importers on the Cotton Board--will work to increase the demand of U.S. cotton worldwide.
Acting as a liaison between the importers and U.S. firms will be Cotton Inc.'s Lisa R. Helmer, who is assuming the new post of senior director of importer programs. Helmer will work directly with U.S. retailers, apparel vendors, converters and home products manufacturers that import cotton and cotton blended products, and will solicit ideas and suggestions from importers for increasing demand for U.S. cotton worldwide. Helmer, who reports to Hahn, joined Cotton Inc. in 1988 and was previously director of retail merchandising.
"By taking a greater advantage of the partnership with importers, we feel we can increase the use of U.S. cotton in the products that are coming back to the U.S. in the form of imports," said Hahn during a press briefing at Cotton Inc.'s headquarters here. Hahn said that last year, nearly half of the total demand in the U.S. for cotton textile products was satisfied by imported goods.
As for the U.S. cotton crop, of the 19.7 million bales produced in the 1994-95 cotton season, 10.2 million are expected to be exported--or 52 percent, according to USDA figures, giving the U.S. a 35.3 percent share of the world cotton export market.
In addition, according to USDA statistics, the U.S. exports will include more than 400,000 bales to Pakistan and India, two cotton-producing countries that have had terrible cotton crops over the past two years.
Hahn said no programs have yet been established, but that Cotton Inc. and importers are "analyzing various links between U.S. importers and foreign vendors, and programs that can be put in place.
"The key word with anything we do, however, will be partnerships," said Hahn.
The importers have had a financial interest in Cotton Inc., the research and promotion arm of 30,000 U.S. cotton growers, since 1993. That year, the government levied an assessment on all imported textile products containing cotton, with a few cents per item going to Cotton Inc.
Roughly 25 percent of Cotton Inc.'s overall funding is through imports.
In exchange for the assessment, importers got four seats on the Cotton Board, a quasi-governmental entity. They now hold six of the Board's 22 seats.
One import representative on the Cotton Board, Laura Jones, executive director of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, was an outspoken critic at the time of the assessment on imported cotton products.
"We were very upset because we had no input and Congress just put it through," Jones said, interviewed after the briefing. "Frankly, we had no idea about how the money would be used or where the money would be going.
"Now, more of our people are conscious of sourcing yarn and fabrics internationally and are looking for U.S. cotton," Jones added. "We're looking forward to a good relationship with Cotton Inc."
"[At the beginning of the assessment] the importers groused about it, but they've now accepted it, and are saying, 'Let's work to make this alliance benefit everyone,' " Hahn said afterward. "We're together now, and that's the important thing."
In addition to Jones, the other importers on the Cotton Board are Frank Kelly, vice president, international trade, Liz Claiborne Inc.; James Davine Jr., director of imports and sourcing, Target Stores, a division of Dayton Hudson Corp.; William Isaac, president, Texas Apparel Co.; Julia Hughes, divisional vice president, government relations, Associated Merchandising Corp., and Chandri Navarro-Bowman, executive director, U.S. Apparel Industry Council.

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