Byline: Ray Clune

RALEIGH, N.C.--In an ongoing effort to boost the image of cotton as a fashion fiber, Cotton Incorporated opened its research and development doors here last week to a group of four young New York designers.
"It is our goal at Cotton Inc.--and it has been a personal goal of mine for years--to let these designers know what they can do with cotton," said Wolfgang Strahl, senior vice president of textile research and implementation. "These are up-and-coming designers and we really want to let them look at what we are capable of doing."
The designers taking the whirlwind tour of Cotton Inc.'s research laboratories were Eric Gaskins, Sylvia Heisel, Sophia Tezel and Heidi Weisel.
As reported, Cotton Inc., the promotion and research arm of some 30,000 U.S. cotton growers, is sponsoring a joint runway show for the designers during the 7th on Sixth spring shows here. Their show--which Cotton Inc. is spending in excess of $100,000 to produce--is slated for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2. It is the second time Cotton Inc. has sponsored a 7th on Sixth show.
The four designers of women's eveningwear were indoctrinated into the wide range of uses for cotton and cotton blend fabrics, the developments in new fabrications using cotton and the production techniques behind the fabrics.
"I was curious to see what's new because most of what I buy in cotton is coming from Europe," said Gaskins. "I do primarily eveningwear, which are all special occasion things, so the fabrications have to be unusual and expensive. I wanted to see what we're doing in America to see if there are more developments happening here for the future."
Weisel added, "I work with silk a lot to do very floaty, sensual garments, so I wanted to see what could be done to get cotton to react more in that way. But I like cotton for structured shapes, especially now since structured shapes are becoming very important."
However, the designers also expressed the common complaints of smaller fashion firms, criticizing U.S. mills for what they consider to be a lack of fabric innovation and the mass production methods in the U.S. that don't cater to short runs and quick changes.
"We always have problems with American mills when we ask for minimums, said Weisel. "In Europe, you can get small minimums, and that's why we work a lot with more European mills. Europe has smaller, family-owned mills, and it's a different sensibility."
Most of the fabric for Tezel's collection currently comes from Italy and little from the U.S. Tezel said she is trying to get more fabrics from domestic sources, however, for such advantages as quick turnaround.
Heisel noted that she finds more advanced fabrics in the Far East.
"Asia is even more advanced than Europe because of the technology. The things that are really exciting to me are the new finishes and the new weaves," she continued.
Gaskins said it is interesting that Cotton Inc. is aware of the disparity in fabrics from Europe and the U.S., adding, "I think Cotton Inc. is trying to educate the mills and to push them in their developments."
"There is absolutely nothing that we can't do in the U.S. compared to Europe, the Far East, or wherever," Strahl said. "We can do the same thing if somebody wants it and is willing to pay a price."
After looking at fiber and fabric developments at the Raleigh facility, such as research to make a stronger cotton fiber, improving wrinkle-resistant fabrics and developing advanced dyeing and finishing techniques using fewer chemicals, the designers agreed that the trip was helpful. "Discovering what can be done is important," said Heisel. "However, what can be done in the U.S. hasn't been communicated enough to designers."
Although cotton's core business is in commodity items such as jeans, T-shirts, sweaters and towels, Cotton Inc. is trying to become more involved with the fashion end of the business. "The men's wear side of the business is really strong, and we see a lot of potential for growth in women's wear," said a Cotton Inc. spokesman. "We are not going away from its core business. This is sort of an expansion."

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