MEMPHIS — Trends in the cotton apparel market, questions about the future of the U.S. cotton industry and a new consumer ad campaign were all a part of Cotton Incorporated’s Engineered Fiber Selection System conference in Memphis last week.

This story first appeared in the June 18, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The three-day session, which ran June 10-12 at the Peabody Hotel, marked Cotton Inc.’s 15th EFS conference and brought together mill executives, ginners, agricultural engineers and cotton growers.

At the opening dinner in the historic hotel’s Continental Ballroom, Cotton Inc.’s senior vice president of consumer marketing, Ira B. Livingston, showed the company’s new consumer ad campaign targeted at women between the ages of 18 and 34-years-old.

The ads, created by Mark Ryan of the Ryan Group, play on apparel content labels. One features a women packing a picnic with her significant other on the top half of the page with a label that reads: “20 percent laugh machine, 30 percent temptress, 50 percent best friend.” Meanwhile, on the bottom half of the page, the two are on their picnic, and another label reads: “100 percent cotton.” Next to it appears the slogan: “Cotton is just so totally you. Soft, natural and all-around easy. Just make sure the label says cotton.”

Six different versions of this ad will run in the following 10 publications starting in August: American Baby, Child, Country Home, In Style, Lucky, Marie Claire, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple and Redbook.

Livingston said the ads will run through the end of 2002 and into 2003, with more ads planned for next year. Cotton Inc. has run magazine ads before, though it has focused on television during the past few years, most notably with its “The Fabric of Our Lives” campaign featuring faces including Evander Holyfield and Ivana Trump. Cotton Inc. works with an annual advertising budget of $300 million with plans to spend $2 million to $3 million of that on consumer print advertising, Livingston said.

“The consumer rules,” Livingston said. “Consumers are telling [us] what they want and are the arbiters of what fabric is going to be bought. At Cotton Inc., when the consumer rules, marketing obeys.”

The following morning, three panelists spoke about the future of the cotton industry in the U.S. and the rest of the world, including Mark D. Lange, vice president of policy analysis and program coordination for the National Cotton Council. Lange said if it were not for the growth of the retail industry over the past decade, there would be a significantly smaller cotton business today.

He also said that the U.S. cotton industry expects to produce 11 million bales of cotton in 2002, of which eight million bales will be exported. That figure is close to double the amount of last year’s export figure of 4.5 million bales.

Lange said the rise in exports may seem healthy, but warned that countries including Mexico could be stockpiling the fiber due to its current low price. He said the situation could result in a steep drop-off of cotton exports next year and said he based his stockpile concern on the fact that the U.S. so far this year has already shipped as much cotton to Mexico as that nation’s mills are capable of spinning in a year.

Based on information from the Department of Commerce, Melissa Bastos, manager of market analysis in the strategic planning department of Cotton Inc., said consumer spending on apparel has risen almost 8 percent since Sept. 11, despite higher-than-normal unemployment levels that have a negative impact on consumer spending.

She cited declining retail performance at popular teen retailers like Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters as unfortunate, since the jeans and T-shirts they hawk are usually made of the fiber, but noted mass retailers like Kohl’s and Wal-Mart as strong performers that also sell basics.

Shirts, she said, which are largely made of cotton, make up 46.1 percent of the total amount of clothing that women buy, but said there is 26 percent more cotton in men’s clothing purchases. However, because there are more women shoppers, she said women represent 56 percent of the cotton-dominant apparel market.

Bastos also said apparel marketers should target ethnic populations since certain groups enjoy shopping for apparel more than others, according to a survey by Cotton Inc.’s Lifestyle Monitor. The survey showed that 65 percent of Hispanics like to shop for clothes, whereas only 40 percent of Caucasians enjoy the process. African-Americans and Asian-Americans both said they enjoyed shopping for clothes more than Caucasians, Bastos said.

Bastos also cited a hypothetical study in which different ethnic groups were asked how much money they would put toward clothes if they had an extra $500. African-Americans said they would spend $300 on clothes, compared with Caucasians, who said they would spend around $200.

Mark Messura, vice president of strategic planning at Cotton Inc., said that 81 countries grow cotton today, and the total annual crop could be made into 123.8 billion T-shirts.

“But an ample cotton supply is not necessarily a quality cotton supply,” Messura said. “Fiber content matters for consumers because they want quality.”

The $200 billion teen market was the focus of R. Michael Tyndall’s talk. Tyndall is senior director of global product marketing for Cotton Inc., and he advised mills to work with retailers to remind teens that they grew up wearing cotton.

“With 4.3 average visits per month to the shopping mall or discount chain, teens don’t look at labels and aren’t loyal to a brand,” Tyndall said.

Cotton Inc. president and chief executive officer J. Berrye Worsham reflected on the first EFS conference 15 years ago.

“We probably only had 60 people,” Worsham said, compared with the 350 people who attended this year. “Today, the role of Cotton Inc. is greatly expanded, and the growth of the conference reflects how the research has grown over the years.”

He said he plans to further promote cotton to consumers through the Internet, point-of-sale promotions and through the print ad campaign.

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