Ira Livingston, a key voice in the cotton industry for three decades who retired as senior vice president of consumer marketing for Cotton Incorporated in 2006, died at his home in Westport, Conn., on Tuesday. He was 70.
The cause of death was gastric cancer, according to a family friend.
Born in the Bronx, Livingston graduated in 1965 from what is now Philadelphia University with a degree in textile chemistry. Like many in the industry, textiles was a family affair for Livingston.
“Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, I was born with a rag in my mouth,” Livingston, whose father was a salesman for apparel manufacturers, told WWD in 2006 as he was about to retire.
After completing active duty with the National Guard, he ended up at J.P. Stevens & Co., where he spent more than six years as a fabric designer and six months as a salesman. In 1975, Livingston was hired in Cotton Inc.’s international department, traveling throughout Europe to work with mills on using cotton.
Livingston’s roles over his 31 years included vice president of U.S. marketing and vice president of international marketing, in charge of Cotton Inc.’s offices in Europe and Japan. In these capacities, his aim was to increase consumer awareness and demand for cotton, and he was instrumental in developing the Seal of Cotton and Cotton Inc.’s “Fabric of Our Lives” ad campaigns.
As he recalled in the interview, the U.S. textile industry was thriving in the mid-Seventies, but the cotton industry had been dealt a serious blow by the rise of synthetic fibers.
The solution was to start aggressively targeting consumers with a message that focused on the benefits of cotton. The largest and most influential consumer segment was the Baby Boomers, who were already embracing jeans and T-shirts. But bringing cotton back to prominence was an uphill battle. It wasn’t until the late Eighties that cotton’s U.S. market share crept back into the 60 percent range from a low point of about 34 percent in 1975, Livingston noted at the time.
Cotton Inc., funded by U.S. growers of upland cotton and importers of cotton and cotton products, is the research and marketing arm of U.S. upland cotton farmers and cultivators.
“Sometimes the global cotton producers tend not to credit the U.S. cotton industry for building the market,” Livingston said in 2006. “Over a period of 15 years, as we were able to turn the U.S. market around, we increased global consumption of cotton by 10 million bales.”
In the interview, Livingston contemplated what his parting words would be in his last meeting at Cotton Inc. He told WWD what he would say was: “In the U.S., WMDs have been a controversial issue. Now, I’m thinking about WMPs, weapons of mass production. China is one of those, and the U.S. has taken advantage of that by supplying cotton. I think for the future, we have to look at WMCs, weapons of mass consumption, of which China will be the first.”
J. Berrye Worsham, president and chief executive officer of Cotton Inc., said, “Ira was a great friend, colleague and lifelong champion for cotton. He led Cotton Incorporated’s global expansion as head of the company’s first overseas office in London. He was a passionate defender and promoter of the Seal of Cotton and was a strong advocate for both the company and the fiber. He interjected humor into almost every situation (especially related to golf), and could take a joke as well as deliver one. His dedication, passion and humor will be missed by many.”
After he retired, Livingston accompanied his wife, Cynthia, who is global president and ceo of Sequel AG, a Swiss-based fashion watch manufacturer, to trade shows and meetings across the globe. The couple lived in Switzerland and New York City and spent a decade building a home in Bali.
In addition to his wife, Livingston is survived by two sons, Andrew and Colin, and a sister, Etta Schechter. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Sheila Lawrence.