NEW YORK — The reasons range from increased demand and adverse weather conditions to government controls and a lack of growing acreage.
Whatever the explanation, the most dramatic price increases in a decade — 10 to 35 percent in 12 months — for cotton, wool, linen and silk will have a ripple effect throughout the textile and apparel industries for spring-summer 1995.
The explosive price increases could also have some SA firms looking to use more blends of natural and man-made fibers — particularly polyester and rayon — to keep their own prices in line for spring-summer 1995.
Since last March, the most commonly used grade of U.S. uplands cotton has gone from 56.5 cents to 72.7 cents a pound, according to the latest spot check
from the National Cotton Council. Australian wool, which comprises about 65 percent of all wool used in U.S. apparel, jumped from about $2.70 a kilo in November to $4.15 as of Friday, according to the International Wool Secretariat. As reported, the rise in wool prices, in part, has been due to the Australian Wool Exchange, supervised in part by the government, taking control of the auctions, beginning with the sales in Melbourne on Feb. 1.
Linen from Italy, Belgium and Ireland, which ranged anywhere from $6 to $18 per linear meter last year, has skyrocketed to a range of $9 to $25 per meter, according to mill executives.
Silk, which had been $20 per kilo in October 1993, has jumped to about $26 per kilo as of Friday, due to lower production of the fiber in China and India, according to several dealers in silk fabrics.
Most mill and apparel manufacturers said the rise in cotton and linen will have the biggest impact, mainly in spring-summer 1995 apparel. Cotton, which has a 55 percent — and growing — share at retail on a fabric-weight basis, has suffered from a poor 1993 worldwide crop. Poor weather, insect infestation and disease resulted in a smaller crop in China, Pakistan and India — three of the world’s leading cotton producing areas — while U.S. production remained essentially flat.
World cotton production last year fell to 76.7 million bales from 82.8 million bales in 1992. U.S. production remained the same, at about 16.2 million bales. One bale of cotton equals 480 pounds. The international situation has increased price pressures on the U.S. crop, which supplies virtually all the upland cotton used by U.S. mills.
Robert Kaplan, president of the denim division of Greenwood Mills, said because his firm was locked in to certain prices with its customers, “it was difficult not being able to pass on the cotton cost increases in the first or second quarter.”
“Moving forward, I’d like to think that we can moderately increase our prices should business continue to improve,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan’s division at Greenwood, which produces denims and chambrays, is a big cotton user.
“Our customers know that cotton has gone up significantly, and they also know some of those costs will be passed on to them,” added Arthur Wiener, chairman and chief executive officer of Galey & Lord. “We’ve already raised our prices.
Wiener would not specify to what extent Galey & Lord has raised its prices.
One mill executive, requesting anonymity, said, “We’re going to work like hell to keep the prices down, but we have to be realistic. If the price of cotton keeps going up, the price of fabrics will keep going up. Someone has to pick up the cost. We’ll absorb some and our customers will have to absorb some.”
Linen executives said the high price stems from the facts that linen is gaining as a year-round fiber, and that Europe is still rebounding from a poor linen crop in 1991. However, those same executives said that as more acreage is being earmarked for linen, costs could at least flatten.
Nick Savoye, president of Savoye Fabrics, Eastchester, N.Y., the U.S. agent for Lagae Linens, Meulebeke, Belgium, said, “It’s now a three-season fabric. Eight years ago, linen was just for the aristocrat. Now, you can find it in department stores and better mass merchants.”
Savoye said Lagae, because of greater production efficiencies, including new looms, “has not had to pass that much of the price increases on to our customers.”
As for silk, Sidney Weinberg, chairman of S. Shamash, an international silk fabric producer, said the price increase “could push some marginal apparel players out of the business for the spring-summer 1995 season.”
“The traditional designer and bridge sportswear market won’t feel the impact as much as a lower-end producer,” Weinberg said. “The serious players in the silk business will remain.”
Apparel manufacturers said they’re going to be challenged to create fashion while still maintaining fairly reasonable price structures. They said they’re not going to increase their prices without telling a value-added story.
“The increases are here, they’re real and they’re something we all have to deal with,” said Bud Konheim of Nicole Miller Ltd.
“The first priority must be that the garment is esthetically pleasing, but if it’s too expensive, then esthetics become a joke.”
Konheim said Nicole Miller uses large amounts of cotton, linen and silk in dresses and sportswear, but is also searching for increased ways to blend natural fibers, primarily with rayon and virgin and recycled polyester.
“We feel we’re in a universal design competition, and one of the elements is that you must design something that’s right,” added Konheim. “But we will try to maintain our prices, even if it sacrifices a little bit of margin. If we go too much into a higher price, realistically, the product probably won’t sell.”
Angela Aronson, president of Donna Karan Collection, said, “Donna is always looking at new fabrics and is always dealing with price issues. Donna creates fashion and her customer, while conscious of price, doesn’t base her purchase solely on price.”
“Where we’re feeling it right now is in the linen area,” said Elie Tahari, president of the sportswear and ready-to-wear manufacturer that bears his name. “We will blend linen with more rayon and silk. We are also using Cool Wool, and wool too is going up, which makes it a challenging situation.
“Still, you are talking about fashion, and if it has value, then people will pay a little more for it,” Tahari said.
“Wool has been relatively low-priced for so long that it isn’t increasing that dramatically when you think about it,” said Danny Neff, director, Americas, for the Wool Bureau, the North American arm of the IWS. “Our growers have been suffering, and many of them still are. But the price increase is helping.”
Luxury fibers, while more limited in use, are also moving up, including mohair, which got a lot of play in the recent New York collections, and cashmere, which benefited from several seasons of lower prices that gave the fiber a boost in popularity, particularly in coats and scarves.
In December, the price of adult kid mohair was in the range of 70 to 90 cents per pound. Now, it’s selling at about $1.40, said Duery Menzies, executive director of the Mohair Council. “When the U.S. government cut the subsidies out, it forced a lot of the smaller growers to sell off their herds of Angora goats,” Menzies said. “Those that remain are serious about mohair, and the quality of goats that remain are better.”
Cashmere, another precious natural fiber, is seeing price hikes of 25 to 35 percent, according to Boris Shlomm, president of Amicale Industries, a prominent cashmere and camel hair supplier. This is due to increased demand, coupled with prolonged conflict in Afghanistan, which has pushed production down. As reported, coat makers are turning to more blends to keep the interest in cashmere strong.