Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The price of cotton going up, up, up!

If you follow any of the sewing blogs you know by now that the current price of cotton is about to increase significantly. Even the fashion world is about to take a hit as cost of 'the fabric of our lives' heads upward. 

The price of cotton is increasing from many complex reasons, including:

1. Restrictions on cottons export by India, the second largest cotton growing country,

2. Stockpiling by China, the largest consumer of cotton,

3. Poor harvest in cotton growing countries such as Uzbekistan, which helped create the shortfall; and

4. Last year’s devastating flood in Pakistan, the fourth largest cotton supplier of the world.

In the last 6 months the price of cotton has increased 50-60% and in December cotton futures hit $1.1980 a pound, officially the highest price since records began back in 1870. That's shortly after the 'cotton famine' of the Civil War sent prices soaring. (I’ll have to admit that I’m a history buff and in the interest of keeping this short I’ll skip the history lesson).

What does this mean for you? Well, I’ve been trying to figure that out myself. I do know that this will affect everything from clothing, to yarns, to fabric and more. Just think about everything that is made with cotton; bath towels, robes, quilts, fabrics, clothing, and now think about paying more for those items.

Being a business owner who has a significant interest in keeping my prices low, I started this research to help me decide how this is going to affect my own business.  Some of my initial thoughts are that I may not carry such a wide variety of fabric lines, but I think instead I may focus on a few select designers and try to carry their whole line of fabrics… which some small businesses are already doing.  Up to this point I've had the fabric to help supplement or fill in the blanks for those lines.

Cotton is not the only fiber on the market, so I may concentrate more on bringing in bamboo, rayon or some other natural, sustainable fabrics.

I may also increase the number of classes I offer on up-cycling. In the past couple of years so many of us have learned creative ways to ‘make-do’ with what we already have that I think continuing with this trend will be easy. Sometimes all it takes is just a little bit of fabric to make a huge impact on our ‘ready to wear’ clothing items.

What does the future hold? I wish I knew! I do think cotton prices will continue to stay high for the time being. I also think (hope) that U.S. farmers will switch their field from corn to cotton now that there is some serious money in growing cotton. Then as it always done, supply and demand will work its magic and prices will start to decrease and/or plateau. Cotton prices have been so low for so long, that like a rubber band, they were bound to snap. I do think there is a ‘happy medium’ it will just be a matter of finding that sweet spot.

Till then I'll be building up my stash!!


  1. Interesting post. Hopefully more people will realise through the rising prices just how many resources go into making cotton and get a bit more aware about the other options out there. It's actually not a particularly sustainable cloth when you consider all the water that goes into making it - and then if it's not organic, there are so many chemicals and fertilisers used too... and don't get me started about whether it's fair trade certified or not...!!

  2. Great point! I'm not thrilled about using rayon and/or bamboo as an alternative for the same reasons.