Cotton Shortage Could Drive Up Clothing Prices

BOSTON (CBS) – Anyone who has been out holiday shopping knows there are some great deals on clothing.

“I’m amazed at the sales right now,” one enthusiastic shopper said.

However, experts say once the holidays are over, so are the deals.

The problem is the price of cotton. Bad weather last year in India, Pakistan and China destroyed thousands of acres of cotton fields which slashed the global cotton supply.

“Cotton is up 70 percent in the last year, which is phenomenal,” explained Babson College Professor Peter Cohan.

Cotton is a staple in the fashion industry. Think about it, jeans, T-shirts and many sweaters are made of cotton.

According to Cohan, many manufacturers will have no choice but to pass that extra cost on to consumers.

“I think they’re all going to raise their prices in the spring, because that’s when China expects to raise their prices at least an additional 30 percent,” Cohan said.

Some stores will be reluctant to significantly raise prices because they won’t want to lose customers. But, chances are you’ll notice a difference in a lot of the clothes you buy.

“The larger manufacturers will have to make up that money someplace,” explained Boston fashion designer Sara Campbell. “It will come out of the zippers and buttons and trims, or it will come out of the fabric.”

Campbell still plans to use high quality detailing in her pieces, but she said she may have to figure out a way to use less fabric, perhaps by using fewer pleats or folds.

Campbell is already feeling the pinch of the higher prices.

“I’ve already set my price to the person that’s at the store in Wisconsin that is buying my blouse. I can’t change the price,” she said.

Strange as it sounds, some manufacturers are also looking at some alternatives, like bamboo. The versatile plant can be woven into fabric that looks and feels a lot like cotton, and right now, it’s cheaper than cotton.

Others will add other materials to make cotton stretch.

“They’ll use polycotton,” Campbell said.

According to Cohan, these changes will mean consumers will have to be on their toes when they are shopping for clothes this year.

“Compare the quality of what you’re buying to the quality of what they’ve bought before,” he said.

That can be tough for those who shop online where there is no feeling fabrics or getting a close look at buttons or zippers.

The bottom line is if there’s something you need, you may want to buy it now. This doesn’t just have an impact on clothing. Sheets, towels, tablecloths and anything made of cotton could have a higher price tag this year.


One Comment

  1. jamie says:

    Perhaps we should depend more on cotton grown here in the USA then?

    1. tim says:

      The U.S. is the world’s largest cotton exporter..and grower. Most are not aware of this….

  2. Danielle says:

    I couldn’t agree with Jamie more. As a country, we depend way to much on outside sources. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be THE “world power?” Interesting.

  3. The Chosen One says:

    Gas, now cotton. whats next?

  4. Mel says:

    we are not the world power anymore. sad to say.

  5. Ace Slick says:

    So sad.

    My shirt made in China, or my Levi’s made in Mexico are going to cost more?

    I got the answer. Don’t buy it and vote with your wallet. Try to buy an American brand like some Lucky Brand jeans, or maybe Fruit of the Loom.

    1. ZOEYZOTRON says:

      Producing Textiles in this country is dead because of labor costs (UNIONS). think of this…. It is cheaper to mfg in China, transport it 12000 miles, pay high customs duties, transport it to a warehouse, transport to stores…. than just making it in the US. Sad, but true.

      when the rubber hits the road, very few people will pay more for made in the USA….

      1. ZOEYZOTRON says:

        Fruit of the Loom is mostly made in South/Central America…..

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