When Cotton Incorporated announces a new product — something like wrinkle-free or stain- resistant fibers — they already know how it will perform in mills around the world.
“We have a small mill in the research lab,” says Michael Tyndall, vice president, product development and implementation. “We have state-of-the-art facilities that simulate production — it’s a technology proving ground.”
He discussed how the department is working to maintain and increase cotton use around the world during a recent producer tour of the CI headquarters and research facility at Cary, N.C. Other department leaders also discussed their roles in promoting U.S. cotton.
“We identify research innovations that will meet consumer demand,” Tyndall says. “We want to protect and grow cotton’s market share.”
Protecting the current market includes efforts such as developing wrinkle-free fabric. “We also want to expand into new markets.” Products must meet safety standards such as flame retardance. Moisture management has also been a key issue as cotton tries to gain traction in the performance apparel markets that have been dominated by synthetics.
Researchers examine the dyeing process, looking for ways to improve uniformity as well as more environmentally sensitive procedures.
Sustainability, Tyndall says, is a key factor in CI research efforts. “The green movement for cotton started 25 years ago. We are showing the industry what can be done. We’ve defined sustainability; now we’ll implement it.”
David Early, senior director, supply chain marketing, says maintaining cotton’s global presence is key. “We promote products and marketing ideas that advance cotton use, and we provide technology, education and training to support the use of cotton products.”
Cotton incorporated hosted or exhibited at 27 trade shows in 2010 to maintain a global presence.
He also commented on the effort to gain market share in the performance apparel market. A new product, TransDRY, “is able to perform as well as or better than synthetics,” in that market. TransDRY treatment allows a 95 percent cotton fabric to wick moisture away from the greatest source of moisture — near the body — to the least source of moisture — the outside of the garment.
That technology has been adopted by Polarmax, Puma, Marks and Spencer, Giorgio Armani, Lindberg and Bobby Jones, among others. L.L. Bean, John Deere and Harley Davidson brands use Storm Cotton, fabrics that are water repellent but still maintain the breathability and comfort of untreated cotton.
Early says another potential is for police and law enforcement apparel, which has been “heavily dominated by synthetics.”
A recent announcement by Under Armour that they are offering 95 percent cotton athletic apparel (Charged Cotton) “is a significant win for the cotton industry,” he says.
Non-traditional cotton use is another growing market; these include adult incontinence products, baby wipes and diapers. “The non-traditional market has increased 45 percent since 2009,” Early says.
John Morgans, vice president, administration, says protecting the integrity of those new products and processes is another crucial chore at Cotton Incorporated. “Cotton Incorporated has 55 trademarks and we invest more than $700 million to protect and promote these brands.”
It’s an important function; he listed several names in what he calls the “graveyard of trademarks,” including nylon, corn flakes, trampoline, yo-yo, kerosene, aspirin and shredded wheat.
Cotton Incorporated is a well-known trademark, recognized by 8 of 10 consumers. “That’s equal to GM and Coca Cola,” Morgans says.
Richmond Hendee, senior vice president, consumer marketing services, says advertising and public relations efforts are geared to “influence the choice of cotton over synthetics.” Women 18 to 34 years old are the target audience for CI advertising. “These young women are decorating houses, buying wardrobes and building families.”
Women from 35 to 54 years old make up the second key target and are the highest volume buyers — they are already in the “prefer cotton” category.
Textile, fashion and retail trends are extremely important. “Those trends dictate what products to promote,” he says.
Television remains the top advertising vehicle, and the Internet also increasing in importance. Facebook has become an important outlet and celebrity endorsements have helped promote cotton under the theme, “The fabric of my life.”
Hendee says a recycling campaign attracted a lot of attention for cotton. “From blue to green,” encouraged consumers to turn in old blue jeans for recycling. Some are converted into insulation.
“The promotion response was bigger than we expected,” Hendee says. “GAP leveraged the campaign as an opportunity to drive sales — consumers took the opportunity to give back to the environment and the community.”
The project was mentioned in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine.