There are a host of significant trends that have an impact on today's global cotton industry, but, in the end, nothing is more critical than consumer demand. Whatever the issues may be, as long as people continue to buy cotton textiles and apparel, everything else is manageable.
However, consumers are increasingly demanding more than a comfortable and fashionable product at a reasonable price – they want to know the product's story, too. That was the primary message delivered by panelists during the Third Open Session of the 74th
Plenary Meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), entitled Demand for Cotton: the Views of Retailers
“Price and functionality are the primary drivers of consumer demand and will be for the foreseeable future, but sustainability is steadily growing in importance for buyers," said Prem Malik, a partner with Techware Consultants.
“Our customers love everything about cotton," said Pascal Brun, global supply chain manager for H&M. “However, their concerns about sustainability are not going to go away. People want to know the story behind the products they buy: what they are made of, where they come from, and what impact they have on the environment."
Pramod Singh, cotton leader at IKEA, agreed with Brun's assessment. “Retailers need to be able to tell that story or the customers will go to someone who can," he said. “Being able to talk about sustainability isn't enough to gain customers, but not being able to talk about sustainability is enough to lose them."
Ultimately, all stakeholders in the cotton value chain have a role to play when it comes to increasing transparency and traceability, the panelists said. However, the focus shouldn't be 100% internal because inviting the end consumer to be active participants in the process could pay big dividends in the long run.
“The cotton industry needs to take advantage of consumers' hunger for knowledge by involving them in the sustainability movement," Brun said. “For example, educating consumers about the benefits of recycling their clothing and textiles is not only beneficial for the environment, it makes people feel good when they purchase products made from cotton."