Cartagena, Colombia -- When talking about the growth of middle-class consumers, the discussion often centers on China and India. But the Latin American market is showing impressive growth as well, and raising the visibility of awareness of cotton among those consumers is a major opportunity -- and challenge.
That was the key message delivered in the Fourth Breakout Session at the 72nd Plenary Meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC). Entitled "Promotion Strategies to Effectively Meet the Challenges to Cotton Sustainability," the session's speaker emphasized that the cotton industry must ensure its educational and promotional efforts focus on the specific characteristics of this emerging group of consumers.
"We see a population that's changing, with important growth in young consumers who are eager to buy," said Flores, director of supply chain marketing in Latin America for Cotton Incorporated. "They're more aware of fashion and they buy more impulsively."
In Latin America, cotton apparel must compete with electronics, entertainment, and digital products in the consumer's budget, but the bigger challenge is overcoming misperceptions about cotton's flexibility and capabilities.
"We need to give consumers the ability to make informed decisions when it comes to buying cotton products, and we need to give retailers options so cotton can be a player in the marketplace," Flores said.
On the retail side, the most common misperception is that cotton is a material suitable only for basic products, and is unable to compete with other materials when it comes to fashion.
On the consumer side, the lack of awareness is often more about function than form.
"Consumers, and retailers to some extent, don't have a very good understanding of cotton's performance capabilities, especially compared with manmade fibers," Flores said. "One example is cotton clothing that provides moisture management capabilities. It's a feature that consumers consider very valuable in their clothing, especially athletic apparel, but they don't always know cotton is capable of providing it.
"Raising that level of awareness is a crucial step in the long-term success of cotton, not only in Latin America but around the world," he said.