Meeting Consumer Demand
The University of Rhode Island’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design graduates students with all they need to be successful in the wide range of careers open to them. Beyond the obvious knowledge inherent in the major, its graduates are equipped to think critically and be prepared to meet changes and challenges that will inevitably arise over their working lives. But ultimately, whether designer, technologist or merchandiser, their success depends on meeting consumer demands.
Let’s look at students who graduated 25 years ago, when the department was still young. They have seen the general cost of consumer items rise steadily over the past quarter century, while the price of textiles and apparel has stayed almost constant. In effect, the textile industry has managed to make its products cheaper relative to those other goods, accomplished largely through high degrees of automation and production efficiency.
Over the same period, those grads have watched annual global fiber production increase from around 50 million tons to more than 80 million tons. Almost all that increase has been in polyester, and around the turn of the century, polyester took over from cotton as the biggest-volume textile fiber. As global population grows, and each person on the planet takes advantage of those low prices and purchases more textile items, global fiber use will continue to increase. Synthetic fibers cannot match the combination of comfort, durability and absorption of cotton, and cotton will certainly continue as a major world fiber, especially for apparel.
Synthetic fibers cannot match the combination of comfort, durability and absorption of cotton.
Major Challenge For Cotton
When those students graduated, cotton was king, and the textile processors understood the variation inherent in those fibers and could deal comfortably with it. As manufactured fibers have become predominant, mills have become more accustomed to the consistent quality that allows for efficient production. For cotton to maintain its vital role in affordable, comfortable, textile products, it is increasingly important that cotton entering the global supply chain be of the highest quality. Bottom line? For the consumer to continue to find affordable and high quality cotton textiles in the stores, the farmer must produce consistently high quality cotton, and do so using sustainable methods.