Industry Views - February 2014

Jesse Curlee On The State Of Supima Cotton

Jesse W. Curlee, president, Supima (602-792-6002, supima.com) reveals insights into the world of premium cotton and how it is faring in the global marketplace. Supima is the promotional organization of the American Pima cotton growers. The Board of Directors of this non-profit organization consists of Pima cotton growers in the U.S. Supima’s objective is to promote the consumption of American Pima cotton around the world.

What is the state of Supima cotton supply and demand?

“Currently, there appears to be more demand than there is supply as inventory levels are expected to be very low. There are a number of factors impacting this and it is not as simple as a pure market demand scenario. Other countries that produce Supima-type cottons, such as Egypt, are having production problems, so the total supply of Exra-Long Staple cottons are being reduced. However, demand has been increasing for Supima through growing awareness and the ability to differentiate products made with Supima as a premium high-quality product.”

In the recent past, the increase in cotton prices prompted many suppliers to incorporate polyesters in place of cotton. Now that cotton prices have decreased and stabilized, do you see a swing back to an increased use of cotton?

“There was some addition or increases in the use of polyester in home textiles. Not so much in towels, but certainly in sheeting. In the premium market, though, that uses Supima, there was little or no additional use of polyester. What we might have lost in Supima sheeting was the addition of other ‘upland’ cottons or blends of Supima and upland cotton to reduce cost. This has occurred and continues to happen due to brands and retailers always looking for the lowest price, even in premium Supima and Egyptian sheets.

“Just like regular cotton, Supima prices retreated to more normal ranges two years ago. But Supima prices are very strong again due to demand for it in home textiles and especially in apparel. Current prices are approaching $2.00 per pound. That is more than double the cost of regular cotton.

“For towels and sheets, polyester is not a very good option. In the case of towels, cotton absorbs moisture and polyester does not. In quality sheeting, cotton provides a better feel to the body and is cooler. Supima sheets have a soft, smooth hand that is ideal for the bed.”

How is Supima cotton faring in the world scheme of things? Are exports on the rise?

“Demand is very strong. China and India are our two largest markets and they continue to demand Supima for their better-quality textiles. Over 95 percent of the Supima cotton production is exported. The challenge is growing enough Supima in the USA. Almost 95 percent of the Supima production is in the San Joaquin Valley of California. This is the most productive agricultural valley in the world and Supima growers also grow crops such as tomatoes, pistachios, almonds and grapes. These food crops are in high demand, so Supima cotton has to compete for the farmers’ land. Even with prices in the $2.00/lb. range, Supima cotton is having a difficult time competing. This is a big challenge for the future.”


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