The price of cotton increased more than 171 percent since this time last year, hitting a 150-year high of $1.90 a pound on Feb. 11. The price hasn’t been this high since the Civil War, when it sold for $1.89 a pound.
Al Boscov, owner of Boscov’s department stores, said prices of cotton-based clothing and other products could increase 5 to 25 percent depending on the items. The price increases won’t hit until the fall since spring clothing and other items already were purchased, he said.
Steps will be taken to keep down costs for customers, such as using more blends with materials such as polyester and less fabric, he said.
"Some of the market increase will be taken by manufacturers and retailers," Mr. Boscov said. "Consumers won’t pay a 15 to 25 percent increase. If they want a $7.99 towel, they will still get a $7.99 towel but it may be narrower, shorter and a littler lighter. I don’t think the consumer has to panic at this point. We will see what happens through the fall."
Prices of cotton have skyrocketed over the last six months as a result of floods in India and Pakistan and an increased demand in China. The political turmoil in Egypt, the world’s 15th largest exporter of cotton, also is affecting prices.
Mr. Boscov said manufacturers are creative and they will try to use blends and designs that will save on cotton.
"The price of labor is going up in China which is a good thing because they are underpaid. Labor will go up a little in India," he said. "Everyone is worried about Egyptian cotton. It is a fine-graded cotton, one of the better cottons, and everyone is worried about the lack of stability there."
The high cotton prices will not affect clothing retailer Boden until next year, said Wayne Dottor, vice president of U.S. operations.
Boden sells clothing for men, women, teens and children with a British twist through its website and catalogs. It has a facility in CenterPoint Commerce and Trade Park East in Jenkins Twp. and two retail stores in the United Kingdom. The retailer already purchased fabrics for the next two seasons, Mr. Dottor said.
"The season after that is our spring/summer 2012 line and probably at this point, we will have some price increases," Mr. Dottor said. "But, we are still going to stick with 100 percent cotton materials. We won’t mix any polyester. That is what our brand is all about: natural fibers."
Mr. Dottor anticipates prices could rise 5 to 10 percent, but he said it depends on what happens overseas. Much of Boden’s merchandise is made in countries like Portugal and India and he is waiting to hear how much manufacturers there are impacted. If there are price increases, he said Boden plans to absorb the higher costs for now.
"We’re hoping this is just a peak and things go down real quick," he said.
Janet Lozo, owner of Humphreys Apparel and Toys in Shavertown, also already purchased the spring line and doesn’t anticipate price increases will have an impact until the fall.
Ms. Lozo, who just started buying for the fall, has found some manufacturers are offering deals to compete as cotton prices soared. One manufacturer, for example, offered a deal on cotton pajamas by using last year’s patterns, she said. She has found that some companies are switching to other materials such as polyester or spandex, which didn’t interest her because her customers like cotton. She said she is trying to find cotton clothing at a decent price.
"Everything is going up. It’s not only cotton," she said. "It’s only because it’s such a bad year. It could be a temporary thing. I’m just hoping that next year, the cotton crop will be better and then it will all go back to normal."