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Naturally colored cotton: a new niche in the Texas natural fibers industry.

With the addition of naturally colored cotton to the white upland and extra-long staple cottons, Texas is on the cutting edge of a new and potentially very profitable development in the natural fibers market. Several Texas cotton growers and a Texas textile mill are now producing and processing cotton with pigmented fiber, and some of this cotton will be sewn into garments in Texas. This production, processing, and manufacturing of colored cotton is a good example of the type of vertical integration that the state's natural fibers industry has lacked.

Naturally colored cotton has been domesticated and used for thousands of years. (Genetic mutant markers for colored lint occur in all four species of Gossypium that have a usable fiber: hirsutum, barbadence, herbaceum, and arboreum). Only very recently, however, has it been grown on a commercial scale and machine spun. And only very recently did it come to Texas, making its way to the state through Sally Fox, a California entomologist and cotton breeder.

After experimenting with breeding colored cottons for several years, she applied for a production research allotment from California's Acala Cotton Board but was denied. Meanwhile, John Price, spinning expert at Texas Tech University's International Center for Textile Research and Development, had succeeded in making yarn from Fox's cotton using rotor spinning. He referred her to his former student, cotton breeder Dr. Jane K. Dever, who put Fox in contact with South Plains cotton producer John Kveton. Kveton grew a small test plot for Fox in 1988, and in 1989, he signed a contract to grow several acres. in 1990, he and several other South Plains and Uvalde area farmers contracted to grow around 500 acres of brown and green cotton.

The 1990 harvests varied, with yields ranging from slightly less than a bale to about a bale and a half (one bale is 480 pounds of lint) per acre, depending on whether a particular growing area had favorable weather conditions throughout the season or was affected by verticillium wilt that was reactivated by a cold snap in July. Approximately 500 bales of colored cotton were produced, which is only a small fraction of the total Texas 1990 estimated production, 4.8 million bales. However, the farmers' contracts provide for increased acreage in each of the next several years. In fact, in the future, contract farmers might be growing new colors that Fox has developed in her lab--yellow, pink, reddish brown, bluish green.

Colored cotton could prove a profitable commodity for both growers and processors. Producers find that colored cotton pays considerably more than white cotton. To their price, which is guaranteed before harvest, Fox adds her business costs, including ginning and research. She then sells her cotton to handweavers and weaving supply shops as yarn and sliver through a mail order catalogue and to domestic and international textile mills in bales. A Japanese textile mill that buys her cotton is targeting the haute couture market, while a Texas mill will focus more on the activeware market. (Fox has also signed a contract with a major clothing company for South Plains-grown brown cotton, which was woven at a Texas textile mill in January and will also be sewn into garments in Texas.)

Processors of colored cotton can also improve their profit margin with this specialty fiber. They can significantly increased output without increasing capital by eliminating bleaching and dyeing steps. Elimination of these steps also means that the cloth can be produced with fewer chemicals, a real plus for marketing to consumers who are increasingly concerned about the environmental and health hazards of agricultural and industrial chemicals. Furthermore, colored cotton appears to have a genetic propensity to resist pests, which, coupled with the pest-discouraging droughts and freezes of the South Plains, also allows lower chemical inputs.

According to Cotton Incorporated, demand for 100 percent cotton garments is steadily increasing, and consumers are eager to buy "all natural" clothing, good indications for the potential success of colored cotton garments on the market. Advertising for the first batch of colored cotton garments has been prepared, and these garments will be test marketed in Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York. A successful test marketing would help establish naturally colored cotton's niche in the natural fibers market, and Texas will be in the forefront of its production.

--Julia Kveton Apodaca Research Associate Bureau of Business Research
COPYRIGHT 1991 University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Business Research
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Apodaca, Julia Kveton
Publication:Texas Business Review
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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