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Strahl: cotton carving a niche.

LAS VEGAS--Cotton will grow from less than 1 percent to a 5 percent share of the fiber used in rugs over 6-by-9-feet in the next five years, according to Wolfgang Strahl, Cotton Inc.'s senior vice president of textile research and implementation. That's an ambitious leap but certainly not impossible, he told members of the Academy of Textiles and Floorings at a symposium held here.

On a somewhat smaller scale, Cotton Inc. is attempting to repeat the recent success it has had with smaller bath and accent rugs. In the under-6-by-9 rug market, cotton now accounts for 28 percent of face fiber used, up from 11 percent in 1990, Strahl said.

Strahl pointed to several technological and psychological factors that may help cotton regain its role--if not as king--then at least as a prince among fibers used in larger rugs and carpet.

Cotton's comeback will be due, in part, to the adoption and adaptation of spinning, heatsetting and dyeing techniques which are used with synthetic fibers, Strahl said. These scientific developments combine synergistically with the consumer's love affair with natural fibers.

* Fuzz-free cotton. In recent years, new rug cotton has been developed. Cotton is combined with low-melt polyester to produce a heat-settable fiber that will not pill or fuzz.

"We are focussing on the 90/10 cotton/polyester as the optimum blend that still retains the touch and feel of cotton," Strahl said.

"In the past, cotton was hampered by its tendency to look ragged after washing. Blended with low-melt polyester, the new products just lie there like a wet cat after they are washed," he said. "Dry, they return to their crisp finish."

* Newly developed cotton yarns have longer staple lengths. Using new open-end spinning techniques, these yarns are therefore capable of better twist and higher strength.

* The "new" cotton/polyester blends are stock-dyeable so the rug producer does not need to deal with costly wet dye-processing.

* In the proper, dense constructions, cotton passes the flammability "pill" test.

Cotton is still significantly higher in cost than nylon and polypropylene, Strahl admitted. The delivered cost of stock dyed cotton yarns is approximately $3.60 per pound, and cotton rugs use approximately two to three pounds per square yard. That makes the cost of the fiber alone approximately $22 for a 6-by-9 rug.

But Strahl pointed out that consumers' emotional response to cotton helps to offset the higher cost.

"Our focus group research indicates that consumers have a strong desire for natural fibers and are willing to pay more for products made of cotton," he said.

Research and development has played a major part in cotton's projected comeback, but Strahl noted that there is still work to be done. "Cotton does have a slight Achilles heel--it must be cleaned two or three times as frequently as nylon. But much more research efforts are being devoted to this problem," he said.

Strahl emphasized that cotton has a modest goal in the area rug market. "We don't expect to take over from nylon or polypropylene. We just want to carve out a market niche for ourselves," he said.
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Title Annotation:Cotton Inc. senior vice president Wolfgang Strahl
Author:Wyman, Lissa
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Mar 4, 1996
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