Cotton utilization in women's apparel : gender, apparel purchase decisions, and fiber composition
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A cursory review of domestic apparel production data from ‘Cotton Counts Its Customers’ reports by The National Cotton Council of America showed a discrepancy between the amounts of cotton utilized in domestically produced women’s apparel and that for men’s apparel. It appeared that the men’s apparel sector had a higher percentage market share of cotton than women’s apparel. For both genders, cotton’s dwindling market share was similar to that of diminishing domestic US apparel production overall. Since the majority of apparel in the U.S. is imported, import data was obtained from the United States International Trade Commission and compiled with the domestic apparel data to offer a more expansive view of cotton’s market share and its use separated by gender. The compilation of domestic and import apparel data followed the overall trend of a higher percentage of weight of cotton being used in men’s apparel than in women’s. Challenging apparel categories which may offer potential for expanded utilization with increased performance were Coats, Underwear/Nightwear, Suits, and Dresses. In an attempt to add context to the apparel market data, we explored two stages of the apparel supply chain: the first at the retail setting, the second at the consumer purchase and wear decision level. At the retail level, we investigated the availability of fiber composition information and its use as a part of the assortment offered to consumers. Two stores were selected for this exploratory phase and retail availability by gender and fiber content were physically tallied in the two retail settings. In both retail assortments, there was no emphasis of fiber composition as part of the information offered to the consumer. For the consumer wanting to find cotton apparel in these two settings, prior knowledge regarding the feel or look of cotton would seem necessary to facilitate locating cotton among the assortment of apparel. Fiber blends can offer cotton-like appearance and hand, so fiber composition tags could give consumers certainty regarding the garments they are buying. In addition to the observations above, we also noted in both stores a prevalence of cotton in men’s apparel, and a larger presence of man-made fibers in women’s apparel, which reflects the overall market situation. Finally, the second exploratory stage focused on clothing diaries and a wardrobe inventory provided by a small purposeful sample of respondents to examine the role of fiber composition, cotton in particular, in the individual’s garment purchase and daily-use decisions. The findings suggested that fiber composition was an important part of the daily garment selection process, based upon the daily activity and a set of personal beliefs about what the diary respondent felt that fiber had to offer. Similar to the market data Results, in the Clothing Diary responses males showed a greater tendency to select both 100% cotton Tops and Bottoms than did the female respondents. Overall, cotton appeared challenged by man-made and other fibers when the respondents needed to “dress up”, to attend to athletic activity, or to satisfy the need for specific functionalities such as rapid drying.