2014 Shanghai Home & Textiles Fair held just before the new cotton season drew a large crowd. The western exhibition halls that displayed beddings, towels and all cotton-dominated materials were a cluster of dazzling booths. Here, cotton seems to be the major player of the greatest textile show event in the world.

But this is not true when you have a complete tour around the spacious exhibition square, where a lot more new things are spread out to catch a much greater attention. Just like Warren Shoulberg, head of Home & Textile Today, had noted at a special summit during the event, cotton has lost a big share of the market in home textiles making in the past years.

While newly developed varieties still represent a very small portion of the fiber market and must be blended with cotton for a greater development in the future, they are truly a big concern for cotton.

To answer the question of a declining market share for cotton, first, everyone in the chain desire steady and cheap raw materials, but the extreme price volatility of cotton, unpredictable supply and an elevated price are most risky for using cotton in China. Second, new fibers have become more and more substitutable in recent years as their cheap, environmental-friendly, multi-functional and many other characteristics have meet the growing requirements of both producers and consumers. Third, the market risk and business difficulties are even more amplified by the excessive homogeneous competition both domestically and internationally, which caused Chinese mills to make every attempt to be outstanding and unique these years. These major developments have prompted many textile and garment makers to seek new raw materials.

Our interview with several exhibitors in the show reveals that young ladies (age 15-30) in China just consider the fashion design when shopping and pay little attention to the raw material. Compare with cotton, many man-made fibers are now giving a much better visual result. At the same time, jacquard designs with man-made fibers have become more popular with consumers and domestic dyeing techniques do not produce high quality products. Also, cotton products may be a good choice for north China shoppers, but in southern provinces like Guangdong, people favor synthetic fiber products. All in all, new fibers that keep joining the fiber market with fast growing varieties are a major threat for cotton from every corner.

If the home textiles show just gave a brief idea of what is happening to cotton’s territory, the China New Fiber and Yarn Fair held last week in Hangzhou provided a complete and fascinating view of the new fiber market that may thoroughly change one’s mind.

The trade fair attracted about 140 outstanding domestic new fiber/yarn producers which displayed thousands of newly developed fiber and yarn varieties to new-styled booths for business negotiation. A huge crowd of buyers were convened to participate in the event and total visitors are reported to have exceeded 5000.

One may not be surprised with a trade fair with 5000 visitors. But for a newly born and booming market in China, this is by no means a small scale. And, all attendees are professional industry participants.

The fair invited numerous new fiber developers, textile mills, knitters, dyeing houses and garment enterprises to share their successful experience. For example, ridel, the newly developed green fiber from bamboo pulp with modal technique, provides ideal fiber strength, softness, hygroscopicity, breathability as well as good performance in antibiosis, deodorization and UV protection. It also meets the demand of high-speed spinning. The urgent need to maintain a healthy environment is also creating good opportunity for the development of environmental-friendly products.

Differential fibers have many most-welcomed characteristics including good luster, easy coloring, stain resistance, anti-pilling, wear-resistant, hygroscopicity and anti-static electricity. These demand-driven new products are clearly penetrating aggressively into the already contracting cotton’s territory, especially when cotton products from southeastern Asian countries stage a blow on traditional fiber/yarn market in China.

Cotton’s share, based on our close watch of the new-fiber show, is only 20-50% of the total fiber consumption for these enterprises. China’s cotton use has decreased sharply from 2007-2008 high of 11 mil tons and now stays below 8 mil tons. The 10-mil giant cotton user has already gone with the wind and will never return in the future. The fast growing new cellulose driven by extreme volatility in cotton price and the need for green and sustainable products will continue encourage a major shift and upgrading in textile production, which is the future path of Chinese textile industry.



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