In 1960, cotton apparel and home fabrics accounted for about 78% of all textile products sold at retail. By 1975, that share had plummeted to an all-time low of 34%, due to the successful incursion of synthetic fibers in the marketplace, threatening the extinction of cotton as a viable commercial commodity.
Historically, cotton farmers ended their involvement with a crop at point-of-sale, confident in the market’s ability to take up the cotton crop. But the new competition from petroleum-based fiber producers presented a major disadvantage for cotton, as polyester was aggressively marketed and merchandised at every point throughout the pipeline: from mills and manufacturers, to retailers and consumers.
Reacting to the serious erosion in cotton’s consumer market share, producers in the High Plains of Texas called for a collective national marketing and research effort. With support from regional producer organizations, the cotton growers were successful in petitioning Congress into passing the Cotton Research and Promotion Act of 1966. The act established a funding mechanism, based on producer assessments, for the purpose of conducting a wide scale effort to recapture cotton’s market share.
This funding mechanism led ultimately to the creation of Cotton Incorporated in 1970. From its inaugural year, the company faced a steadily declining market share, with little product available at retail except for denim jeans, T-shirts and bath towels. In addition, consumers had become increasingly enamored of the ease-of-care synthetic products, and textile mills had moved away from the production of cotton.
From the beginning, Cotton Incorporated adopted a “push/pull” marketing strategy. The objective was to “push” cotton textile innovations into the market through product and process development, while building consumer demand, or a “pull,” through advertising and promotion.
By 1983, Cotton Incorporated succeeded in curtailing share decline, and a long steady period of increasing consumer popularity and share growth resulted. Today, cotton can be found on store shelves everywhere in most products categories and cotton share is more than 60% of the marketplace.
The following timeline describes some of the more notable Cotton Incorporated milestones and strategic initiatives, which have helped the company achieve cotton’s current share of the home and apparel textile markets.
History of Cotton Incorporated
In 1970, Cotton Incorporated began its mission to improve the demand for and profitability of cotton. Fifty Years Forward, the Company continues to fulfill that mission through its research and marketing activities.
Highlights and milestones in Cotton Incorporated’s history are achieved through the generosity and self-investment of U.S. cotton growers and importers, to benefit the global cotton supply chain.
Cotton. May it always be The Fabric of Our Lives®
Cotton Incorporated Timeline
1970 – 1974
- Cotton Incorporated is created to combat loss of market share due to consumers’ infatuation with synthetic fibers. Marketing means convincing cotton’s first customer, the mills, that consumers desire the qualities that cotton provides – comfort, ease-of-care, breathability, and quality – and then helping them use cotton to meet that demand profitably. This in turn drives intensive textile research and development, which gives credibility to brand promotion and enables mills to tailor products to satisfy consumer demands.
- The cotton Module Builder is developed under Cotton Incorporated sponsorship and licensed to be built and sold. This invention changes the face of the cotton landscape, resulting in a chain of improvements and cost savings across the farm-to-warehouse process.
- Raleigh, NC; New York City (Empire State Bldg.); Los Angeles, CA; and Dallas, TX offices open
- The Seal of Cotton® is introduced. The Seal provides a focal point that serves as the basis of advertisements, produces an identity for cotton, attracts instant attention at retail, and quickly communicates comfort and quality to the consumer. By the end of 1973, 18% of American consumers are able to identify it. By 2003, that number had risen to more than 80%, making the Seal of Cotton one of the most recognized brands in the country.
- Re-charters as Cotton Incorporated
- First television Ad debuts
- Invents Module Builder under cooperative research agreement with Texas A&M
- Introduction of NATURAL BLEND™ technology
- Leads conservation tillage research reducing soil health erosion, cost of tillage equipment, and improving soil health.
1975 – 1979
- Based upon Cotton Incorporated developments and consumer comfort research, Spring Mills and Manhattan Shirts announce the conversion to blends of at least 60% cotton, and employ the company’s new trademark, NATURAL BLEND®.
- Cotton Incorporated leaps into the media spotlight as a sponsor of the Winter Olympic Games and begins advertising 100% cotton jeans with the tag line, “If it’s not 100% cotton, it’s not denim.”
- Cotton Incorporated is an early participant in the application of High Volume Instrumentation (HVI), working with the cotton industry and the USDA. HVI technology enables rapid determination of key properties of each bale of cotton and allows the user to see more clearly the effects of environment, production management and variety selection on cotton quality.
- Cotton Incorporated opens a fiber processing laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment featuring new rotor spinning technology.
- Cotton Incorporated opens a continuous preparation line facility to prepare cotton for new nonwoven markets.
- Company receives its first textile patent, for a durable press finish process.
- Research laboratories open and Cotton Incorporated becomes a research leader in dyeing and finishing technologies, as well as rotor, air jet, and compact ring spinning.
- Collaborates with NASA on flame-resistant base layers for Space Shuttle astronauts’ uniforms
- Integrated advertising campaign launches during the Olympic Winter Games
1980 – 1984
- The company hosts the first Textile Designer Awards in New York City, recognizing designers’ ability to add aesthetic creativity and functionality to 100% cotton apparel and home textiles.
- Cotton Incorporated launches the Engineered Fiber Selection® (EFS®) system, a suite of software programs and services that leverage USDA High Volume Instrument (HVI) data. The system provides significantly improved cotton inventory management and analysis capabilities, as well as electronic communication between producers, ginners, mills, and merchants/co-ops.
- Cotton Incorporated opens two international offices: London and Osaka.
- Cotton’s share of the total textile market climbs five percentage points to 39%, while recognition of the Seal of Cotton trademark soars to 63%.
- Cotton Incorporated launches its “True Performance” advertising campaign, using hangtags with the Seal of Cotton to identify millions of garments at retail.
- Cotton Incorporated with the USDA contributes towards the success of boll weevil eradication.
- A new nonwovens research and marketing department forms to promote the use of cotton.
- Cotton Incorporated coordinates efforts with Cotton Council International to increase U.S. cotton usage in Europe and the Far East.
- Byssinosis research contributes to determining the causal factor and control of cotton dust in mills.
- FABRICAST™ collection debuts.
- Cotton Incorporated collaborates with Murata Jet Spinning to utilize 100% cotton and 35 years later this partnership continues.
1985 – 1989
- Cotton once again regains its dominant position in the textile industry. Market share climbs to 49%, while awareness of the Seal of Cotton trademark grows to 71%. Mill consumption of U.S. cotton reaches levels not seen in 15 years.
- Cotton Incorporated introduces wrinkle-resistant technology. Farah is the first company to market the concept.
- Cotton Incorporated opens an office in Singapore.
- Cotton Incorporated launches The Fabric Of Our Lives® advertising campaign to a television audience of more than 200 million on Thanksgiving Day. The campaign introduces cotton as an integral part of the American experience and uses a groundbreaking marketing strategy. It is the first introduction of what will come to be the company’s tagline – “The touch, the feel of cotton, the fabric of our lives.”
- Cotton’s market share begins long-term increase.
1990 – 1994
- Cotton Incorporated introduces COTTECH® technical conferences that are targeted to technical managers, designers and quality assurance staffs in the textile industry.
- Wrinkle-resistant slacks dominate the market with the first introduction by Haggar, followed by Levi Strauss.
- A pioneering marketing partnership is forged with Procter & Gamble to display the Seal of Cotton trademark for the first time on non-textile products: Cheer, Tide and Ivory Snow.
- The Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, a broad-based, ongoing research program designed to capture consumers’ attitudes towards shopping, fashion, appearance, fiber preference, denim and home furnishings, makes its debut.
- Basel, Switzerland office opens.
- Amendment to the Cotton Research and Promotion Act – uniform assessment for Producers and Importers.
- QRNet32 Software allows EFS® System users to transmit and receive HVI® bale data electronically.
- Cottonseed Initiative forms to improve demand and value of cottonseed.
- Development of the metered addition process for sustainable application of chemical finishes.
- Levi’s introduces 100% cotton casual pant under Dockers brand.
- Haggar introduces Wrinkle Resistance cotton slacks shifting away from synthetic slacks.
- State Support Program expands to all cotton producing states.
1995 – 1999
- Cotton Incorporated introduces the Engineered Knit Program, which enables manufacturers to evaluate performance of dyehouse equipment in order to predict how a particular knitting specification performs in terms of shrinkage, fabric weight and width. By eliminating the trial and error involved in shrinkage control, the system reduces production costs and improves product quality.
- Cotton Incorporated opens its Mexico City office. In addition, a consumer-targeted advertising campaign is unveiled in Mexico that focuses on six distinct product categories: denim, underwear, women’s wear, casual apparel, and sheets and towels.
- Two new Cotton Incorporated trademarks are introduced: CARPET BLEND® and RUG BLEND®.The two trademarks represent a key element of Cotton Incorporated’s aim to increase cotton’s share in the floor coverings market.
- Cotton Incorporated opens its Shanghai, China, office. Mills, manufacturers, and retailers throughout China, who use U.S. cotton, now have access to the various technical, information and fashion services that Cotton Incorporated provides. More than 250 officials and executives representing all facets of China’s textile industry attend the official Shanghai office opening.
- Weekly stories using Lifestyle Monitor™ data appear in Women’s Wear Daily.
- EasiFlo™ Cottonseed, a patented process developed by Cotton Incorporated, is made available to dairy feed formulators. By coating the hairy cottonseed with starch, handling is improved.
- Cotton Incorporated launches a new trademark, ABSORBLEND™. This selling tool is licensed to appear on disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products and all-purpose wipes that contain a minimum of 60% cotton and/or cotton linters.
- Cotton market share at retail for apparel and home products hits 60% in 1998. This marks the first time, since synthetic fibers were introduced in the mid-1960s, that cotton has enjoyed such a dominant position.
- World Headquarters Office in Cary, NC, opens.
- Seal of Cotton trademark appears on Tide® detergent
- Development of NATURAL STRETCH™ fabrication
- Cotton Incorporated moves into a new 125,000 square foot state-of-the-art research and development center and world headquarters in Cary, North Carolina. This technologically advanced complex sets the standard for all facilities of its type in the textile industry.
- Advertising adjusts its designated target audience for television to a smaller group of cotton’s key customers: women 18-34. These young women are undergoing important life changes – first job, first apartment, marriage, and first child – which represent selling opportunities for textile products.
- A highly colorful new U.S. trade print campaign is introduced, which uses small lifelike dolls dressed in cotton clothing. Distinctive and dramatic, the dolls become memorable spokespersons for Cotton Incorporated. Designers are invited to dress the dolls for future ad appearances.
- A new Windows-based management software system for textile mills, EFS®-MILLNET32™. This client/server system enables a mill to preview, purchase and issue cotton contracts, schedule arrivals, and select cotton mixes for multiple plants using High Volume Instrument (HVI) data.
- A new campaign in women’s consumer magazines. In addition, the print ads call attention to Cotton Incorporated’s consumer Web site for women, TheFabricOfOurLives.com. The Web site, which is created in-house, launches in July and receives more than 500,000 hits in the first three months.
- Cotton Incorporated enters into a unique relationship with Worth Global Style Network (WGSN), the world’s leading online news, research and trend analysis service for the fashion and style industries. Key Cotton Incorporated research material, such as articles and analysis from the Monitor survey, are published on the subscription-only WGSN service.
- Cotton Incorporated receives valuable agricultural technology from Monsanto in the form of gene promoters for cotton plants. These unique DNA elements are proven to regulate gene expression in the cotton plant at various stages of fiber development, which are critical to improving fiber quality. The Cotton Incorporated Fellowship Program is instituted. All five stellar graduate students, selected in the inaugural year of the program, are involved in cotton breeding research projects under the Cotton Breeding Initiative.
- Cotton Incorporated celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its Osaka, Japan office, reconfirming its commitment to building a strong future for cotton products in Asia. In conjunction with Cotton Council International (CCI), Cotton Incorporated develops a trade and consumer marketing campaign for India called the Cotton Gold Alliance (CGA). The goal of the alliance is to increase recognition of and preference for cotton products in India. This marks the first time the Seal of Cotton has been used outside of the Americas for consumer promotions.
- Cotton Incorporated appoints DDB as its new advertising agency after 30 years with Ogilvy & Mather.
- TOUGH COTTON™ durable press technology is introduced, which paves the way for the next generation of wrinkle-resistant 100% cotton apparel.
- After more than 15 years, Cotton Incorporated retires its hugely successful “The Fabric of Our Lives®” Campaign, looking instead to communicate more directly with young women 18-34 that cotton is the fashionable and fashion-forward choice for their wardrobes.
- EFS®-USCROP™ software provides statistical analysis of individual bale fiber properties.
- Consumer recognition of the Seal of Cotton trademark reaches more than 80%.
- Cotton Incorporated sponsors NYC Fashion Week.
- Cotton genome research expedites cotton breeding for yield, quality, and pest resistance.
- Cotton Incorporated and USDA receive recognition for standard classification process of cotton
2005 – 2009
- Building market share abroad becomes a key strategy, as Cotton Incorporated and CCI turn their attention to the rapidly growing Chinese consumer market, designing a promotion strategy to boost awareness of the COTTON USA® trademark.
- The consumer website, TheFabricOfOurLives.com, has a banner year and attracts more than 1,000,000 visitors. Meanwhile, an already successful partnership with Brooks Brothers to promote two key cotton product lines: the Golden Fleece Polo and the brand’s seersucker collection.
- Hoping to connect with consumers at the university level, Cotton’s Dirty Laundry Tour™, which educates young men and women on buying and caring for their clothing and decorating their dorm room, all in order to heighten awareness and exposure of cotton among college students.
- The COTTON. FROM BLUE TO GREEN.® denim drive, a call to action to donate denim and give it a “new life” by converting it into natural cotton fiber insulation, travels to 14 colleges across the nation and collects an astounding 14,566 pieces of denim, doubling the original goal. The donated denim is converted to UltraTouch™ natural cotton fiber insulation, which is installed in 12 houses for hurricane-affected families in Baton Rouge, LA. This is the precursor to Blue Jeans Go Green™.
- The creation of the Natural™ trademark is developed as a part of the company’s larger sustainability strategy. Building on the wide recognition of the Seal of Cotton, the trademark resonated across multiple industries, ultimately being adopted by six brands for their own green marketing efforts.
- Marking a first foray into social media, a blog called DenimHunt.com, which taps into consumers’ love of denim. As the blog is not Cotton Incorporated-branded, it captures an edgier, more fashion-forward tone, and soon attains a significant following. The COTTON. FROM BLUE TO GREEN.® denim drive now encompasses the groundbreaking collegiate mobile marketing initiative Cotton’s Dirty Laundry Tour®, serving as a grassroots student-run campaign at the university level to educate college coeds about the natural, renewable and recyclable attributes of denim.
- Cotton Incorporated celebrates the 10th Anniversaries of the Beijing and Shanghai offices, and hosts a two-day Global Denim Event in Shanghai, underscoring China’s importance to the denim segment and the country’s growing textile industry.
- Research scientists at Texas AgriLife at Texas A&M University further their study of ultra-low gossypol cottonseed in research funded by Cotton Incorporated. Five generations of cottonseed that generated ultra-low gossypol in the seed and enhanced levels in the leaves had been successfully grown in greenhouses and is successfully repeated in a true cotton-growing environment in the field.
- Two new Web sites to better communicate company strategy are launched: CottonToday.com, which launches in May, serves as an engaging vehicle to consolidate the company’s Sustainability efforts along the entire supply chain, while CottonLifestyleMonitor.com reduces communication operating costs by taking the Lifestyle Monitor™ Magazine online, and provides easy access to research data of interest to the industry and the media.
- “The Fabric of Our Lives®” campaign with a twist, looking to capitalize on strong brand awareness and recognition. The new campaign features up-and-coming vocalists Zooey Deschanel, Jazmine Sullivan, and Miranda Lambert recording their own interpretation of the popular lyrics, “the touch, the feel of cotton, the fabric of our lives.”
- Hong Kong office opens.
- Introduces WICKING WINDOWS™ technology.
- Introduces STORM COTTON/STORM DENIM™ technologies.
- Introduces TransDRY® technology.
- Launches The Fabric Of Our Lives™ social media platforms on Facebook and YouTube
2010 – 2014
- Cotton Incorporated celebrates the past and looks to the future for its 40th Anniversary. The campaign, called “Forty Years of Progress,” marks the myriad accomplishments the company has achieved in its history, and paves the way for cotton to remain top-of-mind with the consumer, and a dominant fiber in the 21st century.
- The Fabric of Our Lives® advertising campaign launches with two new artists: international pop star Leona Lewis and Grammy-winning artist Colbie Caillat, each of whom gives a new twist to the celebrated song.
- Cotton Incorporated, the National Cotton Council, and Cotton Council International complete Cotton’s first Life Cycle Inventory and Life Cycle Assessment of Cotton Fiber and Fabric in an effort to set benchmarks and bring transparency to the cotton industry.
- Cotton Incorporated hosts the first-ever Cotton’s 24 Hour Runway Show in Miami, featuring 1,440 stylish and fashionable cotton looks (one per minute for 24 continuous hours). The event showcases cotton’s style and versatility, drives new and fresh conversation in the social sphere and rallies the retail community to become involved. The show is a great success, garnering impressions of more than 100 million.
- With offices now in Cary, New York, Mexico City, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Osaka, Cotton Incorporated is well poised to meet the needs of the world’s growing textile industry.
- Expanded COTTON. FROM BLUE TO GREEN® denim recycling program to include mail-in apparel items and rebranded to Blue Jeans Go Green™.
- Joint research consortium of international scientists reveals cotton genomic blueprint to increase yields, fiber quality, and to make more efficient use of the inputs necessary to grow cotton.
- Cotton Incorporated joins The Sustainability Consortium, an independent group of organizations working to develop tools to improve the sustainability of consumer products.
- Cotton University, a free, online resource and part professional network launches with aim at nurturing the next generation of textile industry professionals through education and engagement.
- Texas Tech researchers find raw, unprocessed cotton fiber is highly effective at absorbing crude oil spills and repels water.
- “The Fabric of Our Lives®” campaign continues with Hayden Panettiere, celebrating American style and American originals like country music, cotton denim, and U.S. cotton growers.
- Cotton LEADS™ is founded, a joint program between the entire U.S. and Australian cotton industries to promote responsible cotton production practices. Program partners include global manufacturers, brands and retailers.
- Archroma and Cotton Incorporated collaborate perfecting a fluorine-free version of its STORM COTTON™ technology, a textile finish that adds durable water repellency to cotton outerwear.
- TransDRY® technology, moisture management and accelerate dry-times for cotton fabrics in active, high-performance applications is enhanced by the capabilities of Polygiene technology to inhibit the growth of odor causing bacteria.
- Cotton Incorporated launches The Fabric Of Our Lives™ social media platforms on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
- Mapping of cotton genome is completed with assistance from Cotton Incorporated.
- Blue Jeans Go Green™ is the title sponsor for 200 NASCAR Race in Phoenix, AZ.
- The use of Cottonseed is expanded to Dairy Cattle.
2015 – 2019
- Nine-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow lends her voice as part of Blue Jeans Go Green™ denim recycling program’s mission to build 10 homes in 10 days. The program set a collection goal of 10,000 pieces of denim, to transform into UltraTouch Denim Insulation by manufacturing partner Bonded Logic, Inc., and then provided to a 10-home Build-A-Thon by New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, an area still feeling the repercussions of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
- Madewell becomes ongoing retail partner for Blue Jeans Go Green™ program accepting denim for recycling at all stores year-round.
- First ever dye derived from cotton plant, EarthColors is Archroma’s innovative method of creating dyes in warm, ternary shades from nature. EarthColors is a biosynthetic alternative that utilizes natural waste from the agricultural or herbal industry.
- Conducts second global snapshot of data relating to the environmental impact of the production, manufacturing, consumer use and disposal of select cotton apparel.
- Blue Jeans Go Green™ Program celebrates 10th Anniversary.
- Cotton Incorporated and PurThread Technologies, Inc. collaborate to bring PurThread’s permanently embedded anti-odor solution to cotton knit and woven fabrics.
- Establishes Cotton’s first sustainability division and appoints Chief Sustainability Officer extending the company’s commitment to sustainability of cotton across the supply chain.
- Expansion of digital advertising and Seal of Cotton programs to work with companies such as Spotify, Buzzfeed, Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Revolve to ensure consumers are surrounded by cotton messaging.
- Establishes ‘Great Ideas in Cotton’ Conference.
- Introduces PURE PRESS technology.
- Develops and introduces Sweat Hiding technology.
- Hosts Sustainability Summits: ‘Everything You’ve Heard About Cotton Is Wrong’ and ‘Cotton Sustainability Summit’.
- Cotton University rebrands as CottonWorks.
- Created curriculum for students in grades 4th through 8th to understand the benefits of choosing cotton over other fibers.
- Blue Jeans Go Green™ program collects nearly one million pieces of denim.
- Reaches Cotton Incorporated’s 50th Anniversary milestone.
- 850 brands licensing the Seal of Cotton trademark.
- Cotton LEADS℠ program exceeds 600 partners worldwide.
- Issuance of EFS® software in 21 Countries.
- More than 30,000 global users of CottonWorks™ platform.
- More than 322,000 requests for FABRICAST™ collection of fabrics.
- Exposes 1.85 billion consumers to the Seal of Cotton trademark messaging.
Opportunities & Challenges in 2021 & Beyond.
- Improve agricultural profitability through research in insecticides, herbicides, and cottonseed marketing.
- Drive new cotton innovations.
- Improve properties for the Fiber of the Future.
- Emphasize sustainability.
- Diversification in supply chain locations.
- Reaching consumers with limited budgets and expanded media options.
- Globally markets recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Changes to normal business practices.
- Lower synthetic prices due to reduced energy prices and oversupply