Clothing prices hold steady no longer
Cotton cost adds to consumer woe
By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / April 7, 2011
More polyester. Thinner shirts. Smaller buttons. The fallout from the cotton crisis looks like 1970s disco with way higher prices.
Following a 150 percent surge in cotton prices since August, apparel makers are now turning to cheaper fabrics, and scaling back details like tags and buttons to trim expenses. Retailers are also passing along the pain to shoppers with heftier prices — up 10 to 20 percent by year’s end, analysts predict.
“Unfortunately, the rising cost of raw materials will affect everybody,’’ said Luciano Manganella, owner of the local clothing chain 344, who expects to mark up merchandise roughly 10 percent in the coming months.
Many stores, which have kept prices flat or lower during the recession, have begun raising prices this spring to test how customers react, and more increases are expected for the back-to-school season from major brands like Gap, J.C. Penney, Levi’s, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Some retail analysts say the projected 10 to 20 percent increases are the result of soaring costs for cotton, labor, oil, and other commodities.
At the Sells & Co. boutique in Winchester, cotton blend tank tops that cost $21 last fall are now $24,, and cotton blend T-shirts that cost $33 last season will go for $37 this spring.
Jeremy Rubman, retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, said shoppers have not faced such sticker shock for more than a decade. Since 1995, apparel prices have dropped 12 percent, prices for while food, medical services, and energy prices have all experienced double-digit increases, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The apparel industry was hurt after poor weather hurt cotton crops in China and Pakistan over the past several years and speculators then cornered the market. Demand far outstripped supply, and prices skyrocketed. Cotton hit a record high of $2.44 per pound on March 8: last year, cotton averaged about 77 cents a pound.
Katherine Hung, of Cambridge, said she won’t give up on cotton because it is the most durable fabric for her two young children, but she will adjust her shopping if the prices soar too high. “We’ll probably just have to buy less of it and wash more often,’’ Hung said.