One of my favorite bloggers, Audrey of Quilty Folk said, “There’s been a lot going on at the home front which made it seem like I didn’t have time to blog. Then I had too much to post about so it really felt like there wasn’t proper time and well, yeah. Vicious cycle.”
I always have things to talk over with you! Even over the year-plus when I didn’t post at all, there was plenty to say, and then way too much to say, and so on. And now there are a handful of things competing for my attention to write about. The winner this time is cotton.
Cotton Supply Changes and the Effect on Cotton and Fabric Prices
On January 13, 2021, the US banned imports of cotton and cotton products from Xinjiang, a region of China that produces one-fifth of the world’s cotton. The ban is punishment for human rights violations of the Muslim Uighur population, which the US and Canada have deemed to be genocide. Other violations include using forced labor (aka slavery,) systemic rape and sexual violence.
While cotton is a commodity, it actually has a number of different grades used to classify it by length, length uniformity, and strength. That means that different grades are not perfect substitutes for each other (as navel oranges are not a perfect substitute for seeded oranges,) but they do serve as substitutes. There are substitutes for the cotton grown in China, but because the total supply has dropped, with a stable overall demand, prices increase. That’s Econ 101.
There are other disruptions in supply and pricing, including costs of packaging and transportation, covid-19 constraints for production, and drops in cotton supplied by other countries, including the US and Pakistan.
The change in supply and resulting price increase affects the price of cotton for all kinds of goods, including fashion and yardage. Prices for our quilting cottons will rise, too.
Here’s a link to a blog post by Scott Fortunoff. Fortunoff is the CEO of Jaftex, one of the large quilt fabric manufacturing companies headquartered in the US. Jaftex contracts with and buys printed fabric from mills for distribution in quilt shops.
In the post he uses a hypothetical example to illustrate what a small change in cotton price does to your yard of fabric. Using made up numbers, he shows that a 20-cent per yard increase in the price he pays for printed yardage leads to a 50-cent increase in what he must sell it for, in order to maintain his profit margin after covering all costs. Generalize that thought for real numbers, and it means that a small increase in the price he pays leads to a larger increase in the price he must charge.
At the quilt shop, that same 20-cent increase in Jaftex’s purchase price might lead to a $1.00 increase in the price you pay, because the shop owner also needs to maintain their profitability to stay in business.
Of course we want to support our local quilt shops and the designers and manufacturers who bring us our raw material, but we do have choices for where we can get our fabrics. Stash, exchanges with friends, thrift shops and yard sales, these are all sources for quilting fabric. Clothing has a lot of yardage in it and can be a good source of fabric, too. You don’t need to be limited in your quilting if there are limits in your budget to absorb price increases.
Either way, it is worth it to me to pay more for yardage if it will pressure the Chinese government on this important issue.
Here are a few links to more articles, if you would like more information on this subject.
Reuters article from 1/13/21 “US Bans Imports of All Cotton… “
Washington Post from 2/22/21 “US Ban on China’s Xinjiang Cotton … ” (might have a paywall)
Another post from Scott Fortunoff, from 2/22/21 “Commodity Insanity”
Fortunoff from 2/15/21 “It All Starts with Greige Goods”
The Guardian from 2/22/21 “Canada Votes to Recognize China’s Treatment of Uighur Population as Genocide”
BBC.com 2/2/21 (disturbing/trigger warning) “Their Goal is to Destroy Everyone”
A post of mine from August 2018, which isn’t about this change in supply but about pricing relative to enacted tariffs “Tariffs and the Cost of Quilting”