As one of the top cotton-producing countries in the world, Pakistan has a long and storied track record with the natural fiber. This is reflected in the overall consumption of the country’s spinning industry: The country’s mills consume about 2.1 million tonnes of cotton annually, as opposed to about 0.5 million tonnes of polyester. The majority of polyester production goes to basic commodity items that are produced for domestic market and for home furnishing made-ups, which are ultimately exported.
The disparity is much greater in the export market. Pakistan’s cotton yarn exports for the 2011/12 season totaled 572,000 tons, while synthetic yarn exports registered a mere 12,000 tons – about 2% of total yarn exports.
Nishat Mills (www.nishatmillsltd.com), with annual sales of about $500 million, uses both cotton and specialized synthetic fibers like spandex and nylon, in addition to polyester. Its 200,000 spindles consume about 65,000 tons cotton and about 5,000 tons of synthetic fiber annually.
The majority of modern spinning mills in Pakistan focus their businesses on exporting yarn to international markets, so their first choice of raw material is cotton. There is no specialized synthetic fiber production in Pakistan (such as nylon, spandex, acrylic, etc.), and polyester production focuses on the basic fibers rather than those with high specification like high tenacity, optical bright, carbon black, etc.
But even in a cotton-centric country like Pakistan, synthetic fibers are making gains. The 20% market share polyester has gained in annual fiber consumption is significantly higher than it was a few years ago, and spinners all over the world must carefully evaluate their raw material choices in light of market changes. Some of the primary issues they must consider include:
Potential market/customer base
The first thing a spinner must decide when choosing between cotton and synthetic fiber is the customer base to which he wants to sell his products. It is very important to consider future market growth as well, rather than rely solely on current market conditions.
Depending on their level of expertise and experience – as well as how current and technologically advanced their equipment is – many modern spinners seek to avoid the commodity yarn market, which consists of basic cotton and synthetic yarns. Those with the technical and marketing expertise are evaluating niche market yarn products such as slub, multi-count, cotton/spandex, dyed, etc. The outlook for those markets is brighter.
Spinning units with less working capital often opt for synthetics. A large well of working capital is required to work with cotton. It usually is kept in inventory for longer periods because it is a seasonal crop (synthetics are available almost year-round). After the cotton market spiked and plummeted last year, many spinners were left with inventories of high-priced cotton that lost much of their value by the time they was spun into yarn. As a result, spinners who use cotton now are using a “hand to mouth” strategy to ensure they don’t get caught in that trap again.
The price and availability of cotton vary due to a number of factors, such as weather conditions, competing crops like sugar cane/corn, and government policy. As a result, cotton involves more risk than synthetics.
Generally speaking, synthetic fiber is easier for textile mills to work with in most ways. The supply and prices are more stable than cotton’s are, they require less up-front investment, and can be easier to work with. However, cotton products are preferred by consumers almost everywhere in the world, and as long as that demand remains strong, cotton consumption will continue to be high in the future.