The choice between natural or synthetic fibers is a crucial decision that every textile professional needs to address at the earliest stages of the design process. Sometimes, the fiber “chooses its own path” based on end use and upfront costs, and fiber content is not always the top priority.
The design process starts with an inspiration and in a perfect world, designers would be able to base all of their decisions on how a material looks and feels. But in the real world, the decision comes down to various trade-offs and compromises. In other words, designers need to ask themselves: “How can I make this work?”
Today, companies provide market segmentation, providing both natural and synthetic textiles to the masses. Whatever the marketplace demands, designers will provide, and their influence is critical. Retailers might have the most direct influence on the cotton vs. synthetic market share battle, but they only want what their customers demand – and designers are the ones who influence those customers.
As a student in the Textile Development and Marketing Department at The Fashion Institute of Technology, I have been lucky enough to visit Cotton Incorporated’s office in Cary, North Carolina, and a visit to a cotton farm is also planned for this year. Those are important events because if the cotton industry wants to influence designers, it needs to happen when they are still learning. Put a piece of cotton in their hands, show them the equipment and processes, and bring cotton representatives into the college itself. Then, graduates will enter the work force with knowledge of cotton’s properties, qualities and strengths.
There are many other steps that can be taken to promote cotton within the design world. For example, technical support should be offered to mills to assist them with the newest technologies, which make the creation of cotton-rich products easier and more efficient. That way, the fabric or fashion designer will find manufacturing partners willing to try new cotton ideas. New product innovation, and new market development – especially targeting new and unexpected end uses – is very important. Developing small scholarships or work programs is another possibility.
As students and emerging textile professionals, we want ideas. We want to know what resources are available to enable us to use cotton; we need to know where to find the ingredient products like yarns, fabrics and finishing technologies; and we need to know how to put it all together effectively. In short, if we are to use cotton in our designs, we want help in developing the aesthetics and performance features of those products. We also need to know the benefits of cotton, so we can communicate to our companies and customers why we use it.
I look forward to using cotton in the future – not just because it is a terrific fiber but because I was lucky enough to have been exposed to cotton knowledge during my academic training. Reaching design students like myself will keep cotton on track to a brighter future.