Consumer Behavior, Cotton Incorporated

The Importance of Authenticity

cotton rawWe’ve entered an age when words like “hand-crafted,” “artisanal” and “passionate” are turning consumer heads the way “low price” once did. In response, ubiquitous beer brands are producing small-batch IPAs and major recording artists are releasing new albums on vinyl. Now, after years of fast fashion, apparel consumers are seeking that same kind of authenticity in the clothes being offered at retail. And that inspired cotton’s new campaign, “Cotton. It’s Your Favorite for a Reason.SM” which speaks to that.

We take our messaging seriously. The ads feature real people who talk about why certain items of apparel—be it a dress, jeans or a pair of pants—are their favorites. The campaign, developed by DDB New York, is based on a year of research into what consumers really want.

“What we discovered was that consumers want it all,” says Cotton Incorporated’s Ric Hendee, senior vice president, consumer marketing. He says shoppers want, “Clothes that look great, are stylish, are comfortable, easy to care for, wash well, smell fresh and clean, and are really durable so that they will last a long, long time. They want to spend their money wisely, use their time wisely, and feel good about buying smart and looking smart.”

The “Cotton. It’s Your Favorite for a Reason.” campaign taps into the authenticity consumers crave by reflecting the stories of real people. Hendee says DDB saw an opportunity to get consumers to appreciate things that they already owned and loved, and use over and over again. The ads point out consumers prefer these items because they fit well, look great, are comfortable and don’t quickly lose shape or wear out. At the end of the ad, viewers see the common factor that helps these items meet all these criteria is that they’re made of cotton.

Millenial consumerOther manmade fabrics have imitated cotton and regularly invoke it with marketing phrases like “cottony feel.” But just as consumers have learned that food promoted as “cheese-flavored product” does not mean it contains cheese, those seeking cotton apparel need to check fiber content labels. Particularly because fully 8 in 10 consumers say cotton and cotton blends are their fibers of choice for apparel, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey. And more than 3 in 4 consumers (78 percent) say cotton and cotton blends are the fibers best suited for today’s fashions. Relatively few say this about polyester (7 percent), Lycra/Spandex (3 percent), silk (2 percent), wool, leather and rayon (1 percent), and “other” (6 percent).

Consumers also say better quality garments are made from all natural fibers like cotton (80 percent), the Monitor survey shows. In fact, compared to clothing made from manmade fibers like polyester and rayon, the majority of consumers say cotton clothing is the most comfortable (69 percent), breathable (68 percent) and durable (51 percent).

Next Gen Authenticity

Vicki Vasilopolous is a movie director (“Men of the Cloth”) with a background as a fashion editor. She says this desire for quality and authenticity resonates with today’s shoppers, especially the younger generation that’s “looking for more than a logo across their chest.”

“The millennial generation is very interested in personalization and artisan makers,” she says. Her documentary “Men of the Cloth” is about three Italian master tailors who are devoted to their craft. “I’m amazed at how many young people—even students—are interested in my movie. But they want to consume products that reflect their value system. It’s not about status labels. They’re looking for products that have an intrinsic status.”

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In general, what is your favorite fiber or fabric to wear?

Consumers are drawn to cotton’s built-in features, with 9 out of 10 consumers describing it as comfortable (88 percent), soft (85 percent), good quality (85 percent), casual (83 percent), durable (82 percent) and natural (81 percent), according to Cotton Incorporated’s 2013 Environment Survey.

Online retailer Rue La La recently launched a cotton “takeover” on its site, wherein highly curated cotton items and editorial features were presented across the men’s, women’s, children’s and home categories.

Rue La La’s Robin Domeniconi, chief marketing officer, explains why the cotton immersion made sense for its members. “Whenever we think of cotton, we think of our favorite worn-in tees or a pair of perfectly-fitting jeans—all things that inspire confidence,” she says. “Every day at Rue La La, we encourage our members to be confident in their personal style and be inspired by the new stores. Cotton is such a classic and versatile fabric, and we’re excited to share the reasons why we love it and the different ways in which cotton can be incorporated into our member’s wardrobes and homes.”

Domeniconi’s remarks reflect the research that led to cotton’s new ad campaign. The Lifestyle Monitor data shows 69 percent of people say their favorite piece of clothing is at least 60 percent cotton. The top favorites are jeans (29 percent), T-shirts (15 percent), active bottoms (9 percent) and casual pants (8 percent). Shoppers said these particular items were their favorites due to comfort (78 percent), fit (62 percent) and the item makes them look or feel good (14 percent). Consumers also say they’ve owned their favorite cotton or cotton-rich pieces for, on average, three years. And 70 percent wear these items once a week or more.

E-commerce brand Zady was launched by founders Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat in 2013 as an alternative to fast fashion. The goal, Darabi has said, is to be “an honest brand of product made to last.” She said a customer might look at a beautiful T-shirt on the site and wonder why it costs $65. She stressed consumers who purchase from the site can feel confident that among other things, the product was made with the best quality materials.

“When you look at an item, you have to be cost aware,” she stated. “You have to ask, ‘Is it made to last, timeless in nature, and can I pair it with many other things in my wardrobe?’ Clothing is an investment.”

Millennials and Quality

When it comes to buying new clothes, 46 percent of consumers will pay more for better quality, according to the Monitor survey, a number that increases to 58 percent among those ages 25–34. Additionally, 54 percent of all consumers are willing to pay more for a natural fiber like cotton.

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Vasilopolous says better quality is what has kept businesses like the master tailors of her documentary in business for so many decades. And it’s something retailers should consider when looking to retain customers who are becoming less brand loyal.

“Their business is reliant on delivering a superior product and experience. That’s what’s at the heart of it,” she says of the master tailors. “When someone comes to them, it’s a collaboration. Their business is based on word of mouth essentially, and so their clients come to them through existing clients. They don’t have to advertise. It would never occur to them to do so. If the client is happy, word of their business just spreads and it’s organic fashion.”

Millennials in particular rely on the good word of friends and family before they make a purchase. In a recent study by Elite Daily and Millennial Branding titled “The Millennial Consumer,” research showed young consumers don’t trust traditional media and advertising and are looking for opinions from their friends (37 percent), parents (36 percent) and online experts (17 percent) before making a purchase. Just 1 percent of millennials surveyed said a compelling ad would make them trust a brand.

In addition, “The Millennial Consumer” study found product quality and a good customer experience are crucial to earning brand loyalty. The survey says 60 percent of consumers are “often or always loyal” to brands they currently purchase. And 48 percent said product quality is the most important attribute they check for before they decide what to purchase, which is more than twice that of price (21 percent). When asked about what influences them to share information about a brand online,
39 percent said “a quality product.”

Meanwhile, since so many manmade fibers are mimicking cotton in look and feel, the new cotton campaign ads also aim to remind shoppers to check the tag for fiber content before purchasing new clothes.

Just under half of all consumers (47 percent) say they “always or usually check” fiber content labels before buying apparel, the Monitor survey shows.

“So before you buy, check the label for cotton,” Hendee says. “Make sure the next thing you buy has a chance to be your new favorite.”

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