For the better part of 15 years, the public and retailers have enjoyed a relatively stable price on clothing.
That, however, is going to change as the cost of cotton has been jumping, causing the prices retailers pay manufacturers also to jump. Eventually, shoppers may be feeling the same pain, although area retailers say they haven't raised prices ... yet.
"Unfortunately I'll have to pass that on to the customer," said Joe Gillis, owner of Dunday's clothing store on North Main Street in Gloversville. "I'll absorb a little bit of it so there isn't sticker shock."
Joe Gillis, owner of Dunday’s clothing store in Gloversville, hangs cotton slacks on a rack at his store on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Joe Gillis, owner of Dunday’s store in Gloversville, folds jeans on a counter at the store Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Cotton has more than doubled in price over the past year, hitting all-time highs. The price of other synthetic fabrics has jumped roughly 50 percent as demand for alternatives and blends has risen.
Gillis said the price he pays for Levi's jeans has risen 20 percent, and Jockey underwear has increased its prices by about 10 percent. He also said Haggar, Dockers and dress-shirt companies also have sent him notice that they are going to raise their prices.
Some raised prices Jan. 1, and others will wait for April 1.
"I have not increased prices yet, but I will be increasing as of April 1," Gillis said. "But instead of raising [Levi's] $5 or $6 a pair, and try to transition into what it should be [over time]."
Nick DiGiacomo, who manages Creative Tees in Mayfield with his wife, owner Peggy DiGiacomo, said prices started rising last summer. He said they've seen a 3 to 5 percent increase from suppliers each month.
"Obviously, we have to increase our prices if costs go up," DiGiacomo said. "We try to keep prices down, but you can't absorb all these increases that are coming down from cotton."
Cotton prices began soaring in August of 2010, around the time DiGiacomo said he started seeing increases, after bad weather cut harvests in major producing countries, including China, the U.S., Pakistan and Australia.
Cotton has jumped to a 150-year-high, hitting $1.90 per pound on Feb. 11. That's more than double the price a year ago and just ahead of the $1.89 record set during the Civil War, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee. But the Civil War-era price isn't adjusted for inflation, and the cotton group says it doesn't have an adjusted figure available. The government inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, but at that point, $1.89 had the same general power buying power as $41.63 does today.
Mom-and-pop stores are most vulnerable because they have less power to negotiate better prices with suppliers than, say, Walmart Stores Inc. But even the world's largest retailer is feeling the pressure.
"There's no doubt there may be some price increases that come up, but we don't want to ever let that be the first answer ... that just because cotton prices are up, that we're automatically going to pass that on to consumers," said Mike Duke, Walmart's chief executive officer and president.
However, both Gillis and DiGiacomo said they expect the prices to stay where they are.
"I've been around long enough to know when a price increase goes into effect, it doesn't go away," Gillis said. "It's something we'll have to live with going forward."
"According to our suppliers, cotton is in long demand and short supply," DiGiacomo said. "They don't see any end to the increases for now. Hopefully, it levels out."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Mike Zummo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.