Will Cotton-Eye Joe Catch the Denim Blues?

A farm laborer works at a cotton factory in Korla city, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China.
Getty Images
A farm laborer works at a cotton factory in Korla city, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China.

The fabric of our lives may start to feel like burlap.

Your favorite brands and styles could start feeling…. irregular.


As if rising oil prices weren't enough, cotton is on a tear.

Commodities Trader Lincoln Ellis of the Linn Group said, "You have this phenomenon where cotton futures are breaking these all time highs."

This week, Oppenheimer & Co. cut shares of Bed Bath & Beyond to "perform" from "outperform" due to cotton issues.

Levi Strauss & Co, Brooks Brothers, Nike, Wrangler Jeans maker VF Corp and Polo Ralph Lauren have already increased prices on selective apparel. The reason: the price of cotton.

To offset the higher costs, there's speculation that clothing manufacturers and retailers will begin to cut corners—a move that could leave Cotton-Eye Joe asking where did these jeans come from, where did they go?

"I can't wait to see the jeans for fall of this year. Might be much less cotton. Jeans that feel like cardboard after one wash," said Brian Sozzi, Wall Street Strategies Equity Research Analyst.

According to The Cotton Row Journal, a typical pair of jeans run about two to three pounds. But, cheaper ones may run 1.5 pounds.

Those numbers could be about to change.

Cotton Trader Rogers Varner, writer and analyst at The Cotton Row Journal, said there are 200 kinds of synthetics that are half the cost of cotton.

"Mills are getting into this cotton now that's a buck fifty or higher and a lot of them can't make it work. It puts their profit ratios in the red. So, they have to use a higher blend of synthetics or cut out cotton altogether," said Varner. "Or, they have to see if buyers will accept higher prices. That will be hard to do. Places like Wal-Mart and Abercrombie are fighting these prices."

Does this mean your next pair of jeans could be made with a blend of 40 percent cotton, 20 percent recycled rubber, 20 percent polyester, 15 percent rayon and 5 percent spit?

Not quite.

If retailers and manufacturers sacrifice something, it'll likely be thread count.

According to a New York Magazine article earlier this year, it's the thread count that matters. The higher the count, the stronger the fabric. For example, Levi's jeans have 78 warp yarns by 58 filling yarns per inch. Acne jeans have 74 warp yarns by 51 filling yarns per inch.

As for the love it or hate it jegging fashion trend, no word on how much cotton it takes to make a quality pair. It's like asking how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. The world may never know.

Stephanie is Squawk Box producer and senior NetNet retail correspondent. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman

Companies mentioned in this post

Bed, Bath & Beyond

Levi Strauss & Co


VF Corp

Polo Ralph Lauren


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