THE PRICE of clothes is set to soar this summer after bad weather ruined the cotton harvest round the world.
With customers used to paying low prices, manufacturers and shops have, until now, absorbed the rise in raw material costs. Now, however, market prices have hit their highest level since the American Civil War.
Farmers slashed cotton production during the 2008 financial crisis when prices fell from $0.75 per pound to just $0.40.
But as demand for cotton outstripped supply, prices started to rise again. Farmers switched back, only to be hit by floods across Pakistan, India and Australia.
Cotton has now risen to $1.94 a pound, more than double last year. Prices have risen so high the New York Commodity Futures Trading Commission has stepped in to stop speculators driving it up further.
The commission said traders who want to hold significant numbers of contracts must prove an economic need for them.
While raw materials are a small part of the final cost (between eight and 20 per cent, or 40 per cent for a bed sheet), textile companies in France see the rises as inevitable.
Lucien Deveaux, of the textile industry federation UIT, said that the industry had had its back to the wall for some time, but prices would have to rise between three and 15 per cent.
Benoït Hacot, of luxury bedding company Hacot & Colombier and president of the cotton and wool industry federation FFILC, said that shops had created a massive demand for cheap cotton goods that could not now be met: "People are not prepared to pay more and sales will fall by about 10 per cent."
Clothes stores such as H&M are trying to find a way to cope with the increased prices on what they say is "the most important material in the textile industry". It said prices would inevitably rise; the difference would be how different companies handled the situation.
Another High Street retailer, C&A, is pointing to its use of organic cotton as a way to maintain its market share.
Others are switching to polyester and bamboo to cover for the lack of cotton, but prices are rising in other materials, too, with wool prices up 38 per cent over the past year, while the cost of silk has doubled.