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Cotton Shortage Could Drive Up Clothing Prices

BOSTON (CBS) - Anyone who has been out holiday shopping knows there are some great deals on clothing.

"I'm amazed at the sales right now," one enthusiastic shopper said.

However, experts say once the holidays are over, so are the deals.

The problem is the price of cotton. Bad weather last year in India, Pakistan and China destroyed thousands of acres of cotton fields which slashed the global cotton supply.

"Cotton is up 70 percent in the last year, which is phenomenal," explained Babson College Professor Peter Cohan.

Cotton is a staple in the fashion industry. Think about it, jeans, T-shirts and many sweaters are made of cotton.

According to Cohan, many manufacturers will have no choice but to pass that extra cost on to consumers.

"I think they're all going to raise their prices in the spring, because that's when China expects to raise their prices at least an additional 30 percent," Cohan said.

Some stores will be reluctant to significantly raise prices because they won't want to lose customers. But, chances are you'll notice a difference in a lot of the clothes you buy.

"The larger manufacturers will have to make up that money someplace," explained Boston fashion designer Sara Campbell. "It will come out of the zippers and buttons and trims, or it will come out of the fabric."

Campbell still plans to use high quality detailing in her pieces, but she said she may have to figure out a way to use less fabric, perhaps by using fewer pleats or folds.

Campbell is already feeling the pinch of the higher prices.

"I've already set my price to the person that's at the store in Wisconsin that is buying my blouse. I can't change the price," she said.

Strange as it sounds, some manufacturers are also looking at some alternatives, like bamboo. The versatile plant can be woven into fabric that looks and feels a lot like cotton, and right now, it's cheaper than cotton.

Others will add other materials to make cotton stretch.

"They'll use polycotton," Campbell said.

According to Cohan, these changes will mean consumers will have to be on their toes when they are shopping for clothes this year.

"Compare the quality of what you're buying to the quality of what they've bought before," he said.

That can be tough for those who shop online where there is no feeling fabrics or getting a close look at buttons or zippers.

The bottom line is if there's something you need, you may want to buy it now. This doesn't just have an impact on clothing. Sheets, towels, tablecloths and anything made of cotton could have a higher price tag this year.

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