It's not enough these days to provide a comfortable and fashionable product at a reasonable price – consumers increasingly want to know the product's story too.

That was the primary message delivered by panellists during the third open session of the 74th Plenary Meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), in Mumbai, India this week.

Speaking in the session on 'Demand for Cotton: the Views of Retailers,' Pascal Brun, global supply chain manager for H&M, explained: "Our customers love everything about cotton. However, their concerns about sustainability are not going to go away. People want to know the story behind the products they buy: what they are made of, where they come from, and what impact they have on the environment."

Pramod Singh, cotton leader at IKEA, agreed. "Retailers need to be able to tell that story or the customers will go to someone who can," he said. "Being able to talk about sustainability isn't enough to gain customers, but not being able to talk about sustainability is enough to lose them."

Prem Malik, a partner with Techware Consultants, added: "Price and functionality are the primary drivers of consumer demand and will be for the foreseeable future, but sustainability is steadily growing in importance for buyers."

The panellists advised that ultimately, all stakeholders in the cotton value chain have a role to play when it comes to increasing transparency and traceability.

However, the focus shouldn't be 100% internal because inviting the end consumer to be active participants in the process could pay big dividends in the long run.

"The cotton industry needs to take advantage of consumers' hunger for knowledge by involving them in the sustainability movement," Brun said.

"For example, educating consumers about the benefits of recycling their clothing and textiles is not only beneficial for the environment, it makes people feel good when they purchase products made from cotton."