Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mothballs...Who uses them anyway?

I was walking home from work the other day and I smelled the distinct odor of mothballs. I knew the odor because I would randomly find them when I played in the closets as a kid.

There was an older couple walking in front of me so I wondered was it their clothing?

Who uses mothballs anymore, anyway?

So I decided to look into it.

Checking online, I found there were a slew of mothball suppliers and manufacturers mostly in Mainland China Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and only one in the United States.

My mother told me the mothballs were used to prevent moths from eating your wool clothing and that I should leave them where I found them. “Anthony, they are poisonous. Don’t touch them!” my mother would say as I held one and gazed at its snowball-like appearance in wonder.

Then I wondered if there were enough wool sweaters, coats and whatnot around to justify stinky mothballs. I also wondered what kinds of moths eat wool – was it all species? Are they around only in warm months? Are they in Richmond or did the state pest control authority wipe them out? What’s the real story here?

So why am I thinking so much about mothballs, wool and bugs?

This process of observing, what ifs, and discovery is what I live and breathe everyday as a digital market analyst – it’s my analytical mindset. This relentless curiosity is as addictive as wool is to moths.

I go about observing a client’s brand and customers with research into digital, social, and traditional media, sales data and Internet presence using a variety of data mining and optimization tools.

Then I ask questions about what the data is telling me and create what ifs based on what I find in the data. (Does anyone use mothballs anymore? Do people still buy wool clothing?)

Then I confirm or throw out the what ifs based on more in-depth research.

This new approach enables me to look at the various data sources, connect the dots and determine how each affects each other for deeper insights and better decision-making – a holistic analysis.

With all that said, I still had to know more about mothballs. I went to one of my most favorite sites, How Stuff Works where you can learn just that – how stuff works.

I found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires mothball manufacturers to include a warning on packaging to "avoid breathing in the vapors." Who would want to?

And there’s more from How Stuff Works,
“Studies on one active ingredient in some repellents, paradichlorobenzene, found that it can cause cancer in animals [source: EPA]. Although scientists do not know if it is also a human carcinogen, the animal trials provided sufficient evidence to urge people to handle them with caution. Other types of mothballs use naphthalene, which after prolonged exposure can damage or destroy red blood cells [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. The chemical can also stimulate nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.”

That’s one reason why there is only one mothball manufacturer/supplier in the US.
And guess what? Harmless cedar wood chips work just as well, according to How Stuff Works. I know that’s true because my mother had a cedar chest where she would store her wedding dress and other clothing items that were precious to her.

So I wondered if there is a strong demand for pure 100% wool clothing that makes you itch. With all the advances in better materials to keep you warm and dry like lighter Gortex, Polyester, Spandex, synthetic fleece and wool blends why would someone risk good money for a wool sweater that can be eaten by bugs?

Looking at Google Trends and based on the number of times wool clothing is searched, I found there was a downward trend starting in December 2010 through December 2012, meaning wool was losing its appeal. My hypothesis was right on so I thought.

Then I found in The Huffington Post that wool is now the hot fashion fabric for this Spring’s outdoor clothing, according to exhibitors at the world's largest expo for outdoor equipment and apparel, The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market held in Salt Lake City this January.

“Wool was rubbed out by fleece decades ago, but many exhibitors said it's back without the itch, still warm and quick to dry and it doesn't hold body odors, a big drawback of fleece,” the article said.

The Guardian/The Observer, UK’s leading newspaper, reported last fall that, “After years of decline, the British wool industry is making a comeback thanks, in part, to luxury fashion's newfound love of suits, formalwear and knitwear.” Other publications reported the same news.

So what is the takeaway here? You may want to watch the wool markets for upcoming sales and investment opportunities.  You may also want to replace any mothballs in your closets or drawers with cedar chips.

All that from just the smell of mothballs one afternoon after work.