By and  on September 21, 2010

PARIS — The European textile industry is at a possible crisis point.

Executives and fabric specialists attending the Première Vision trade show here last week were alarmed about the potentially devastating repercussions of surging raw materials costs.

The bustling three-day event, which focused on the fall-winter 2011-12 season, ended Sept. 16 at the Parc d’Expositions, capping a week in which the Texworld fair took place from Sept. 13 to 16 at Le Bourget.

Between June and August, cotton prices increased an average of 45 percent on a like-for-like basis, according to a report by France’s Union of Textile Industries, affecting the entire textile chain. Silk prices have climbed 30 percent in the past 18 months, and wool prices are up 40 percent since mid-2009, PV exhibitors said.

Lucien Deveaux, president of UTI, who also is president of textile giant Deveaux SA, said the industry was at risk of being “strangled from the inside.”

Key issues include China’s enormous financial capacity for buying raw materials, export restrictions imposed by key cotton producing countries and an imbalance in supply and demand because of a contraction in global cotton supplies and an increase in consumption as economic conditions improved.

China in 2009 consumed about 40 percent of the world’s cotton production, according to the UTI report.

“The big danger is that countries like Pakistan want to impose taxes in order to keep raw materials for themselves and we’re at risk of falling to a monopoly similar to that of the OPEC for the petrol industry, with all of the disorganization that it imposed on the world’s markets,” Deveaux said. “[Such factors] could potentially [destroy] the textiles industry in Europe…which would not be able to sustain itself within that system. We are trying to motivate everybody not to give in.”

Despite lacking a clear road on future economic conditions, mills said they were in recovery. Some firms reported strong business, such as tweed specialist Malhia Kent, which has doubled sales in the past year. The house presented a Nordic-inspired collection.

Although their budgets were flat, buyers at PV liked what they saw but reported price increases of as much as 20 percent.

“It’s a major issue,” Michelle Don, product developer at Levi’s XX, said of pricing. “With everything that’s going on around the world economically, you don’t want to have to push it on to the final consumer. The question is: Do you absorb it or pass it on?”

Anne Marie Maxsween, a fabric buyer for Nicole Farhi, said, “Prices have gone up quite dramatically, which means we perhaps can’t get as much cashmere as usual.”

Pamela Gureghian-Toth, senior fabric, trim and hardware manager of wearables at Coach Inc., said her key finds included a wool-and-mohair blend with a hint of shimmer by Japan’s Chigasaki Woolen Spinning & Weaving Co.

Some mills incorporated more affordable price ranges in their offerings.

“We’ve tried to accommodate the changes to advantage the customer, [adapting] weights, blends and constructions,” said Robert Stuart, manager fabric design and quality control at Woolrich, which presented new brightly hued spins on heritage designs.

Giovanni Turchet, president of Gentili, said, “They want to drink Champagne but pay the price of a Sprite. We’re forced to reinvent the quality, offer alternatives with the same image and flavor [as luxury fabrics] but using a different composition.”

Exhibitors at Texworld said customers were seeking out more blends in order to keep down their costs.

“The cotton crop was very bad this year,” said Ajay Joshi, marketing manager (exports) at Indian manufacturer BSL Suitings. “Instead of people buying 100 percent cotton, they’ve started buying 50 percent cotton, 50 percent polyester. So the pressure has spread to polyester. It’s a domino effect.”

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