By  on January 23, 2012

NEW YORK — A new world order is shaping up for apparel and textile manufacturers.

On the floors and in seminars at Texworld USA and Première Vision Preview here this month, where exhibitors were showing their spring 2013 fabric collections, executives stressed the importance of understanding the evolution of their industry in order to survive in a complicated and difficult climate. This includes devising a sustainability strategy that serves the environment and the public, but also results in better materials and cost savings, as well as a balanced sourcing plan that takes into account the strengths of countries and regions across the globe, such as rising costs in China and increased interest in manufacturing in the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere.

Exhibitors at PV Preview were looking to exports as a panacea, given the turmoil in Europe’s economy.

“Business is better in the U.S. than in Europe right now, but it wasn’t too long ago that was the reverse,” said Philippe Pasquet, chief executive officer of Première Vision. “I’m glad Première Vision focuses on added-value product, because with crisis after crisis, there’s no way to escape in the lower end of the market. You need creativity and innovation and that’s what Première Vision is all about. In this second phase of the financial crisis, the environment in Europe is really adverse and people are really trying to focus on the better end of the market.”

Cristina Knaus, whose Grupo Textil is the East Coast U.S. sales agent for French lace firm Sophie Hallette, said the weakening of the euro had helped U.S. sales, because when the exchange rate was favoring the euro over the dollar in recent years, at times it made the firm’s Leavers lace too expensive for the American market.

Sandrine Bernard, executive vice president of Solstiss USA, said even though the European economy has been troubled, Solstiss only does 5 percent of its business in its home country of France, and exports a high percentage of its goods to the U.S., Italy, Hong Kong and Mexico, which have generally seen stronger economic conditions of late, with the exception of Italy.

“Without 95 percent of our sales coming from abroad, we wouldn’t have a strong business,” Bernard said.

But Pasquet said this strategy doesn’t work for all companies.

“If you want to really establish a good business in a country, you have to invest for several seasons, and you can’t expect to have the exchange rate stay the same in the long term,” he said. “You have to be very strategic. Yes, the U.S. is doing better, China’s potential is huge, but you have to think long term. We have mostly small to medium-size companies in our business. In order to make a good business, you have to be very focused on the global market, but not all companies have the means and tools to do so.”

Pasquet noted that at a previous edition of the show in July, the problem for everybody was the high cost of raw materials.

“Today, the problem is consumption and the exchange rate,” he added. “You have to take that into account because the margins are not so big that you can swallow it. We are going to have slow demand for many years because of the economic problems. You have to repay the debt. It will take two or three years, and we will pay for it with a slow economy.”

Ioana Banu, director of sales for Liberty Art Fabrics North America, said spring is the strongest season for Liberty, and that business at the show and overall has been strong.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in business since we opened our own office” last spring, she said. “For the most part, we’ve grown our business with existing customers — high-end luxury brands here. Some weren’t aware of the services and special projects we offer.”

Texworld USA showcased 162 exhibitors from 14 countries, with a 10.8 percent increase over January 2011.

Much discussion at the show was how the concepts and methods of fiber, fabric and apparel production are changing and inspired by the need to be more efficient and environmentally conscious.

Manon Clavel, USA regional manager for Jeanologia, said, “We’re creating technologies to reduce the human and environmental impact of making jeans and to reduce costs.”

Clavel said the 5 billion pairs of jeans made each year result in 2 million people being exposed to dangerous industrial practices. She said 18.5 gallons of water are used for each pair of jeans, translating into 925 billion gallons of water used annually.

Jeanologia’s answer to that has been the creation of a laser-finishing process that eliminates the need for manual scraping and sandblasting to achieve stylistic effects on jeans. Jeanologia also makes G2 washing machines that use oxygen and ozone instead of water in the washing process.

Clavel added, “Both methods reduce water, energy and chemical usage. It does not cost more to produce more responsibly.”

Ramôn Riós Quintana, commercial manager for Spanish textile mill Textil Santanderina, said, “For us, the future is a combination of sustainability, innovation and always being cost-effective. We believe in having a smaller carbon footprint. We’re located on the Green Coast of Spain, and we aim to keep that name for the future.”

Quintana said the company’s ongoing objectives are improving its processes and safety conditions, and minimizing energy consumption and water usage, noting that Santanderina has invested 2 million euros, or $2.6 million at current exchange, to improve the ecosystem where it manufactures. The mill’s Eco-Sandye dyeing process, for example, reduces water and energy usage, while allowing for better coloring of fabrics such as Tencel using Clariant biodegradable colorants.

Marina Cronja, project manager for Lenzing’s textile and fiber business unit, talked about Modal Edelweiss, which she said, “Marks the absolute peak of environmental textile manufacturing by using only oxygen chemistry. It is chlorine-free throughout the process, and uses sustainable and ecological dye stuffs and auxiliaries.” With a base of beech wood that’s used throughout Lenzing cellulosic fibers Tencel, Modal and viscose, it is also sustainable through natural growth, she noted.

Scott Brix, global marketing director at the Genencor unit of DuPont, focused on the use of enzymes as a tool for sustainable textile dyeing.

“At DuPont, we’re producing a new generation of enzymes that can aid in the delivery of green chemistry,” said Brix, noting that DuPont’s Sorona fiber used to be petrochemical based but is now made, in part, with corn. “What’s driving this innovation is that in the textile industry we use upwards of 9 trillion liters of fresh water every year to produce 60 billion kilos of fabric. The Holy Grail of the full enzymic process is bleaching. If you took all of the cotton and fabric that was bleached in the world in 2008, 26 million metric tons, and did it enzymatically instead of with peroxide and alkaline, you would have the potential… to provide fresh water for every human on earth…for a year.”

D. Craig White, Americas head of brand and retail marketing for apparel at Huntsman Textile Effects, noted that Huntsman’s new Avitera SE dyeing system for cellulosic fibers reduces water usage and increases dye consumption.

“More dye goes into the fabric and less goes down the drain and into the effluent system,” he said.

He said in the first quarter Huntsman is introducing the next phase of Avitera to be used in the deep and light shade ends of the color spectrum.

The change in buying habits since the Great Recession to closer to the season and better quality, and the rising labor and material costs in China, have resulted in a revival in interest in U.S. manufacturing.

Kelly Wilson, sales representative for converter Laguna Fabrics, said, “We knit and dye everything in Los Angeles and ship here and all over the world. The benefits of being local is customer service, something really quick and often something custom. I can visit someone within minutes of them calling me, e-mailing me or texting me. We can have sample yardage within a day. We can do a development with them within weeks and production within the same amount of time. We stock yarns, which cuts our lead times down dramatically. We even stock gray goods so we have fabric ready to dye.”

David Sasso, vice president of international sales and marketing for Buhler Quality Yarns Corp., said while his company, based in Jefferson, Ga., is the only spinner of Supima, Micro Modal and Micro Tencel yarns in the U.S., “that doesn’t mean we don’t have competition. The way we look at things is that we compete with a garment.

“When it comes to specialty yarns, these are things that require a little bit more attention,” Sasso said. “One of the things it gives to the final customer, the brand, is a sense of transparency, that they know where the fiber comes from.”

Brian Meck, vice president of sales and marketing at Fessler USA, a knit apparel manufacturer based in Orwigsburg, Pa., said, “It’s very important for our customers to be able to present new fabrics, new styles, new ideas to their customers on a regular basis. So it comes down to speed to market. From the time we can take a creative concept and put product on the shelf is three months. When you compare that to doing business internationally, it gives us a very strong competitive advantage.”

Meck said stock replenishment is also key.

“It’s not unusual for customers to come to us on a daily or weekly basis and change around their delivery dates for different styles,” Meck said. “If it’s on the cutting table and it’s not cut yet, we will stop and wait until we have that discussion and make a different style out of that fabric.”

Munir Mashooqullah, president and founder of Synergies Worldwide, presenting a global perspective on sourcing, said after last year’s surge in raw material prices — notably cotton and polyester — resulted in lower quality of fabric for fall and holiday, there is now raw material price stability.

“The general feeling is that companies are now trying to get back to better quality fabric,” he said.

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