FALL STORY: SHINE, TEXTURE AND RISING COSTS

Byline: Karyn Monget and Michael McNamara

NEW YORK--The innerwear fabrics market is active these days, sparked by continuing demand for such key trends as novelty textures, body tones and shine. The one dim note is the surging cost of raw materials.
In response, fiber prices are shooting up, and fabric prices are edging up. Fabric firms say they can't come near to covering their increased costs, and some fiber suppliers have the same complaint, despite price hikes.
Hence, margins continue to shrink. Climbing raw materials costs for key man-made fibers have resulted in a series of hikes in the last five months:
Nylon has had two price hikes since Jan. 1.
Polyester, which has also seen two increases this year, may have another one later this year. Executives said glycol and terapthalic acid, two key ingredients in polyester production, continue to be tight worldwide.
Spandex, has not yet been hit with price increases, but it could join the group. The three domestic spandex producers--DuPont, Globe Manufacturing and Bayer--have all invested millions of dollars to increase domestic production capacity.
"We're getting killed right now by the price of raw materials," said Robert Bailey, executive vice president of sales at Globe. "I can't say when and if we're going to raise spandex prices, but, like everyone else, we're keeping a constant eye on the situation."
"It's a worldwide phenomenon," said Bill Howland, AlliedSignal's director of marketing for textile fibers. "Caprolactam [the chief ingredient in nylon production] is near an all-time high in price. But the trouble is, there isn't that much new capacity for raw materials coming on-stream. It's very expensive to build those plants."
Still, despite higher prices, executives said business remains strong, primarily in blends of nylon and spandex.
Tristine Berry, merchandise manager at BASF, said, "The demand for satins continues, mainly Shimmereen [BASF's trademarked fine denier bright nylon used primarily in satin stretch construction with spandex] because it's smooth, it gives clean lines and it's beautiful when you're in it."
For spring, Berry said, "Everybody is looking at the nylon and Lycra [spandex] iced fabrics that have the sparkly glitter seen so much right now in accessories and ready-to-wear."
Regarding the ongoing demand for shine--a hot commodity in foundations and daywear for two years--Berry said, "Shimmereen hasn't tapered off, and I'm surprised."
The demand is intense, she said; foundations departments at some key stores were "out of stock" on bustiers and corsets in May.
"All of the kids were buying the bustiers and corsets to wear to proms," she said.
Berry also singled out a "new interest" by retailers in sophisticated matte four-way stretch knits that offer consumers an alternative to shiny looks.
"Victoria's Secret is doing the knits in lighter-weight constructions in foundations and a bodysuit," said Berry. "They're calling the look Body Blushers."
Body Blushers colors are soft pastels and a variety of body tones.
"Generic nylon is doing very well in all end uses, including intimate apparel, to the degree that we're at capacity," said a spokeswoman for DuPont's nylon business.
"There's also more demand for blends of nylon and Lycra spandex and Micromattique [polyester] and Lycra," the spokeswoman said.
She added that Sara Lee Foundations, which produces Wonderbra, has had "very good retail reaction" to a new Wonderbra offering in heat-transferred prints with coordinating panties of Micromattique, nylon and Lycra.
Deliveries of Wonderbra for June will include a floral print; in July there will be a leopard print and in August, a plaid print, she said.
The spokeswoman further noted that Vanity Fair Mills is "doing a very good job" with Micromattique in a line of bodyliners by Vanity Fair.
"Consumer response has been strong for spring, and it continues to be strong," the DuPont spokeswoman said.
In other trends for fall, Kim Enfield, fashion development coordinator for intimate apparel at Guilford Mills Inc., said manufacturers were showing a lot of interest in fabrics from the swimwear field, "especially denim looks, which can cross over into intimate apparel."
Enfield also noted, "There's a lot of surface interest for fall, such as matte piquAs."
"But the biggest thing happening for fall will be shine. We are continually getting requests for microdenier blends," she said.

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