TAKING AN ACTIVE INTEREST IN INNERWEAR

Byline: M. McN.

NEW YORK--Once a business built primarily on basic nylon or cotton, innerwear fabrics are taking on a whole new look, through novelties, textures and prints, according to mill executives.
The shift in the market to more varied fabrics has been going on gradually for several years. It became particularly noticeable over the past year, however, as firms in the increasingly competitive activewear and ready-to-wear areas began to target innerwear as a means to increase sales.
Many of the same types of fibers that are rooted in activewear applications are also used in intimate apparel. Textile executives said different treatments for nylon and cotton, particularly in texturizing, and the growing use of polyester and spandex for innerwear, have provided more options for intimate apparel makers and given the market a general lift.
Lida Inc., a vertically integrated converter that has built its business primarily on activewear and swimwear fabrics, has beefed up its offerings of bra and panty fabrics, primarily using blends of cotton and Lycra spandex. The firm also is printing on satin.
"It's not the biggest part of our business now, but one that is expanding and one that we are focusing more attention on," said Isaac Kier, chairman and chief executive officer of Lida. Roughly $10 million of Lida's $86.6 million in sales in 1994 was derived from intimate apparel fabrics.
"In 1993, we did a little more than $5 million in that category," Kier said.
Much interest can be generated in the intimate apparel market "through a novel look or feel," said Marvin Moster, president of Claridge Knits, primarily a supplier of fabric to the rtw market. Claridge's focus is on panty, camisole and robe fabrics, mostly in cotton and blends of cotton and nylon and cotton and polyester.
"The intimate apparel market is quite different from activewear or ready-to-wear," Moster said. "While we are battling imports in all the markets, this is one where, if you stay close to the market in terms of consumer preferences and can get products to manufacturers quickly, a company can do all right. It's a market based on emotional purchases."
Guilford Mills, one of the larger players in the activewear, rtw and swimwear fabrics game, is generating increased sales from three key innerwear categories: shapewear, robewear and sleepwear fabrics. "We're seeing novelty, softer looks taking shape for this year," said Edward Feldman, Guilford's vice president, intimate apparel. "The category, however, is a cyclical one. You have to really stay close to the market to know when certain looks are in and a specific style is getting too common."
"Narrow woven elastics sales, particularly in nylon, Lycra, cotton, cotton blends and polyester, are up," said James Robbins, executive vice president and general manager of Elastic Fabrics of America and United Elastic, both divisions of CMI Industries. The elastics are used primarily in waistbands and legbands.
Robbins said the key reason for the increase has been "a renewed interest in the intimate apparel fabrics market."
"More domestic players are producing better-looking and better-performing fabrics," he added.
Henry Warshow, president and ceo of H. Warshow & Sons, a longtime supplier of fabrics to the innerwear market, said, "The intimate apparel industry, right now, is one of the healthier ones in this business. Everyone is concentrating on bringing something different to the table. That's what's going to keep this market strong."
Warshow is a key source of woven and knitted stretch fabrics, including tricots and raschel laces. Primary fibers in its offerings include Lycra, Supplex nylon, polyester and blends of nylon and polyester and nylon and Lycra.

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