By  on December 6, 1994

NEW YORK -- The last few months were fairly good ones for many in the textile business, but executives said there remains a bit of uncertainty about 1995 and how robust any growth will be.

Raw-materials costs are rising. Imports of textiles and apparel are still increasing. And, as always, there are the unpredictable shifts in fashion, which put a damper on the print business for most of 1994. Executives also said that the North American Free Trade Agreement and the newly ratified GATT will mean intensified global competition.

However, the industry's spirits are being heightened by several factors:

Continued strength in the two leading apparel fibers -- cotton and polyester -- despite the rising cost of both.

The popularity of novelty fabrics, both in knits and wovens, giving all fibers increased business. Denim continues to be one of the particularly hot markets (see separate story, page 22).

Signs of a pickup in the print market, which could call for increased rayon and polyester consumption.

Employment in the U.S. textile industry is on the rise. According to government figures, the industry in November gained a seasonally adjusted 3,000 jobs compared with October. Textile-industry employment was 674,000 in November compared with 671,000 a year ago. l In October, new orders for textiles surpassed textile shipments for the first time in this year. Shipments in October were $6.27 billion, while new orders hit $6.54 billion.

"These figures indicate the market is strengthening after a lull in summer business," said Dave Link, economist with the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. "The fact that unfilled orders also rose shows we're building a backlog for the future and that the industry is strengthening."

Man-made fiber producers said they expect to be sold through for at least the first half of 1995 domestically. Even the international markets, once considered problematic, are improving, they said. Among the natural fibers, cotton continues to gain market share.

The rising cost of wool, despite hampering some mills, is helping growers in Australia, who last year at this time, were complaining they weren't making enough money to sustain themselves and threatening to leave the business, which would eventually affect supplies.

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