By  on July 17, 2007

NEW YORK — With sales in the premium denim segment contracting, the select group of exhibitors displaying denim fabric and hardware at last week's Kingpins trade show here were focusing their attention on expanding services.

Olah Inc., a U.S. agent for foreign contract manufacturers and textile and hardware vendors targeting denim designers, organizes the show, which ran Wednesday and Thursday and was sponsored by Dow XLA. Exhibitors included Japanese textile mill Kurabo Industries, Argentinean rivet maker Apholos, Tunisian denim manufacturer Sartex and Brazilian corduroy vendor Suape Têxtil.

Sartex, a manufacturer that specializes in jeans and casual garments for brands such as Ralph Lauren, Carhartt and Timberland, has established itself in the European market and is looking to expand in the U.S. To do so, the company has partnered with Hannibal Apparel Development Services, or HADS, a new laundry and development facility that opened on the outskirts of Jersey City, N.J., in late February. At Kingpins, Sartex was touting its latest partnership with global dye and chemical giant DyStar.

"A designer in New York can now come to Hannibal Apparel Development and do their development using DyStar chemicals, which can be used anywhere around the world," said Frederic Guy, owner of HADS and a consultant for Sartex.

Designers and brand owners will be able to draw on DyStar's extensive network of production sites and subsidiaries located in every major producing region of the world, assuring them consistent results regardless of where they choose to manufacture their goods. DyStar has also introduced a package of environmentally friendly chemicals.

Suzanne Benfield, fashion director for DyStar's Boehme Filatex division, said designers and brand owners she spoke with at the show often believed that using eco-friendly fabrics and chemicals would limit the types of treatments they could use on a fabric. However, DyStar has found that using alternative chemicals or using a combination of chlorine with a more eco-friendly dye can greatly expand the potential range of colors produced from a base fabric. In some cases, DyStar has been able to reduce the amount of chlorine used by 75 percent.

Benfield said dark washes and clean styles would still be prevalent in the premium denim market. Coated denims are advancing and becoming more breathable, which should improve their popularity. Resin washes are also changing, Benfield said. Denim pieces treated with resin are typically baked, turning the fabric rigid and hard. New resins leave the fabric softer after the baking process.Takashi Mitani, a sales manager for Kurabo, said the company was introducing a new denim fabric that uses compact yarn. The yarn gives the fabric a harder look with a shine, but maintains a soft touch. Lightweight denims and Supima cotton were also popular, Mitani said.

Kurabo has seen significant declines in the premium denim segment, Mitani noted, but established brands such as Seven For All Mankind continue to grow.

Brad Mowry, Olah Inc.'s managing director for the West Coast, said he was also seeing brands increasingly look toward lighter-weight denim fabrics.

"Anywhere from seven to 10.5 ounces is probably the most popular request," Mowry said. "Even 12-ounce is seeming heavy."

While lighter fabrics may offer some discount for manufacturers, Mowry said he believed it was more a matter of giving consumers a comfortable garment.

Dante Magni, export manager for corduroy fabric maker Suape Têxtil in Brazil, said the company's Supima collection had been its strongest performer. However, Supima cotton has become a popular commodity, which has driven up the cost.

"There's no doubt it's a good cotton for yarn and not just for apparel," said Magni, noting that the fiber is also popular for the home goods market.

The threat from low-cost Asian manufacturers continues to present challenges to makers of higher-end fabrics, Magni noted.

"What everybody's feeling is the competition," Magni said. "People are coming into the market with cheap product and cheap quality."

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