NEW YORK -- Wrinkle-free fabrics, which have grown explosively in the men's wear market in the last two years, are now making headway in women's wear.
They are being used in dresses, sportswear and career wear, and while cotton continues to dominate the wrinkle-free business, blends -- including polyester and rayon -- are attracting attention, mill executives said.
While no exact figures are available, Galey & Lord is perceived by the industry as the largest supplier of wrinkle-free fabrics, which are now selling in all the company's sportswear, corduroy and uniform fabric segments.
"Continuing to develop additional wrinkle-free offerings for the women's wear market is one of the key challenges we've given to our merchants and product development people for this year," said Arthur C. Wiener, chairman and chief executive officer, at the firm's recent annual shareholders meeting.
Galey & Lord derives 75 percent of its men's wear sales from wrinkle-free fabrics, and about 14 percent of its women's wear business, up from 11 percent in October.
"We think in the June quarter our women's wear wrinkle-free business can increase to 30 percent," Wiener said.
Currently, all of Galey & Lord's wrinkle-free business is in 100 percent cotton, "but we are working on new things," Wiener said, declining to be more specific. Some of Galey & Lord's wrinkle-free fabrics are cotton twills and a cotton corduroy.
While men's wear still dominates Springs Industries' wrinkle-free business, the company said it is starting to see pockets of growth in women's wear, primarily in sportswear.
"It's still not the giant that it is in men's wear," said Len Fishman, Springs' division vice president of men's and women's sportswear fabrics. "Women are still more concerned with fashion, and wrinkle-free is really a function of performance.
"Still, as more women realize the fabric is resilient and will allow them to keep a smooth appearance, it will become more popular," Fishman said, adding that Springs' key customers are showing more interest in the wrinkle-free fabrics. He declined to identify those customers, or the percentage of its women's wear business the fabrics constitute.Springs is offering wrinkle-free fabrics in polyester and rayon and polyester, rayon and wool blends.
At Delta Mills, Jack Ferguson, vice president of merchandising, said the women's wrinkle-free cotton segment of the business has grown, "but not to the extent it has in men's wear."
"In women's wear, we're doing business with Lee, Eddie Haggar, Counterparts and Donnkenny," he said. "For certain customers, it will be a definite part of their line, but the majority of women's wear people hope it won't happen because then they have to buy ovens." David Borowka, president of the finished goods division of Reeves Bros., said he is upbeat about wrinkle-free fabrics, especially those made from cotton.
"In our overall cotton business, we expect to sell 80 percent of our production wrinkle-free as opposed to a 50-50 mix last year," he said. "Wrinkle-free has grown considerably. We're doing a variety of weights and weaves in 100 percent cotton. We're doing lightweights, such as 6-ounce plain weaves and twills aimed at the sportswear and shirt markets."
Women's wear fabrics make up 15 to 20 percent of Graniteville's wrinkle-free business, said Cindy Bellamy, corporate director of technical development.
She said that while the business "is still in its infancy" in the women's wear market, it is growing.
"Women today are career- and easy-care oriented," Bellamy said. "It is growing in women's wear, but it's still mainly a men's wear phenomenon."
Graniteville's wrinkle-free offerings for women are primarily in 7 1/2 and 8-ounce pantweights.
"Cotton right now is such a strong fiber in the women's wear market, and that's where we feel a lot of the wrinkle-free strength will be."
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