CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Finding strategies to help the U.S. hosiery industry compete and survive against growing global competition was the theme of“Hosiery World,” the daylong international hosiery conference that preceded the three-day International Hosiery Exhibition show last month at the Charlotte Convention Center.

With a record conference attendance of nearly 450 key domestic and global hosiery executives, speakers outlined changes occurring in the hosiery industry in recent years, including the dramatic increase in exports of hosiery from China to the U.S.

Speakers at the conference said the U.S. industry must do a number of things to keep business competitive, such as:

  • Focus on quicker turnaround in supplying the needs of retailers and consumers.

  • Increase research and development efforts for new yarns and fibers.

  • Initiate new automation technologies and equipment to produce more innovative types of hosiery.

  • Maintain the highest levels of quality control in all price ranges.

    According to information provided by Neil Hightower, vice president at consulting firm Werner International, China was the largest producer of global hosiery in 2001, and now holds 30 percent of the world’s market share. In terms of global consumption, Europe was the largest market, accounting for 33.7 percent, while the U.S. came in second at 21.5 percent. Sara Lee Corp. and Kayser-Roth, which is owned by Golden Lady of Italy, supply more than 70 percent of the U.S. market, he noted.

    Hightower’s research also showed that imports of socks to the U.S. have been growing at a faster rate than sheer hosiery and tights, which have fallen in the last two years. He noted that Mexico and South Korea remain the largest suppliers, although Mexico is losing market share.

    Bill Sheely, executive vice president operations at Gold Toe Brands, Burlington, N.C., emphasized the importance of speed and universal standards in production.

    Marshall Cohen, co-president at NPDFashionworld, Port Washington, N.Y., described the complexity of the new consumer rules governing hosiery that are focused on value at all retailing and price levels, while David Spooner, the U.S. chief textile negotiator, reviewed current and proposed global hosiery trade issues, including the recent signing of a Singapore trade agreement, with negotiations under way for similar agreements in Morocco, Australia and five countries in South Africa.Closing out the daylong conference, a panel of six leading global hosiery executives agreed the industry is changing at unprecedented speed, generated in part by increased competition, the entrance of new suppliers and new equipment technologies, as well as changing consumers demands.

    They discussed supply flexibility, quality controls, product development and market research addressing consumer demands as factors in who survives globally in the coming decade.

    Meanwhile, attendees at the IHE said development of new fibers, yarns, knitting techniques and more automated quality assured equipment could be major catalysts helping the U.S. hosiery industry compete in coming decades.

    Once considered in danger of being eliminated, the U.S.-based equipment-products show held every four years for the industry drew a large crowd this year and THA’s board has begun developing plans for the next show in Charlotte in 2007, according to incoming chairman Charles E. Cole, president and chief executive officer at Alabama Footwear Inc., Fort Payne, Ala.

    Among the new products on display were “Energizing Socks” from DuPont that feature a new generation of Lycra spandex knitted with graduated compression and DuPont’s T-403 elastic fiber used in place of textured nylon and polyester yarns in socks.

    Drawing considerable attention from retailers and suppliers was DuPont’s demonstration of its new Lycra BrandScan equipment. It’s designed to protect the Lycra brand.

    Bayer Polymers introduced new hosiery waistband technology, while Hyosung America Inc. debuted Creora Sheer hosiery designed to eliminate odor-causing germs.

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