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Textile Firms Try to Reel in Consumers

NEW YORK — Consumers don’t see ads for Lycra and then roam the mall looking for cones of spandex.<br><br>But as more mills attempt to establish their own brands of nylon, spandex and polyester, getting the name into the minds of consumers...

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NEW YORK — Consumers don’t see ads for Lycra and then roam the mall looking for cones of spandex.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But as more mills attempt to establish their own brands of nylon, spandex and polyester, getting the name into the minds of consumers — whether it’s Lycra, Dacron or Sensil — is one of the basic tactics in textile marketing today.

Taking out an ad for a fiber doesn’t generally make an impression on the consumer if the relationship between the textile and garment isn’t spelled out, according to mill executives. So to make it click, mills are working with apparel firms to hit consumers repeatedly with visual images most commonly seen on hangtags, point-of-sale visuals and in advertisements.

It’s not a straightforward approach, however. In a car ad, for example, a photo of a new car prompts consumers to check it out, but a textile firm acts like a muffler maker promoting its product used in that car. The muffler, like high- quality spandex, is felt, not seen.

Nano-Tex LLC, a subsidiary of Burlington Industries Inc., develops nanotechnology enhancements to fabrics. Renee Hultin, executive vice president of marketing and business development, said the company’s marketing plan has evolved since it started marketing its moisture-control technology known as Nano-Dry and Nano-Care, its wrinkle- resistant, oil- and water-repellent technology, to mills more than three years ago. About a year ago, Hultin said the company began marketing directly to brands, to use nanotechnology in certain apparel categories. Now, she said, the company is taking it another step further and targeting retailers and their private label businesses.

“We feel that once we get the product to retail, we’ll begin a consumer campaign,” Hultin said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Hultin said the company plans to advertise Nano-Dry and its other products in consumer magazines within 18 months. She cited Good Housekeeping as an example of a target magazine.

While the consumer may not be familiar with nanotechnology, Hultin said retailers that use it in their goods can charge more. One brand, for example, charges $10 more for its khakis with Nano-Care.

“We’ve doubled our marketing group in the last year and we continue [marketing] to the whole product stream when we expand,” Hultin said. “I think you can have the greatest product out there, but unless you talk about it and market it, nobody’s going to buy it.”

One of the main messages that Nano-Tex tries to clarify is that the technology happens at the molecular level. Hultin said most textile executives think it’s a coating or other topical treatment, so marketing plays the dual role of educator and promoter, she said.

A Nano-Tex spokeswoman would not disclose current figures on the company’s marketing budget or how much they would spend on a consumer advertising campaign in the future, adding that the company focuses the majority of its budget on research and development, rather than promotion. Plans to grow the marketing and advertising budget are a goal in the future, the spokeswoman added.

At Malden Mills Industries Inc., which makes Polartec fleece, partnering with apparel brands to promote the fabric is also a strong combination for marketing. Advertising in specific niche markets is a growing means to the company, according to a Malden Mills spokesman.

This fall, Malden advertised in outdoor publications, including Trail Runner, Bike Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fly Fisherman, Climbing and Men’s Journal. Each ad features an example of a branded garment — Patagonia, Burton, The North Face, Marker and Arcteryx — featuring a Polartec fabric.

“Manufacturers appreciate the additional attention in advertising,” said the spokesman, “and we want to make it easier for consumers to find and understand our brand.”

Gore-Tex — which manufactures fabrics for a variety of end-uses laminated in its signature waterproof, windproof and breathable membrane — began marketing to consumers since the company was founded in 1976.

“Our marketing has always been directed to consumers as well as the industry,” said Judy Pinder, marketing associate at the Elkton, Md.-based company. “We work with retailers so consumers see the same marketing program in the ads, on TV and in stores.”

The synergistic approach is what gave Gore-Tex such high consumer brand recognition, Pinder said. Gore-Tex has even been mentioned on “Seinfeld,” Pinder said, when one of the shows characters, George, joked that his Gore-Tex coat was bulletproof.

The marketing and advertising budgets have remained consistent in the past few years, Pinder added, though she would not disclose figures.

Tactel, one of DuPont Textiles and Interiors’ fabrics positioned as fashion-forward, is marketed to high-end designers in Europe, South America and the U.S.

According to Ria Stern, global marketing director for ready-to-wear at DuPont, the company approaches emerging designers and hooks them up with DuPont’s fabric development facilities to create innovative fabrics with Tactel nylon or Lycra spandex. Sometimes, the partnership is carried even further and DuPont sponsors the designer’s fashion show, as is the case during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which officially begins Wednesday here. DuPont is sponsoring the Matthew Williamson, Carlos Miele and Atil Kutoglu shows.

“Ideally, we’re looking for people that are creative, innovative and like working with different fabrics,” Stern said. “To be inspirational with new ideas is consistent with the Tactel brand positioning, which is all about touch, feel and drape.”

DuPont’s Teflon is also making its way into the rtw arena, usually in rainwear. It has linked up with MaxMara, which has created a range of Teflon-coated garments.

To easily access and research DuPont textiles, the company has expanded its Web-based marketing tools, most notably its online fabric library, which allows apparel vendors to order swatches from mills around the world that have used DuPont products.

Overall, DTI spends $300 million per year on global marketing programs, a spokeswoman said. That number is an overall figure that includes products outside apparel.

Nilit America Corp., which makes Sensil brand 6.6 nylon, said it often markets to mills and manufacturers for private label intimate apparel.

“I was doing a presentation at a major brand and the sub-brand said they had never heard of one of our products,” merchandising manager Molly Kremidas said. “I left the fabric so they could take it to their mill.”

Kremidas said the consumer is savvier about fabrics and fibers than in the past. With Nilit expanding from intimate apparel into activewear, she said rtw is a logical progression. When that expansion happens, similar marketing concepts used in intimate apparel will be applied to the marketing of fibers geared toward rtw.

Currently, Kremidas said Nilit spends about 25 to 30 percent of its marketing budget on advertisements in trade publications. When the company moves into rtw, Kremidas said the company would focus on creative merchandising, rather than increase the ad budget.

Designer Yeohlee Teng, who’s known for her use of unconventional textiles, said she has noticed an increase in textile marketing during the past few years.

“I think, in general, everyone is making more of an effort to communicate,” Teng said. “It’s fabulous — they actually explain what it does. That’s helpful for designers because you can never know too much about the materials you’re using.”

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