By and  on February 22, 1994

LONDON -- Irish linen producers predict this will be a boom year.

Demand is being fueled by fashion trends and the growing use of blends, which brings prices down below all-linen goods, said Linda McHugh, marketing executive at the Irish Linen Guild.

"As a result, such U.S. stores as The Gap and Banana Republic and Marks & Spencer and Next in the U.K. have implemented linen programs," said McHugh. Marks & Spencer this spring plans its second linen program, and will feature apparel in blends of linen and cotton and linen and viscose.

"Once it gets down to the Marks & Spencer level, it means linen is firmly established in the U.K. market," she said. "Linen also is becoming more of a year-round fabric, either blended with wool or produced in a heavier weight.

"Sacking [loose-woven, washed] linen is in vogue anyway among designers, as is the layered look," McHugh said. "Some designers have quilted it for winter and even used a waterproof, waxed linen for outerwear."

Last fall, British designer Ally Capellino used heavy linen for her collection and overprinted it, McHugh said. Capellino's use of linen for fall was part of her partnership with the guild to promote her name as well as the merits of Irish linen.

This involved joint advertising campaigns and a fashion and beauty workshop at Harrods. It was the guild's first designer tie-in, and McHugh said it might continue into next fall and perhaps include other designers.

Irish linen weavers such as Moygashel in Dungannon, Samuel Lamont & Sons in Ballymena and John England Textiles in Belfast, all agreed the greater demand for blended linen has enabled them to move away from strictly seasonal sales.

"I would say the demand for our linen is much more consistent [through the year]," said Brian Copeland, senior sales manager, Moygashel. D.N. Lamont, president of Samuel Lamont, said despite the lower prices with blends, the higher end use of linen fabrics "will not suffer at all."

"The interesting thing about linen is that it's the type of fiber associated with high-end fabrics," he said, noting Lamont's export business throughout Europe has increased about 15 percent this year.

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