By  on August 7, 2007

NEW YORK — Premium denim brands have given Invista high marks for the performance of its XFit Lycra spandex stretch technology, but some are less enthused about the company's decision to charge a licensing fee to use it.

XFit, which gives denim a four-way stretch, was launched in 2006 and has been praised by premium denim designers for its ability to deliver better fit and comfort without compromising the denim's structure or long-term endurance. Invista updated XFit last year by combining the product with its T400 fiber, allowing designers to use more aggressive washes and abrasions. However, in a rather unusual move for a fiber company, Invista patented the technology and is licensing XFit to select mills, brands and retailers.

"I love the product, it's great, but I think it's a shame what is happening because the way they've decided to market it is going to hamper their sales," said Andrew Olah, head of Olah Inc., a U.S. agent for foreign contract manufacturers, and textile and hardware vendors targeting denim designers.

Olah considers Invista's licensing model a departure from the traditional relationship between fiber companies and brands. Mills typically pay fiber suppliers for the use of their products. Fiber producers such as Invista rarely, if ever, collect fees from the end apparel user. In the case of XFit, mills pay the standard fee for using Invista's popular T400 stretch fiber, while brands pay a licensing fee for using XFit technology based on the number of garments produced. According to Olah, the additional cost per garment for some customers was sometimes more than $1, which he claims is burdensome for brands that are already paying top dollar for premium fabric.

Adriano Goldschmied had been using XFit for his GoldSign premium denim brand, but canceled his orders for fabric using it because he didn't agree with the business model.

"I consider the relationship between a fabric supplier and a brand very, very clear," said Goldschmied. "There is an area that is about collaboration and developing a fiber and a product, but at a certain point the brand has to be totally free in developing a design concept. I don't want to pay a percentage on what's mostly something that I'm bringing to the product. I'm bringing the design and the look."Goldschmied said XFit was a good product and that Invista was a clear leader in developing fibers and fabrics. He also said he had no qualms about spending money for a premium fiber. However, licensing the fiber, he said, could encourage other fiber suppliers to do the same and result in him having to pay a commission on all the fabric he buys.

Michael Silver, president of the Silver and 1921 brands, said there were alternatives in the stretch market that performed in a similar manner without the added cost.

"This is not the time to raise the cost of fabric without what we believe to be a significant superiority in the fabric, which I don't think this is," said Silver. "You talk to a clothing maker that has to write two checks and he's not a happy guy."

Scott Morrison, president and designer of Earnest Sewn, said Invista's licensing model "didn't make sense to us from a business standpoint" when XFit was pitched to the brand last year.

Jean Hegedus, Invista's ready-to-wear marketing manager, acknowledged there has been resistance from brands due to the licensing model.

"It's absolutely a new business model," said Hegedus. "I think like anything else that's new, it may take some time for people to get used to."

Invista has developed a technology and a brand for XFit, which has gotten considerable praise in the industry. Hegedus said initial feedback to the launch of XFit was extremely positive.

"Most people who tried it said they're the most comfortable pair of jeans they've ever worn," said Hegedus. "What is the value of having the most comfortable pair of jeans you've ever worn? We're trying to capture a tiny piece of that value."

Mik Serfontaine has signed up as one of the licensees for XFit for his eponymous denim line and he's familiar with the criticisms of its business model. The premium denim market has become accustomed to "huge margins" said Serfontaine. Cutting into those margins isn't something brands want to do, nor are they used to having to share sales data.

That said, Serfontaine said Invista is protecting the integrity of the XFit name so it doesn't become a generic term. Any additional costs he views as well worth it."It's the first time it's been handed to us as a cost we really have to foot, but what we are experiencing with our customers is they're becoming addicted to the XFit," said Serfontaine. "They know the benefits of having XFit in their jeans and that far outweighs any cost of a licensing fee."

Serfontaine's XFit jeans are his bestseller at Saks Fifth Avenue despite a perhaps $10 premium.

"When they realize it's the best-fitting jean they have, they go out and buy it in the other washes," he said.

Hegedus said a major retailer will be signing on as a new licensee this month to use XFit in jeans priced at the lower end of the premium spectrum.

"It's not prohibitively expensive," she said. "It's affordable for a major retailer at the lower end of the premium level. J Brand has also found success and will be expanding with it to use in maternity jeans that will sell at Pea in the Pod. The people who are jumping on board are really benefitting."

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