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SHANGHAI — The Chinese knit and yarn industry continues to evolve from low-end exporters to better manufacturers for domestic and foreign markets.
Organizers and exhibitors at SpinExpo said a key message of the biannual trade show in Shanghai is that fibers, yarns and knitted fabrics produced by Chinese manufacturers should no longer be viewed as substandard quality compared with those made in Europe.
“Let’s stop claiming that China is rubbish and that Europe is extraordinary,” SpinExpo director Karine Van Tassel said. “I believe that of the Chinese spinners we have in the show, we have reached a number of companies that mean something. But if we were to take more exhibitors from China, the quality of the show would go down.”
Van Tassel added that Japan is growing in importance with more innovative technologies and research and development from spinners. Exhibitors at SpinExpo were mainly from China, Italy and Japan.
On Sept. 3, the first day of the show, more than 6,000 visitors attended. Organizers said more than 18,000 had attended by Sept. 5, the last day of the fair. SpinExpo Shanghai is marketed as an international trade fair, with around 200 high-end producers of fibers, yarns, knitwear and knitted fabrics from 15 countries.
The Chinese producers at the exhibition seemed more confident in their product offerings. Mainland manufacturers were swamped with what appeared to be largely domestic clientele, while organizers said more foreign visitors, particularly from Europe and the U.S., were coming to source for luxury and high-end brands.
“Italy has developed its industry over 100 years, so maybe their equipment is too old now, and they have gotten rich, so they don’t have the motivation to invest more in equipment,” said Xue Jingli, chairman of Consinee Group, which produces luxury yarns for clients such as Chanel, Prada, Hermès and Escada. “But China, they have invested a lot. They have a lot of new equipment, so they can do more research and have more new collections.”
Xue, whose company is based in Ningbo, a coastal city near Shanghai, said, “More people are coming not because they are placing orders. They just want to see how the market is going because now the economy is not that good. Some people are struggling. The [prices of] raw materials are going up.”
He added that even though China’s economic growth has been slowing, there has not been that much of an impact on orders from luxury brands, which indicates that the Chinese market is still seeing strong sales.
Foreign exhibitors said noticeable changes at SpinExpo Shanghai included a growing number of Chinese brands looking to source high-end materials from Europe. They said demand from Chinese brands looking for premium materials will enable Italian spinners to maintain a competitive edge over the Chinese. While the volume market may not be as significant in Italy now, there is still demand for luxury yarns with detailing that cannot yet be found elsewhere.
“Our chance as a group to compete is to have faster delivery, service and quality, and with creativity and design,” said Hans G. von Schuh, managing director of sales for the Südwolle Group, a German producer of worsted spun yarn that also has manufacturing facilities in China. “We have to differentiate on a high level for the whole world. The markets are getting more and more similar.”
Von Schuh said there had been a slowdown in orders over the last 12 months due to sputtering economies in the West, as well as in China, where increasingly Südwolle caters to domestic brands. “It seems now more Chinese brands are becoming a little more optimistic, but still cautious,” he said, adding that in 2012 sales in China were down 15 percent.
“This year has been a good year,” von Schuh said. “It was not down. Things seem to be stabilizing.”
Sophie Steller, creative director for SpinExpo Shanghai, said major trends for fall 2014 include fine cashmere products, mohair, alpaca and feather yarn, and materials with a textural surface interest. Shine is still present in a glossier, smooth effect. Other trends included hairy surfaces, textures, irregular effects, thick with thin and matte contrasting with shine. Additional forecasting showed florals, encrusted embellishments, refined stitches, quilting, fine compact stitches and knits with a woven look.