NEW YORK — A more democratic era has emerged in global sourcing.
This story first appeared in the July 29, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The playing field has been made more even by a confluence of events, from rising labor prices in China and factory disasters and labor crises in Southeast Asia to investments in manufacturing in the U.S. and shifting purchasing strategies by retailers and brands. The revival of Made in America is real and Western Hemisphere production is more important, but China is far from fading away and Vietnam and other Asian nations are growing their markets, as well. The desire for natural fibers and fabrics is strong, but a new generation of performance synthetics is also making headway.
These points were pervasive at several major trade shows here this month — the Texworld USA and Apparel Sourcing shows at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Première Vision New York at Pier 92 and Spinexpo at the Metropolitan Pavilion.
While some of these sourcing trends had a divergent nature, two areas had a clear path — the need for sustainability from farm to store shelf and the necessity of corporate social responsibility in every step along the supply chain.
Karine Van Tassel, founder and organizer of Spinexpo, said part of the growth of the show’s New York edition has been the resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere.
“I think Made in America is coming back,” Van Tassel said. “The world in its globalization is also entering an equilibrium. The leveling is everywhere.”
She said for mass production, China is still the go-to place, but in Europe and the U.S., the structure is geared toward more niche products and smaller runs.
“What is important is the quality of what is made, and the ability to make it no matter where it is,” she added.
Spinexpo is being more selective in its exhibitors and attendees. The New York edition, staged once a year versus its larger venue in Shanghai held semiannually, featured primarily yarn firms and knitters from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“We are pushing our exhibitors to exhibit in a better way, to show themselves with a little bit more fashion,” Van Tassel said. “What I want is to deliver the same message, that the industry is global, that quality is what matters no matter where it comes from, and that has not been easy in New York, but this year I think it’s finally happening. We have better exhibitors, better buyers and the feedback has been very positive. We’re certainly going to have a bigger show next time, but not without continuing to be selective.”
Many of the 10 U.S. mills and suppliers at Texworld said their businesses had become more dynamic in the past few years as the revival of the once-counted-for-dead textile industry took hold.
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David Sasso, vice president of international sales at Buhler Quality Yarns, said, “For us, domestic sales are growing a little, mainly because the L.A. market is flat, but our export business continues to be strong, notably in South America and the CAFTA [Central American Free-Trade Agreement] countries.”
Sasso said Buhler’s exports to China have grown in the past year, and the company is also seeing growth in shipments to Vietnam. He said that’s one reason Buhler is not concerned about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement being negotiated. The domestic textile industry has been lobbying for a yarn-forward rule of origin, but Sasso, who also favors that stipulation, said, “You have to find out who the players are in that country and how you can develop a business with them, no matter what the country is. If you can offer something different that they can’t get in their own market, then you can take advantage of the opportunity.”
He said Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s commitment to invest $250 billion cumulatively in Made in America products over 10 years has definitely been spurring business and Buhler is prepared to be part of it.
“Their commitment is real and they’re doing a great service to the industry and their customers,” he added. “It’s also going to create U.S. jobs, which is a great thing.”
There have also been major investments from companies such as Gildan Activewear, Richelieu Group and Unifi Inc. to expand or build facilities in the South.
David Roshan, president of Laguna Fabrics in Los Angeles, said, “Our business is great and has been for the past year. We sell mostly to the contemporary market in Los Angeles, but also a lot to Mexico and Central America. We get a lot of inquiries from brands and retailers who say, ‘We want Made in America.’ It’s a great time right now.”
Laguna, which focuses on Lenzing’s Tencel and Modal fibers, has been seeing strong business in sweater knits and French terry, as well as indigo knits that resemble denim.
Matthew Burnett, cofounder of Maker’s Row, which connects small businesses and U.S.-based manufacturers through a database and networking opportunities, speaking on a panel discussion of “Made in the Americas,” said the New York company has 5,000 American manufacturers and suppliers registered in apparel and textiles and furniture and home decor, and 40,000 brands connected to Maker’s Row trying to manufacture in the U.S.
“Not everybody is shifting everything back here,” Burnett said. “It’s not going to be that quick. A lot of them are just testing the waters, but we’re more then happy to try to facilitate these opportunities for both the American manufacturers and these brands, because they both have an incredibly difficult time finding each other.”
He said a lot of young entrepreneurs looking to start their own lines and companies turn to Maker’s Row to connect them to factories that are willing to work with them.
“Once these people start to develop their businesses, they find that the cost of labor is balanced by the cost of shipping and the shipping time, and the overall cost of importing,” he said. “The turnaround time is the main reason they’re looking for domestic manufacturing and they’re able to produce a lot smaller quantities at a time, so it’s a lot safer for them, as well.”
Burnett said Maker’s Row is “growing deep and wide, going into more industries and industry hubs.” For instance, it recently helped organize factories and entrepreneurs from Newark to join in, and is building a database for the furniture industry.
Julie Reiser, vice president of marketing and business development for Made in the USA Foundation, said the organization aims to promote products manufactured and assembled in the U.S. It pursues litigation and legislative activity to strengthen and uphold labeling laws and standards, and is involved in “raising the bar concerning minimum wages, environmental standards, labor rights and human rights, including eliminating child labor.”
Reiser said, “Most importantly, we work to create good-paying jobs in the USA and a sustainable, environmentally sound and healthy economy.”
Reiser noted that the group also supports international environmental standards for power plants, steel mills and factories, which she said will “reduce global warming and make competition fair for U.S. manufacturers.” Reiser cited statistics from a Harris Poll the organization commissioned last year that showed 75 percent of respondents would pay up to 10 percent more for made in U.S. products, and 55 percent would pay up to 20 percent more.
A major source of income for many U.S. yarn and fabric firms comes from Latin American countries. Through trade pacts such as CAFTA and the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement, materials can be shipped to these countries to be made into finished goods and then sent back to the U.S. duty free.
Sylvia Reyes, apparel and textiles director for the U.S. for Proexport Colombia, and Lucia de Sander, marketing and promotion coordinator for the Guatemala Apparel & Textile Association, both extolled the two-way benefits of the trade deals and the relationships they have helped to build.
Reyes noted the sourcing trend for “nearshoring,” that has helped Colombia build business with the U.S. and within Latin America. She said the short lead times of as little as two to four weeks compared to what can be months sourcing in Asia allows retailers and brands to jump on trends and have replenishment capabilities.
Colombia is also committed to social responsibility, she said, adding that with the country’s history in illegal drug activity, it had to work with U.S. Customs to improve its record and programs in that area prior to joining CAFTA.
De Sander noted that Guatemala, which has the largest economy and population in Central America, has 150 apparel factories and 39 textile mills, with the sector providing about 90,000 jobs. She said, “The industry has evolved over the years from cut-and-sew operations and is now moving forward with full package and fast fashion. The advantage of our country is that we are close to the United States and can export from the East and West Coasts. We have small and large factories and have production flexibility.”
Première Vision New York saw a 7 percent increase in attendance over July 2013, including a 46 percent increase in visitors from foreign countries, with a high percentage from Canada, at its new home at Pier 92. The show also drew 25.7 percent more visitors from California.
Philippe Pasquet, chief executive officer of PV, said, “We were at the Metropolitan Pavilion for 14 years, but we wanted to have everybody on the same floor and be able to expand. It became urgent because of the recovery of the U.S. market that we began to experience between 2011 and 2012, and now it’s building up quite a bit.…The main appraisal is that people are discovering that we’re not a workshop anymore…that this is a really different experience. For the first time they are seeing 300 exhibitors on one floor and you have the feeling of a full exhibition. We expect to stay at Pier 92 for some time.”
Pasquet said business in the U.S. is good, “sometimes it’s excellent for our vendors,” which are primarily better to luxury fabric and material suppliers. He said his research has shown that sales of clothing at retail from June 2010 to June 2014 increased 21 percent in the U.S.
“We are attracting more buyers from the West Coast and Canada, which PV has marketed toward, as well as Latin American buyers, notably Colombia and Brazil,” he added.
Liberty Art Fabrics was showing its signature prints in silk and cotton in fresh ranges for fall 2015 at PV, but is also looking to build a more customized business in the U.S. with specific customers, said account executive Michelle Lora. A key inspiration this season came from Florence and from a selection that dipped into its London archives.
“We know in the U.S. market we need to become more contemporary and more customized,” Lora said. “In London, we’re more well known and can rely more on our more standard lines. But here, we have to be more innovative.”
Sandrine Bernard, executive vice president at Solstiss USA, said she was pleased with the venue, with its high ceilings and large windows allowing for natural light from the openness on the Hudson River. Bernard said, “We’ve seen a lot of people, especially from the West Coast, Chicago and Dallas, as well as Mexico and Canada.”
Key looks for Solstiss lace included black on blue effects, spider web designs in red and fuchsia, abstract and floral mixes, and printed lace.
Sabine Le Chatelier, deputy fashion director of PV, said activewear was a category getting more attention with innovative materials. While natural fibers continue to be important, she said there is a “new generation of synthetics” that don’t resemble the polyesters and nylons of the past and are serving as the foundation for fabrics made with specific performance characteristics.
At Spinexpo, a section was devoted to denim knits as a new way of dressing and showing the fabric. Van Tassel also cited activewear as an important trend that was evident at the show because, she said, it’s “more and more the way people like to dress…that is why we see Spinexpo expanding into more circular knits and knitwear.”
Meadowbrook Inventions, a Benardsville, N.J.-based maker of luminescent staple fibers, has seen its export business increase in the last year, with Italy and China its two largest markets. Representative Roberta Ruschmann said environmental consciousness is a focus of its fibers that are made of 90 percent recycled polyester and contain no harmful formaldehyde or metals. Its Angelina yarns, which are blended with a range of materials such as wool, cotton, polyester and nonwovens, featured a new crimped fiber being shown for legwear and knit sportswear.
Among other key trends at Spinexpo were a focus on technological effects, such as laser cutting, molded dimensions, sculpted stitches and coatings. Texture was also key, from multilayered twists, brushed bouclés, feather effects and soft blended marled yarns. Attention to sustainability and environmental awareness was evident, from Novetex’s Global Organic Textile Standard and Organic Exchange-certified wools and cottons to Gostwyck Merino’s promise of “mules-free” sheep and “time-controlled grazing.”
These issues were also a topic of a seminar at Texworld.
Avedis Seferian, president and ceo of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, or WRAP, said, “You have a fragmented supply chain and companies want to know how they can make sense and figure out how their product can be manufactured responsibly.…I look for whether a company is approaching social compliance in a systemic way. Do they have management systems in place that address these issues on a daily basis? You want to anticipate problems and catch them before they happen or mitigate them in a timely manner.”
Seferian said this often starts at the top — “Does the manager or owner of the factory consider safety and compliance a priority? Most importantly, is this centered around the worker?”
Anne Gillespie, director of integrity at Textile Exchange, said the organization has grown from developing a standard for the supply chain for organic cotton to include all sustainable materials. The latest is to create a responsible standard for down, which she said includes putting together a balanced approach from all sides of the issue, from animal rights groups to farmers to retailers.
Sandra Marquadt, U.S. representative for Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, a voluntary standard for the $7 billion global textile organic products market, said the group has expanded its certification requirements to include social criteria, and fire and workplace safety training. She said there are 3,100 companies certified with GOTS in India, Europe, Asia and the U.S.