SHANGHAI – As China’s manufacturing sector shows faint signs of recovery, domestic apparel fabric manufacturers are increasingly transitioning from low-cost production to a focus on high-quality, innovative and eco-friendly textiles.
This shift was on display at the 24th edition of apparel fabrics sourcing fair Intertextile Shanghai at the National Exhibition and Convention Center here. Covering more than 2 million square feet, 3,341 exhibitors from 26 countries participated at this edition, according to fair organizers, who estimated attendance at 71,000 people, slightly down from the previous year.
Although the Chinese economy is cooling, last month’s factory figures exceeded expectations, with the country’s official PMI edging up to 51.6, the highest reading in three months, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics.
“It’s not like 10 years ago, but still, there is growth. China is the largest market for garment production and fabric production, so it’s still a very big market,” said Olaf Schmidt, vice president of textile and textile technologies for fair organizer Messe Frankfurt. “Of course, when you have high expectation and compare this with two or three years ago, it’s going down, but it’s still on a high level.”
Intertextile was focused on various sections, including the Premium Wool Zone, Verve for Design, Functional Lab, All About Sustainability, Accessories Vision and Beyond Denim.
As Chinese production costs rise because of increasing labor costs, low-cost manufacturing has been moving to countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere better able to compete on price. As a result, many domestic manufacturers have been steadily investing in new technology to climb the value chain.
One such company is Wei Yi Plush, a Ningbo-based faux-fur manufacturer. The company has invested heavily in the business to develop an eco- and animal-friendly, innovative range of imitation fur options, using shearling and the latest synthetic materials. Sales director Aaron Wu claimed the company spends more than $1 million a year on the development of new fabric.
“Now, in China, the consumers still prefer the real fur, so it is a little hard for them to accept the imitation, but in the international market, because of the animal protection idea, they can accept the whole body fake fur garment,” Wu said.
“Our clients are Armani, Prada, Celine and also the fast-fashion brands like Zara and H&M,” he continued. “We have a booth here at the fair, a showroom nearby, and a catwalk show, so now we are trying to change the Chinese mind-set that a fake-fur garment is not high-end. Some famous people prefer fake fur and now Chinese consumers are beginning to accept this. It will be a new kind of important fabric in the Chinese market.”
In terms of technological advancements, denim manufacturer Changzhou Oasis Textile Co. Ltd., recently developed a system that mass-produces denim fabrics using only natural plant dyes, reducing the environmental impact. This method is more expensive than the traditional one, but the company hopes its USP of sustainability will drive sales, even in a price-sensitive market.
“We started this new process from last year, we wanted to change because of pollution. It’s a new process for us so the price is higher, but it has a good effect on the environment. Now many buyers just ask about the price and the color fastness,” said George Chen, export sales manager at the company. “It’s not too expensive, just 20 percent higher, but the buyers are very sensitive for price. The renminbi is strong right now so for the European buyers, it is difficult, but for the U.S. market, it is better because of the currency.”
Wendy Wen, senior general manager at Messe Frankfurt (HK) Ltd., believes this climb up the value chain is typical for most domestic manufacturers and in the next five years, the government will encourage further automation in the textile industry.
“Our fair is just a mirror of the industry in China for the past 20 years. So for our Chinese suppliers, actually, at the very beginning, they only did OEM for international brands and now they are becoming their own brands. First developed in the local market, now they export to the international market, as well,” Wen said.
Situated in the Italian Milano Unica Pavilion, Moessmer, a textile company that also offers eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics, exhibited for the sixth time at the fair. Area manager Mario Alciato commented that the quality of customers visiting his booth with the capacity to buy during this edition was better than previously.
“Compared to last year, this year is better. We are not worried about the currency fluctuations because we do high-quality fabrics so it doesn’t matter if it changes a little, we don’t worry about that. Customers today have been mainly Chinese, some customers are from Australia and Japan, but mainly Chinese here at the fair,” he said.
Buyers were interested in the industry’s technological advancements as well as the innovative fabrics on offer and were less constrained by pricing.
“There seems to be a strong international presence, creating good competition in fabric qualities,” said Jennifer Birch, a buyer for an international fashion company based in China. “We are always looking for newness and innovation and Intertextile is the main show to visit in Asia for woven textile manufacturing. Price is always a factor, but we are also keen to look at new ways of working and new materials.”