Spinexpo was held in Shanghai.

SHANGHAI — Spinners along with knit, fiber and yarn suppliers are facing tough economic conditions and political headwinds from the U.S. and Europe.

That was the consensus among exhibitors at the 29th edition of SpinExpo Shanghai who, while uncertain about the future, are concentrating on producing innovative, sustainable, quality products to remain competitive. The unpredictability of the new administration of President Trump and potential European fallout following Brexit and major elections in key markets in the region have left businesses in a spin.

“For people that have a factory to run, it is a problem trying to understand how trade will perform in America or what Europe will vote next time. I think that [the exhibitors] are not really worried, because they tell you clearly it is OK, but I think they are worried about what comes next,” said fair organizer Karine Van Tassel, who also coordinates SpinExpo in New York and Paris.

Even during this complicated time for trade, the fair saw record numbers of visitors apply to attend, with pre-registration figures up 30 percent over last year to more than 1,700 people, according to Van Tassel. On the first day, 4,377 visitors were recorded as attending, with 5,350 joining on the second.

The three-day fair was once again held at the Shanghai World Convention Center. It included 148 exhibitors, down from the 155 in attendance at the spring fair last year, from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, India, the U.K., the U.S. and Japan.

SpinExpo showcased some of its exhibitors’ collections that focused on recycled and sustainable yarns and fibers in the “Harvest Gold” trend area. Sustainability continued to be a major differentiator in the industry, with all of the Japanese exhibitors offering high-end sustainable products.

Wuxi Shilead Spinning was one of the first Chinese yarn companies to develop sustainable, eco-friendly and recycled products, and this initial foresight, along with heavy investment, is bearing fruit.

“Our customer H&M is very concerned about the environment, so we fit to their needs year by year to develop the dyeing, spinning and materials. We try to combine our advantage to not only create basic yarn, but we also try to develop more fancy and fashionable yarn. This is the innovative part we brought to our collection these past two seasons,” said Sophia Chen, a company representative.

As consumers around the world react differently to their own unique mix of economic or political issues, suppliers are readdressing their product offerings.

“In America, for some of the medium-level brands, their usage of merino has dropped a lot, but for some high-end brands, they still keep their quality. Some brands think it works well to raise their image in the market. They transfer from bland yarn to 100 percent merino, such as Ann Taylor and Lululemon,” said John Liu, executive vice president at Zhejiang Xinao Textiles, which specializes in merino wool.

As the U.S. market becomes more polarized and price sensitive, other markets around the world have reacted in different ways.

“For the U.K. market, they love merino. All of the brands have merino products. Some brands want to upgrade, such as Marks & Spencer. In the past years, they bought less wool, they bought merino blended with nylon, but from last year, they have wanted to try to upgrade to 100 percent merino or some merino blended with silk. Japan is special, normally; if the year is tough, U.S. brands want to lower costs, but the Japanese brands want to upgrade their products and attract their consumers. They also focus on the quality of the yarn, such as Muji, which upgrades the yarn to give it a softer feel,” Liu said.

PMI data released during the fair showed that China’s manufacturing sector grew faster than anticipated in February, with both domestic and international demand increasing and overall business conditions improving for the sixth month in a row. The equipment manufacturing subindex also rose to a three-year high.

Livio Rodari, product director for Santoni Shanghai, an Italian knitting machine company specializing in seamless machines, has noticed two marked trends in the industry. Chinese factories are trading up in terms of machinery, creating more automated production lines in the face of rising labor costs, whereas other companies are moving production to Southeast Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, in search of lower cost structures.

“China is definitely moving forward and trying to do something new, so they need new machines. They are moving into product development ideas, they start not only to be an OEM to get the orders, but they start to be more product-oriented and look for new ideas and do new things. The people who are able to innovate and create new products, they are the ones who are less affected and cope better with the current economic situation,” he said.

Although the fair is fashion-oriented rather than sports-oriented, the ath-leisure trend has left its mark on the industry, bringing functionality, such as water-repellent or moisture-control fabrics, into fashion garments. This is a trend that will be developed in future editions.

“We continue very strongly with a mixture of fashion and active, functional knitwear, which is taking a larger place. We are aiming to develop the show to keep the actual knitwear suppliers that we have, but also bring in the more synthetic type fibers that have a functionality,” Van Tassel said.

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