SHANGHAI — Sentiment at the 31st session of SpinExpo Shanghai mixed slight uncertainty over possible  trade wars due to the volatility of the Trump administration with optimism about growing domestic demand and for possible opportunities brought about by the newly signed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The newly dubbed CPTPP, signed this month by trade ministers from 11 countries, is the second coming of the TPP, which President Trump withdrew the U.S. from on his first full day in office. The free-trade agreement — with member countries from the Pacific Rim including Australia, Singapore and Vietnam — constitutes 13.5 percent of the world’s economy. For Chinese spinners, the major implication of the trade deal is the boost it could give to neighboring Vietnam’s apparel industry.

“When it comes to wool spinning, which is not the easiest thing in the world, the Vietnamese companies don’t really have the know-how. Vietnam is great in the final product, the making up, but when it comes to actually producing yarns, particularly in wool, it’s different [than] when it comes to acrylic yarns. But in wool we are not worried about Vietnam as competitors when it comes to a spinning point of view,” said Jimmy Jackson, business development adviser at Chinese spinner Zhejiang Xinao Textiles Inc.

“We see it as opportunities because their knitwear industry is growing very strongly, and of course the [CP]TPP has given opportunities to Vietnamese knitters, which will in turn give us indirect opportunities because people will start sourcing more and more knitwear from Vietnam, because it would be cheaper with the [CP]TPP, and we have links with the knitters in Vietnam to supply them yarns,” Jackson said.

Exhibitors noted there had been no letup in demand for yarn that bridged the gap between fashionable and functional qualities, playing into demand for ath-leisure. There was an ongoing debate about whether ath-leisure is a cultural shift that is here to stay or a fleeting trend, but most agreed that the types of yarns produced as a result are here to stay.

“This is kind of a hard thing because I think not everyone wants to dress this way,” said Hasan Erdal, who works in sales for U.S.-based Yarn Mavens Inc., the U.S. agent of Chinese spinning company Yarn & Colors. “I do think the idea of ath-leisure having more performance-oriented yarns is very important. But I think this will translate more into more sophisticated yarns. We are doing Teflon-coated yarns now, we are doing a merino for instance, which is an example of how to elevate this. I think more people want some sort of performance aspect in their yarn, some sort of easy care access and this is really what we are taking away from the ath-leisure trend.”

The availability of fashion-forward, yet functional, yarn was welcomed by buyers from not only sports-oriented brands, but fashion-focused ones as well. One buyer noted the cultural shift in female consumer demand toward multifunctional, comfortable apparel.

“I think it is a little of both, partly cultural, because I think there are a lot more industries that are wearing not so much suiting or not as professional workwear as we used to, so especially for us we are trying to give her a lot of day into night things to wear. Ath-leisure is definitely something we are into as well. We do a luxewear capsule where it is stuff that she can be a little bit more comfortable in,” said Martha Acosta, a U.S.-based product development manager for Ann Inc.

“We just actually did a thing for International Women’s Day which was a whole pants movement and it was talking about the transformation of her from being in skirts and suits and dresses to work, to wearing pants as an empowerment thing. I think it will be a continuous thing. There will always be a little need for it,” she added.

The movement toward active, healthy lifestyles has created more demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly manufacturing practices. “We have an extremely big focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly products. Both internally, but also driven by the wants of our customers, particularly customers in the  outdoor sports sector. I think the customers in that sell to customers who spend their leisure time outside, so they are in touch with nature. It is a little bit less for a suiting company as suits tend to be sold to people in cities, so it is less of an issue,” said Jackson.

Wuxi Shilead Spinning, an early adopter of sustainable, eco-friendly practices, has invested heavily in producing environmentally friendly yarns. At the show, it unveiled new, recycled polyester yarn with a lightweight and soft hand. “We have developed a lot of fancy yarn, fancy quality with those sustainable qualities, for example polyester. Recycled polyester we make into different kinds of fancy yarn so that customers can have recycled sustainable quality, but still have a very fashionable look,” said Carly Chan, a yarn designer for the company.

The firm continues to invest in new technology and machinery in order to upgrade its offerings, claiming that its customer base is 80 percent international, including brands such as H&M and Zara. “I think that being environmentally friendly is very important. On pricing, everybody can price lower than you, but the concept and how you treat the world, how you treat the environment, that is important. So we keep investing, but we also seek this kind of customer because they have volume so we can lower the price as a competitive advantage and by the bargaining power,” said Chan.

According to fair organizers, designer brands offering a customized service to their customers are doing well and the quantities they order from spinners or knitwear manufacturers is on the rise. E-commerce and large, cheap, bulk makers are also doing well. The segment that is suffering is the middle range.

The spring session, which ran from March 13 to 15, had 170 exhibiting companies from 15 countries, a 10 percent increase from the same period last year, but down from the 200-plus exhibitors at last year’s fall session.

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