SHANGHAI — The 20th anniversary edition of Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics featured a major focus on sustainability and innovation, while denim’s uptrend in China got extra attention.

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The latest edition, which ended its four-day run Oct. 23, played host to 3,800 exhibitors from 30 countries, a record for the fair. In addition to China, countries represented among the exhibitors included Germany, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the U.K., U.S., France, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Australia.

The expansive Shanghai New International Expo Centre in Pudong District focused on a wide range of apparel and textile specialties, including a Premium Wool zone, Beyond Denim hall, Accessories hall and All About Sustainability zone.

The Beyond Denim hall increased 25 percent in size this year, in large part to meet increased domestic demand. Denim is becoming a big business in China, fair organizers said, with middle-class consumers embracing the latest in denim products. China’s jeans market grew 9 percent year-on-year in 2013, according to Euromonitor, which forecast a compound annual growth rate of 7 percent through 2018.

The All About Sustainability zone also proved popular with visitors, for whom the concept of environmentally friendly products and production seemed to be a major focus. Within the area, there was an educational zone and eco-boutique display area along with the Oeko-Tex Pavilion featuring eco fabrics.

Trend developer Joanna Czutkowna, who has attended the Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabric fair more than 10 times, said there was “innovation on base fabrics — new finishing techniques and improved hand feels. Basically, there was a bigger focus on sustainable materials and innovation in design and production in this area.”

First-time exhibitor Cotton Australia said it was using the opportunity to tell the story of Australian cotton as a responsibly produced natural fiber to a new audience. Though unsure about whether their appearance at the fair would garner much new business, the main aim for Cotton Australia was to meet people and also check out the competition.

“It’s been a learning experience for us to see how synthetic fibers are really flooding the market across women’s wear, casualwear, performance fibers — all heavily dominated by the synthetic fibers. We need to be here just to put the natural fiber message in front of people,” Cotton Australia’s Brooke Summer said.

Nilit Fibers was impressed by the number of visitors to the fair, which they estimated to be up from last year. Many of the current and potential customers who stopped by Nilit’s booth were players in the mid- to high end of the market who didn’t seem too price sensitive and were more interested in functional fabrics for men’s and women’s sportswear.

“They are most interested in cooling, heating, moisture management and antibacterial innovations,” said Sean Li, Nilit Fibers’ China sales manager.

Chinese exhibitors said despite concerns over a slowdown of the domestic economy and the loss of lower-end textile and apparel manufacturing to cheaper Asian markets including Vietnam and Cambodia, they were positive about the business climate.

“While the economy has been sluggish in some key markets, exhibitors report that China still presents many opportunities, particularly in the high-end sector,” said Wendy Wen, senior general manager of fair co-organizers Messe Frankfurt (HK) Ltd.

China’s rapid urbanization, growing per-capita income and increased spending on lifestyle and entertainment pursuits are contributing to domestic growth, particularly in the higher-end denim and performance categories, which bodes well for overseas suppliers, who traditionally have been squeezed by the low-price environment here, Wen noted.

“We are seeing growth in areas such as functional fabrics, denim, original designs and sustainable products and services, while premium European brands still retain strong demand,” she added. “As the market is developing toward higher quality and more sustainably produced products with higher levels of technology, overseas companies gain an advantage.”

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