LIGHTWEIGHT YARNS TOP EPOFIL LISTS
Byline: Katherine Weisman
PARIS — Continuing a trend of several seasons, lightweight yarns with a bulky look and soft hand continued to grab much of the spotlight for fall 1999 at Expofil here.
The three-day yarn fair, which ended June 5, also got a lift from the growing demand for knitwear in the U.S. and Europe. While Expofil exhibitors show yarns for woven fabrics and knits, yarns for knitwear dominate.
Mohair was a popular choice for many mills, either alone or in fancy or natural blends. As for color, gray remains strong and other natural tones, such as beige, camel and mossy greens, as well as muted floral reds, were highlights.
The total number of visitors slid a bit, 2.5 percent, to 7,071 against the June 1997 Expofil. The number of foreign visitors was off 4 percent to 3,242, while French attendance was down about 1 percent to 3,829. A spokeswoman for Expofil attributed the declines to France’s transportation strikes, which began during the first week of June.
“On the other hand, in those countries like the U.S. and Japan, where we increased our promotion of the show, we had small increases in visitors,” the spokeswoman noted. There were 64 U.S. visitors, compared with 61 last June, and 118 Japanese, four more than a year ago.
Italy’s Zegna Baruffa-Lane Borgosesia, a merino worsted yarn specialist, showed a new lightweight yarn, Millennium, in 16-micron merino. The company also showed two other in-stock merino programs, one of Australian wool with a cashmere-like hand and an extra-fine grade in standard and machine-washable qualities. The in-stock program is costly in terms of inventory, said Zegna’s Renato Costella, a sales manager, but the firm needs to maintain stocks to meet high demand.
The trend toward lighter weights began about five years ago, according to Costella. Besides the comfort aspect of softer yarn, lighter knits also use less material, so a manufacturer can afford to buy expensive yarn.
British Mohair Spinners, a 200-year-old supplier to knitters, is riding high on mohair’s popularity.
“The trend is with us,” said Alan Thornbar, product development manager, citing a lot of interest in the company’s finer kid and super kid qualities that will be used in “open-knit structures for garments that are very light.”
Heavy knits are not out, however, Thornbar said, noting that some designer companies still favor heavier looks for pieces that are handknit in China.
Thornbar also said that mohair blends using wool and/or viscose are becoming more important and have helped boost British Mohair’s men’s wear business.
Zwickauer Kammgarn GmbH, a worsted yarn spinner in Silberstrasse, Germany, exhibited for the first time at Expofil. The firm has emerged as a thriving private company after years as part of a state-run conglomerate in the former East Germany. Zwickauer sells to midpriced and high-end sportswear companies including Bogner, Escada, Hugo Boss, Max Mara and Liz Claiborne.
New items at Zwickauer included crepe yarn in extra-fine merino wool and a 50-50 wool-cotton blend in finer counts for 14-to-16-gauge knitting machines.
The company was very satisfied with its first Expofil show. “We are surprised about the quantity and the quality of visitors,” said export manager Gert Ehlert. “If we get only 10 percent in orders from all the sampling done, we will come back next season.”
Executives at Zwickauer, which sells to knitters in Asia, said the economic crisis there has not harmed their overall businesses despite lost sales in some markets. Spinners said the knitting production pipeline between American apparel companies, their sourcing offices in Hong Kong and manufacturing contractors in China have been relatively immune from the crisis and that the system is still chugging ahead.
Show participants noted, though, that European yarn exports have fallen in South Korea and Indonesia, where the value of local currencies has plummeted. But, they added, a new trend is emerging in some of these hard-hit markets. Philippe Pasquet, commissary general of Expofil, said that as the cost of production for some Asian knitters has fallen relative to costs in Western regions, they are taking a risk in buying expensive yarns in order to export higher-end knitwear to Europe and the U.S.
“The currency depreciations have hurt exports of our classic yarns to Asia,” said Didier Tardy, former president and now consultant to France’s Emile Tardy firm, a specialist in continuous filament yarn processing and crepe yarns for knits. “But we are staying competitive with our novelties. Some Asian companies are actively searching for European yarns in order to go up in quality.”
Among the features of Expofil was a presentation on the U.S. market, co-sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat. Johann Mittermayr, European market research manager for the IWS, reported that knitwear is a growing category in the U.S. and that Americans are more amenable than they have been to wearing wool.
“Wool knitwear is perfectly suited to the U.S. trend to more relaxed dressing,” he said, citing IWS statistics showing that from 1992 to 1998, U.S. consumption of women’s wool knitwear will rise nearly 59 percent to an estimated 10 million kilograms, while consumption of men’s wear wool knits more than doubled to an estimated 5.1 million kilograms.
The growing use of wool, he said, has been stoked by new, easy-care fabrics that add value to garments. “The demand for wool knitwear that you can machine wash and tumble dry is now worldwide,” Mittermayr said.
He also cited promise in the once-sluggish European markets like France and Germany, which are beginning to show signs of upticks in consumer spending.
Sid Estreicher, the director of research and development at Liz Claiborne Inc., was the guest speaker at the IWS presentation. “Our consumers like wool, and they are willing to pay for it,” Estreicher said. And when fashion is added to the mix, the price can move further up.
After the conference, Estreicher also noted that European mills had become more responsive in meeting the changing demands in knitwear.
“Before, mills would just say: ‘Hi, here is our line.’ Now there is much more dialog,” he said. As for spinners keeping up with the trends, Estreicher said he did not see anything “revolutionary” at Expofil this season.
“There is less dependence on novelty yarns. It’s now the stitch which creates interest in the yarn, as opposed to the novelty of the yarn itself,” he said.