Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — DuPont is at it again.
The company says it aims to “revolutionize” the hosiery industry with its new Lycra spandex 178C, which was designed to improve the durability, fit and comfort of Lycra 3D products.
Lycra 3D, until now the latest hosiery innovation in Lycra, was introduced in the U.S. in late 1994. It uses conventional Lycra, but with the fiber knitted into every course, as opposed to the established construction in which Lycra is wrapped around only the horizontal rows of the nylon.
Brian Coleman, development manager for hosiery for DuPont Lycra, came here this month from his headquarters in Geneva to introduce Lycra 178C to domestic knitters, manufacturers and retailers, heralding the product as the most important advancement since Lycra.
Launched in Europe at the Salon International de la Lingerie in late January, Lycra 178C should be available to U.S. consumers by next spring, Coleman said. Lycra 178C was one of two new Lycra types DuPont introduced at the Paris show. The other — Lycra Soft, or type 902C — was aimed initially at the innerwear market, but is expected to target the hosiery market later.
Lycra 178C, an 18 denier product, is made from a different Lycra polymer and retains a more defined leg shape when exposed to heat, Coleman said. “This is a very permanent move for the future of the hosiery industry,” he continued. “There is a need to upgrade product and regain consumer confidence. This is one positive way of doing it.”
Lycra 3D products account for 3 percent of sheer pantyhose sales in the U.S., compared with 5 percent in Europe and 20 percent in Japan, Coleman said. He declined to comment on projected volume for Lycra 178C.
DuPont is currently sourcing the yarn through its Japanese subsidiary, DuPont-Toray, but is looking for sites in Europe and the U.S. to increase production capacity.
Legwear manufacturers are enthusiastic about the qualities of the new product, but have reservations about the fast pace of development and the higher prices that might be required.
“Technology is moving so fast that we don’t have time to position one thing, and they’ve introduced another. It’s good, but it’s a challenge for us in terms of marketing,” said Joni Zeller-Claxton, vice president of hosiery design for Ithaca Industries. “It’s like buying stereo equipment; once you buy it, it’s obsolete.”
Determining how Lycra 178C works with existing products is the only real question, she said.
Nevertheless, Zeller-Claxton said she is excited about it and eager to see some samples next month.
“I can’t imagine why consumers wouldn’t prefer this since they’re not that price-sensitive,” she said. “If it’s perceived as added value and something new they can add to their hosiery wardrobe, they’ll buy it.”
Others, however, said price remains an issue with consumers.
“It’s a real premium product, but extremely pricy,” said Heinz Altmann, director of product development for Ridgeview Hosiery, who said the new Lycra could increase the price of typical pantyhose least 20 percent.
However, Ridgeview plans to introduce a group made of Lycra 178C in its licensed Ellen Tracy line by next fall, he said.
The company plans to survey about 2,000 consumers who purchase the designer’s sportswear to determine the target customer for the Lycra 178C.
“At this point, we’re not ready to scrap the old to bring in the new,” Altmann noted.
Rachel Waller, merchandise manager for Jockey International, said price is always an issue for consumers.
However, the company is exploring the new Lycra and plans to have Jockey employees and consumers test-wear two or three styles over the next few months, she said.

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