Byline: Michael McNamara

AVENTURA, Fla. — Knitting executives meeting here were urged to build exports and niche products to counter the phalanx of problems now facing them — from surging raw-material prices to mounting competition from overseas.
The message came from William Armfield 4th, outgoing president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, as he addressed the annual parley of the Knitted Textile Association. The three-day conference at the Turnberry Isle Resort & Club here ended Sunday.
“I’ve never seen fiber prices escalate the way they have in the past year, primarily in cotton and polyester,” Armfield told the gathering Friday. With cotton hitting over $1.10 a pound in the futures market, and polyester staple soaring over 90 cents a pound, it is paramount that knitters look to manufacture niche products so they can compete successfully and maintain margins, he said.
“That,” said Armfield, who is vice chairman of Unifi Inc., “will help knitters over the long term. Imports continue to grow. But if you make something no else can, you can and will be successful.”
Armfield also said that with worldwide competition becoming more heated, establishing export markets is crucial.
“The knit business is a perfect one for exporting,” Armfield said, citing the wide range of products made by domestic knitters. “No business in the textile industry is more resilient or more flexible. Knitters are fighters and survivors.”
Armfield pointed to the North American Free Trade Agreement and GATT as two trade pacts that “have forever changed the landscape of our industry.”
“GATT was inevitable,” Armfield said. “Virtually every business sector in America supported it, and now, while textile industry people don’t like it, we are having to live with it.”
As for the devalued peso that came just as NAFTA was heading into its second year, Armfield said while it has caused “a great deal of pain and anguish, it happened in the early stages of NAFTA, rather than six to eight years down the road, where it would have had a far greater impact.”
Armfield said because of the economic crisis in Mexico, there will be more supervision over that country’s financial sector and that “it is very unlikely something like that will ever happen again.”
In an interview after his talk, Armfield noted that the global cotton situation threatens to dramatically disrupt the textile industry.
“We understand that if China and Pakistan have another bad crop [in the 1995-96 crop year], it will put tremendous pressure on the world cotton supply,” he said. “Mills, who have not been able to pass on price increases, will have no choice but to pass them on.”