Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — It’s war in the leg game.
Hosiery executives are headed to next week’s International Hosiery Exposition in search of weapons to fight the decline in sheers, and they hope to find them in an array of new technologies with which to develop new products.
The three-day event, which gets under way April 9 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., is expected to attract more than 8,000 people. Several legwear manufacturers who are expecting to attend said they planned to discuss the changing global market and check out new developments in knitting technology and packaging at the show.
“There is an undercurrent of anticipation about this show that I haven’t seen in a couple of shows,” said Sid Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Hosiery Association. “That’s not to say there wasn’t for the other shows. It’s refreshing, how interested people are in this one.”
New toe-closing machines, seamless knitting machines and new yarns are a few of the things that are generating interest, Smith said.
Talking about business with European hosiery executives is one of the greatest benefits of the show, according to Ralph Holt, chairman and chief executive officer of Holt Hosiery, a Burlington, N.C., company that specializes in private label goods.
“This is an opportunity to come face to face with a lot of people we don’t see often. We’re not just isolated in this country,” he said. “We’ll meet with contacts from across the globe. We don’t live in a vacuum.”
Addressing global aspects of manufacturing is essential in today’s market place, he said. Saturday’s all-day conference, which is hosted by the Hosiery Association, is expected to attract many international visitors.
“The market is declining and will continue to decline,” Holt said.
“With the prospect of continued popularity of leisurewear, we aren’t looking at any spikes in volume or production. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that can be meaningful to us and to retailers, and in turn to consumers. That’s what we’re looking for.”
That is one of the topics he will discuss when meeting with suppliers at the show.
Having turned its attention more to niche products, Pennaco Hosiery plans to take a closer look at new leg yarns and equipment, said Joyce Darkey, general manager. DuPont, Bayer and Milliken are among the vendors she will visit.
“It seems like shows come and go, and a lot of people go because they have to go. But for this one, there is sort of enthusiasm about going,” she said. “Everyone thinks this is a really important one. It seems like everyone is trying to decide if we’re really coming into a good hosiery cycle.”
Pennaco is taking six executives to this show, a couple more than in 1998. Show turnout is expected to be so strong that the company has had to schedule breakfast meetings, since lunch and dinner ones had already been booked, Darkey said.
Many people are enthusiastic about attending Conference 2000 and the other seminars at the show, she added. (For a listing and description of the conference and seminars, see pages 16 and 17.)
Mitch Brown, president of Doris Legwear, said he would be looking for new yarns that could help the sheer business and any new advancements in seamless technology from Santoni, an Italian company. Seamless sheers continue to be popular with women.
Doris purchased steam-boarding equipment and needle-for-needle knitting machines at the last edition of the IHE. Steam boarding presents a more attractive product and needle-for-needle knitting machines make for a better fit, since every course in every row can be changed.
“We’re pleased with those investments. They help differentiate us from others,” Brown said. “These products are completely different from what used to be used.”
He said he was encouraged that more major retailers would be attending the show.
“That’s a good thing, because they learn firsthand what’s going on and they see technology in action. It also helps them understand what can and can’t be developed,” he said.
Joni Zeller, vice president of hosiery design for the Glendale Group, said she planned to spend a lot of time with the company’s technical staff reviewing innovations and introductions, especially as they relate to seamless hosiery at Santoni’s booth. She said she was also interested in new yarn applications for Santoni knitting machines.
“In hosiery, the main focus for Glendale will be on sourcing new yarns, especially those that give a smooth appearance and slick hand. We also feel strongly about finding superdull yarns for sheers and opaques.”
Russ Klein, president of Easton International, the maker of Falke legwear, said he was most interested in checking out the new technology and knitting machinery, particularly for patterning, production of seamless goods, dyeing, finishing and packaging.
He said he would also be looking at innovations in micro encapsulation, a finishing bath for yarns. The process is used for leg-care products, such as sheers treated with aloe.
“The show is really not as much about the merchandise direction as it finding out how technology keeps up with the trends,” Klein said.
“Another part of what we’re doing is strengthening relationships with people we don’t see frequently,” he said. “We want them to understand what developments are happening on the manufacturing side. Obviously, manufacturers go to the show with a different point of view. They want to know what the knitting [machine manufacturers] are capable of doing.”
Walt Woodard, vice president of marketing and merchandising for Vision Legwear, a Spruce Pine, N.C., company, is interested in gaining an international perspective about business at the show.
“Saturday’s [Conference 2000] should give us a good view of the international hosiery business. It’s an opportunity to assess which markets are coming on strong, and when we can expect to see new products from overseas,” he said. “It should also help us to see when domestic products are most viable.”
Reflecting how the hosiery business has become more competitive overseas, Woodard said, “These days, it seems that any company can buy a knitting machine to start a hosiery business. You go to a lot of these countries where they barely have electricity, but they’re running hosiery equipment.”
Dale Segraves, vice president of product development for Sara Lee Hosiery, said, “By far, the biggest advantage of attending the show is that it gives us the ability to network with suppliers and others in the industry. The show is an excellent venue for us to maintain these business relationships.”
Barry Tartarkin, president of Ridgeview’s hosiery division, said he primarily goes to the show looking for advancements in automated folding equipment and dyeing to improve efficiency and production capacities.
Ridgeview now makes 900,000 dozen pairs of women’s socks, tights or sheers annually, and plans to increase that 10 percent this year, Tartarkin said.
“With new equipment, we should be able to get additional output from the 200 people who work in our North Carolina facilities,” he said.
Jordan Lipson, president and ceo of American Essentials, said he was most concerned about finding new technology for knitting and packaging. He said he was anxious to check out the new machinery that knits socks and sews toe seams, since most machines only have the capability to knit socks.
A double-cylinder knitting machine equipped with toe-seam sewing capability is slated to be unveiled at the show, Lipson said. Some of these machines can knit ribs and other textures instead of basics.
On another front, finding new development for packaging is important, especially as American Essentials becomes more diversified, Lipson said. With 10,000 stockkeeping unitsfor women’s and men’s products, the company produces a variety of packaging.
“I’m not saying there is one machine that can do it all, but we want to see the advancements in packaging equipment,” he said.
About six American Essentials executives will be eyeing what’s new with yarn suppliers and CAD design technology, Lipson said.
John Moretz, president and ceo of Moretz Inc., said he was keen to see the double-cylinder knitting technology at Matec as well as automatic packaging machines at Speizman. He will also visit DuPont to get updates about new ways to use CoolMax and Lycra spandex in legwear.
Asked how Moretz is approaching the business differently from the way it did two years ago, Moretz said, “We need to be more on top of technology today or we’ll get totally out of the competitive mode. Everything is changing faster — that goes for any type of business.”
Moretz said he would walk the show with executives from a few key mass market and sporting goods stores to show them new machinery and to get their input.
“It’s also interesting to see what the main people you’re competing against are looking at and what they’re looking to do,” Moretz said.