Byline: Daniela Gilbert

AVENTURA, Fla. — While attendees at last week’s Knitted Textile Association’s annual convention continued to talk about how imports were hurting their bottom line, convention organizers were busy presenting them with new ideas on how to expand their businesses outside of the apparel market.
Two speakers at the four-day affair, which wrapped up on Sunday, spoke specifically about the role of knits in the industrial market and how manufacturers could begin to enter that market.
“Knitted textiles are one of the main growth areas in industrial textiles,” said William Smith, president of Industrial Textile Associates and speaker at the convention. “They represent 3 to 4 percent of industrial textiles worldwide and 10 percent of them in the U.S.”
From protection, medical and military clothing to packaging, automotive and environmental uses, Smith said industrial textiles are an emerging business and a great way for knitted textile manufacturers to expand their business.
As the apparel market becomes increasingly more difficult sector in which to compete, Smith noted that the industrial market is a viable path for many manufacturers thanks to the industry’s specialized nature.
“Industrial textiles is a market were niche products can really shine,” he added. “If you can combine interesting, new innovations with outstanding customer service, there are industrial manufacturers out there who will pay for it.”
Doug Jackson, president of LMRA, a textile market research group, then touched on ways knitted-textile manufacturers can market their goods to the industrial sector.
“It’s an extremely viable market for knitted textile manufacturers,” said Jackson. “There are plenty of opportunities from a variety of industries.”
Four key parameters, he noted, were: price, performance, service and adaptability. Under those umbrellas were other points he made about how to position product for niche marketing.
“Understanding the initial problem is key,” he said. “Once that is done, keeping up on the end user of the product is something I think a lot of fabric manufacturers don’t bother to do.”
By keeping up on the end user, he added, textile manufacturers can respond to problems quicker than waiting to hear from the clothing manufacturers.
“Learning about the industry you’re working in and its culture is also important. Different industries have distinct ways in which they do things and learning those differences is key for your business,” he told attendees.
Finally, optimize techniques and materials, said jackson, because, “Innovation is what matters most to this market.”
While these speakers brought an optimistic view, many attendees were still concerned about the impact imports continue to have on their apparel fabric businesses.
“It’s been a challenge to keep up,” said David Lyttle, vice president of sales for the Glen Raven Yarn Group. “What we’ve seen is that price is very much still a driver, now more than ever. Manufacturers want innovation but are unwilling to pay for it.”
Caroyl Miller, deputy chief textile trade negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said that while trade regulations were hurting the knit industry, she’s hopeful that continued negotiations to bring China into the World Trade Organization will prove to be a positive step for the textile industry.
“As the world’s third-largest economy, it’s imperative that China be part of the WTO,” she said, adding that China is just one of the 31 countries currently negotiating with the WTO.
Bob Dzielak, sales director for Lycra-North America at DuPont, however, sees some light at the end of the tunnel.
“Hopefully, we’re coming out of a lull,” he said. “There’s a bullish mood in the air and markets such as intimate apparel are really picking up for us right now.”
Differentiation of product and innovation, said many attendees, is still the best way for them to win the import game.
New products abound at Kosa, said Jim Lisk, the firm’s director of polyester textile filament, U.S. and Canada.
“We’re excited about our new easy-dye polyester and the color expansion of the solution-dyed product,” he said.
Also on the horizon: UV protection products for the automotive and home markets.
“You can’t compete completely on price,” said Regina Carusone, executive vice president of Lee Fashion Fabrics. “The challenge is to differentiate your product but still stay in line with price.”
The increase in licensing, she noted, has become an important factor by reducing certain companies’ ability to pay for innovation.
Lee Fashion Fabrics is benefitting, however, from the current fashion trend toward synthetic, suede and novelty looks, added Carusone.
John Emrich, president and chief operating officer of Guilford Mills Inc., is taking an optimistic view, and said that the future of the business not only lies in product innovation, but in design and patents, as well.
“Last year was not good for us, and this year is not the greatest,” he said. “But we’re optimistic that there are better paths to take and we’ve got strong people on board that are ready for the challenge. We’re ready to put our money were our mouths are.”
Emrich said Guilford plans to be cost effective in the Americas in the next two to three years. The mill’s recent investment of $60 million to build dyeing and finishing plants in Mexico is part of that plan.
“We support the Mexican apparel industry, and it’s a way for us to create a solution to the problem,” he added, noting that intimate apparel is also a growing part of their business.
“It’s a major focus for the future,” Emrich added. “We plan to double the size of it in the next four years.”

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