Byline: Marilyn Nason

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Automatic toe-closing knitting machines, washable scented yarns and multitiered displays were some of the new gizmos shown at this month’s International Hosiery Expo.
Held at the Charlotte Convention Center from April 9-11, the event featured 225 companies. Among the machinery companies exhibiting at the show were The Lonati Group, Sangiacomo, Rumi, Nagata Seiki, Da Kong, Cesare Colosio, Irma-Tex, Cortese and Paderno Dugnano.
More than 10,000 hosiery executives turned out — about 25 percent more than expected, according to Sid Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of The Hosiery Association, the show’s organizer.
Attendees were most interested in toe-closure machinery, equipment that knits legwear and sews toe seams on the same machine, and seamless knitting machines, equipment that is large enough to make hosiery, lingerie or even outerwear, Smith said.
The ever-widening assortment of yarns were another big attraction. Attendees were interested in finding new applications for Nylstar’s Meryl brand, Fillattice USA’s Linel and Linel Comfort, Solutia’s Ginny microfiber, DuPont’s Lycra spandex and Tactel, and Bayer Corp.’s Dorlastan.
Reflecting the increasing impact of the global market, the show drew a strong international showing, with 25 percent of the attendees from outside the U.S., representing 70 countries. Contingencies from Central America and South America accounted for a good deal of the international attendees, with Asia and Eastern Europe also having big groups, Smith said.
“This is certainly the most international edition of the show in its 20-year history,” he said. “It also underscores the importance of the show and the new things that were being unveiled here.”
Many exhibitors set up production lines on the convention center’s floor for sheers and other legwear products. They showcased machinery for new methods of steaming, boarding and packaging, and there were also displays for new yarns, color waves and computer programs designed to upgrade the global hosiery market from basic commodity to fashion accessory.
During “Conference 2000,” a day-long seminar curtain-raiser to the IHE, legwear executives addressed the opportunities and challenges in the market.
Delivering newness in legwear is a priority for Wal-Mart’s 2,600-unit operation, according to Julie McKenzie, legwear and intimate apparel buyer for Wal-Mart. Hosiery will be featured in the retailer’s new “neighborhood” market stores, she said.
With 40,000 to 60,000 square feet, the stores are smaller than Wal-Mart’s superstores. One of the reasons they have been developed is to help alleviate congestion in the larger-format stores. “We anticipate customers will enjoy a true grocery-store type of experience in these smaller stores,” McKenzie said.
Another panelist at Conference 2000, Nerino Grassi, president of Golden Lady and chairman of Kayser-Roth Corp., said improving yarn offerings is essential to reverse decreased consumption.
The popularity of casual looks has affected consumption, Grassi stressed. Last year in Europe, he noted, the average consumer purchased 25 pairs of legwear compared to 29 pairs in 1998.
Golden Lady, which purchased the Kayser-Roth Corp. last year, is working to produce more innovative lines, reduce costs and focus on an efficient organization to produce profitable growth, Grassi said.
During another panel with retailers, Mary St. John, legwear and intimate apparel buyer for Family Dollar, noted that Lycra-blend products had recently been added to the retailer’s offerings for sheers. Lycra-blend sheers are offered in multi-packs, which continue to account for a substantial amount of Family Dollar’s legwear merchandise.
Panelist Terry Campana, merchandise manager for legwear and intimate apparel for Banana Republic, said she was excited about the upgrade in available yarns and the new quality in hosiery.
Reinforcing the sentiment shared by others at the show, Campana said that casual legwear has made serious inroads in the sheer business. Given that many 23-year-olds have never worn sheers, she suggested focusing on bare-leg looks to build that customer base.
Campana also noted that baby boomers are interested in wellness-type products, which could be an area to be developed.
One of the show’s exhibitors, PTFE Technologies Group, introduced its “Rx Comfort Hosiery” knee-highs. The item is available in two sizes and two colors and is knit with Teflon, which, according to PTFE, will help prevent blisters, calluses and abrasions.
Virkler unveiled its AEGIS microbe shield, which is blended into yarns and offered in various scents, including bubblegum, fruit and candy. The aroma is designed to withstand 20 washings when used in cotton socks, and 10 washings when used in nylon sheers. For men, there are AEGIS lavender-scented socks.
O’Mara Inc. introduced its patented “HealthShield” antimicrobial agent, which is also blended into legwear yarns. The item is designed to maintain its potency for a year, despite perspiration buildup and machine washings, a company spokesman said.
In other news, The Hosiery Association, the organizer of the International Hosiery Expo, and the show producer for FAST, a European hosiery show held in Verona, Italy, have coordinated their schedules so that both shows are 18 months apart. In the past, the shows were held on alternating years.
The schedule was changed since “new technology doesn’t roll around every year,” said Sid Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of the Hosiery Association.
Next year FAST will run March 21-24 in Verona, Italy, and the IHE will be staged the following year from Nov. 4-6 in Charlotte.
On another front at this year’s show, Conover Plastics focused on items for display.
The company introduced its “waterfall” hanger, which displays up to six pairs of socks. Hangers are available in black or white and can also be custom dyed.