NEW YORK — Energized by a robust second half of 1994, denim mill executives are moving with enthusiasm into 1995.

Brightening the mood, they said, are:

A generally better economy than a year ago.

Plants that are running at full capacity.

A wealth of new year-round denim products — including denim shorts, which executives say comprise nearly 30 percent of all denim used in apparel making.

The growing trend of casual dressing.

Mill executives also said they are continuing to work closer to the season, as both manufacturers and retailers are becoming increasingly demanding.

Still, executives said they are concerned about the price of cotton, which for the past eight months has been nothing short of mercurial — climbing sharply last May, then falling in the summer and now rising again.

Nonetheless executives said about 1.3 billion square yards of denim is expected to be produced in 1995, compared with 1.1 billion this year and about 1 billion in 1993.

“We are seeing a strong sales trend through at least the first half of 1995,” said Robert Kaplan, president of Greenwood’s denim division. “Early indications are that Christmas sales are doing well, and that they will continue.”

Kaplan noted that the bottomweight business continues strong, “and of course, the tremendous increase in sales of denim shorts.”

“Shorts, and the casual-dressing trend, have been driving our mills and have driven our customers to run their facilities for the full year,” said Keith Hull, president, of Avondale Fabrics. “I think the consumer wants the types of denim products that are now available. It’s not just a boring pair of jeans.”

Dutch Leonard, president of Burlington Denim, said his firm’s highlights for next year will include Reused denim, denim made from reused cotton denim scraps; Dwell-dyed denim, a fabric dipped 16 times; ring-like fabrics and overdyes and neutrals.

“Denim is exploding all over the world, but we have to make sure we can all meet the needs of the domestic customers,” Leonard said. “We are however, exploring further distribution of the products.”

Still, in spite of their exuberance, denim makers said prices of raw materials, particularly cotton, could play a major role in determining next year’s success. The denim industry is the single biggest cotton user, using about 1 million bales — or 480 million pounds — of cotton per year.

“Raw materials have had a tremendous impact on the market,” said John Heldrich, president and chief executive officer of Swift Textiles. “I think the whole line, from fiber producer to mill to manufacturer to retailer, is going to have to share in those costs.”

“Because of the price of cotton, we’ve had to pass costs on, although not all of them,” added Greenwood’s Kaplan. “Over time, we’d like to think cotton will return to normal prices, given the size of this year’s crop. However, a smaller Chinese crop would most likely change all that.”

Executives said they’re looking to ingenuity and greater efficiency to battle the price hikes.

“We are all investing in trying to make our operations more efficient and productive,” said Pat Danahy, chief executive officer of Cone Mills. “We’ve spent a lot of money toward mill upgrades to be more efficient.”

“Basically, we’re on a pretty good upswing,” Burlington’s Leonard said. “We need to keep the freshness going.”

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