From changes in how materials and products are sourced and made in a more sustainable way to innovations and pricing in the denim market, the textile industry is experiencing a not-so-subtle transformation.
Here, Tricia Carey, director of global business development apparel at Lenzing Fibers, discusses notable market trends, as well as her outlook for the apparel market.
WWD: From what you’re seeing across the textile supply chain, what are some of the key business trends worth noting?
Tricia Carey: Near sourcing for companies of any size is a major shift that is occurring. Once, only start-up companies were looking to source close to home, but now mid- to large-sized companies have also integrated sourcing in this hemisphere into their portfolio. Of course, there are compromises to be made, as well as the need for capital investment, but more localized sourcing is certainly happening.
Also top of mind is deciphering the maze of Free Trade Agreement acronyms. And there are many: QIZ, AGOA, TPP, CAFTA and NAFTA. So, how can value be added to the garment and not be spent on duty costs? It’s a serious issue.
Regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the hype of it has now settled into a hazy confusion of what and when will the savings be available. It still seems like there’s a very a long road ahead.
Another important trend is the implementation of sustainability practices — and at various levels. There are those companies where sustainability is embedded into their DNA and those who consider it “damage control” against bad press. There’s also an increase of [non-governmental organizations and nonprofits] watchdog groups eyeing the industry that include Canopy, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. It puts a lot of pressure on companies. And social media is also abuzz with true and false information regarding sustainability. Overall, though, brands cannot sweep it under the rug and they do need to establish systems with benchmarks to build greater sustainability.
WWD: The denim market appears to be bouncing back. What’s driving this segment?
T.C.: The evolution of denim is in another phase as technology advances. The denim segment is highly driven by a supply chain that brings innovations to the market. There are more innovations in yarn blends, finishes and sustainability. Today, it is quite common to see four and five fibers per fabric with each fiber bringing its own benefit to the blend. There are also more levels of stretch and range from comfort to active to hyper-stretch.
There also are wash innovations to achieve new dyeing and finishing effects. There are even techniques to “print” indigo effects for a non-indigo indigo.
When major global brands, like Levi’s, make a statement about sustainability the market responds and starts to develop new products, which reach a mass market price point. And there are other influencers. Patagonia, for example, has a new denim campaign addressing the environmental impacts of denim, which is one of the dirtiest and resource-intensive markets — from raw materials to processing. For our part, this has been an excellent growth area for Lenzing Fibers’ Tencel, as it is derived from wood pulp of managed tree farms and utilizes a closed-loop production cycle.
We are also seeing new silhouettes in denim that are stepping away from the skinny jean era, and into looks such as flare, boyfriends, destruction and sportswear. And with men’s denim, there is an opportunity for modernization.
Ultimately, the end goal is demand creation, and getting consumers to buy.
WWD: When it comes to textile innovation, denim seems to lead the way. Why?
T.C.: Well, first off, the size and scope of the global denim market just cannot be ignored. It’s a broad market where jeans can sell for $7 at Primark at the low-end and reach a price point of $325 at AG Denim at the high-end. This leaves open a range of opportunities for innovation at any price point. And with projections of $65 billion in global retail sales by 2020, there’s a drive to make investments at all levels of the supply chain to innovate.
WWD: Even with denim improving, the so-called “ath-leisure” segment remains strong. Why? What’s fueling sales in this segment?
T.C.: Ath-leisure is addressing a lifestyle trend of health and wellness. Ten years ago, the typical gym wardrobe was a freebie logo T and old track shorts. Now your outfit actually has to match when you workout. Until recently, I never had a gym wardrobe. Consumers had to buy new clothes to fill this “need.” For the most part, the clothes in this segment are comfortable and that is what sells. Consider this: are there really more people exercising or just looking like they work out?
WWD: Until recently, the overall apparel market has been sluggish. What’s your take on the market for 2016?
T.C.: Here’s my crystal ball outlook for 2016: There will not be a line down Fifth Avenue for the new spring apparel collection like we have seen with new Apple products. Electronics are still grabbing the wallet share. And consumers will buy with their emotions. There’s a shift in their shopping behavior. They want to support a new local line, or buy technology or do good for the Earth. They are buying a narrative, so we just have to tell it.