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NEW YORK — The lesson of the day: Get customers with the cool factor.

In a roundtable Thursday at the Ingeo fiber showroom here, a diverse industry group gathered to discuss “Creative Motivation Through Sustainable Resources” and the importance of designing with environmentally friendly fabrics.

Panelists included Julie Gilhart, fashion director at Barneys New York; Valerie Steele, director and chief curator at the Museum at FIT; Maurizio Marchiori, vice president of marketing at Diesel USA; Steve Davies, director of fibers market development at NatureWorks LLC; Leslie Hoffman, executive director of Earth Pledge, and Marilise Gavenas, textile editor for DNR, a sibling publication of WWD.

This discussion was a follow-up to a Feb. 8 eco-friendly fashion show, presented by Earth Pledge, a nonprofit environmental agency. Thirty-three New York designers showed their work using textiles manufactured with the corn-based fiber Ingeo, made by NatureWorks, which is owned by Cargill Dow, as well as organic cotton and a silk hemp blend. Since then, Earth Pledge has been working to dig deeper into the fashion industry, hoping to get more designers to use these fabrics to design their collections.

Some companies have signed on. Diesel and Versace Sport are two of the 14 firms that will test a few designs made from these fabrics. But whether customers will take to these designs is uncertain.

“Our customer is concerned with high-end luxury,” Gilhart said. “If you start to speak to them about sustainability, they will start to drift.”

But she said if there is a way to get that customer interested through creative marketing, they will pay attention and have no problem spending their money. Gilhart gave the example of Edun, the contemporary line produced by Rogan and backed by U2 frontman Bono.

“It works because of Bono’s marketing,” Gilhart said. “It’s just an added bonus that the entire collection is made from sustainable fabrics. The point here is, the cool factor must be there to make the customers buy it.”

Hoffman said she understands this need for creative marketing in order to capture the customer. But she believes there is more to the story. Through education of the young, new designer set, the next generation of designers will understand the need to use these sustainable fabrics and in turn make it cool to the fashion crowd, she said.

This story first appeared in the May 31, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“If you deliver the message in a hip, cool way and deliver a product with a story to the customer, it connects that customer with the source and they will become engaged in the product,” Hoffman said.

The panelists agreed there is a need to use these fabrics in design, but if they are to capture the fashionable shopper, marketing is the first step.

“The desire here is for hip, cool clothing,” Steele said. “You aren’t going to get the fashion people with the ethics of it.”

The Fiber Price Sheet
The last Tuesday of every month, WWD publishes the current, month-ago and year-ago fiber prices. Prices listed reflect the cost of one pound of fiber or, in the case of crude oil, one barrel.
Fiber
Price on
5/27/05*
Price on
4/25/05*
Price on
5/25/04*
Cotton 54.57 cents 52.88 cents 62.75 cents
Wool $2.53 $2.56 $2.42
Polyester staple 69 cents 69 cents 60 cents
Polyester filament 76 cents 76 cents 58 cents
April Synthetic PPI $1.07 $1.08 $1.13
Crude oil $51.01 $55.39 $39.93
*The current cotton price is the April average on fiber being delivered to Southeastern region mills, according to Agricultural Marketing Services/USDA. The wool price is based on the average price for the week ended May 20 of 11 different thicknesses of fiber, ranging from 15 microns to 30 microns, according to The Woolmark Co. Information on polyester pricing is provided by the consulting firm DeWitt & Co. The synthetic-fiber producer index, or PPI, is compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and reflects the overall change in all synthetic-fiber prices. It is not a price in dollars but a measurement of how prices have changed since 1982, which had a PPI of 100. Oil prices reflect Thursday’s closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange of future contracts for light, sweet crude oil to be delivered next month.
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