Amid a tense and uncertain climate mainly created by President Trump’s actions and promises to turn global trade on its head, sourcing and textile executives are trying to formulate a strategy amid the chaos.
From European fabric firms looking to maintain and grow their business in the important American market to U.S. mills and brands seeing opportunity for a strengthening of their revival movement, executives showed strong resolve at the latest editions of two vital trade shows in New York.
Mixed in with the Trump threats and actions on international trade agreements and relationships are the Instant Fashion phenomenon and the continued desire and move toward greater sustainability in the supply chain.
Guglielmo Olearo, exhibitions director for Première Vision International, said, “The fashion world is questioning itself. The way people are consuming fashion is different, so the way to create fashion is changing.”
He said there is a “generalness, a seasonless” approach that came about over the Instant Fashion movement, that is practical and can lead to some smart strategies such as more local manufacturing, but “it does create confusion.”
Olearo said the problem that’s pervasive, whether economies are holding their own or struggling, is consumption.
“Price is a very sensitive point versus the real value of the product that the consumer is buying,” he said.
There is more interest in Made in USA apparel, Olearo noted, and with this being the New York edition, it’s one aspect that organizers want to continue to stress.
In that vein, a special area featured five companies that are candidates for the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative, a joint program of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the New York City Economic Development Corp.
Participating companies — New York Binding Co. for Nanette Lepore, Fantastic Furs for Brock Collection, Sunrise Studios for Derek Larson, NYC Factory and New York Embroidery Studio for Thom Browne — were meeting with interested parties with a display and lounge set up.
Cal McNeil, senior associate of strategic partnerships, explained that FMI is a grant program designed to support local fashion manufacturing and promote growth in the city’s fashion sector.
Olearo noted that the global partnership with the CFDA features several initiatives, such as providing assistance to young brands and designers, a curated tour of Première Vision for CFDA members and mills allowing smaller minimums on orders.
At Texworld, an Instant Fashion panel found common ground on many of the issues.
Tara St. James, production coordinator at the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator, who also has her own label, Study NY, said one thing she did was start producing capsule collections regardless of season and “did away with my fashion calendar.”
“I’m a champion of organic cotton, as well,” St. James said. “It also offers the ability to be more nimble with your brand. As a designer who is manufacturing specifically locally here, it’s adding a system to your company such as garment dyeing, so you can produce larger quantities of a single style but not have to be confined to a single color by keeping their goods in the greige state.”
St. James, who manufactures in New York and North Carolina, said, “We are seeing more communication throughout the supply chain. I think that’s going to have an effect not just on sustainability, but also on how we produce and respond.”
David Sasso, vice president of sales at Buhler Quality Yarns in Jefferson, Ga., said, “There’s a perception that U.S. yarns are pretty expensive, but the reality is often quite the contrary. We’re actually pretty competitive. So we don’t just sell the yarns, but we sell the entire supply chain and the value it brings. We compete on the garment, so we have to work on that supply chain structure.”
Sasso said when people talk about speed to market, what yarns and fabrics to focus on and what technology to invest in is vital.
“It’s also a commitment from the brands and retailers that can speed up the process and make it consistent to allow Instant Fashion to work,” Sasso said. “People are often trying to save 10 cents but losing a dollar because of the value of time and trying to capture the desire of the consumer to buy right now.”
Marci Zaroff, founder and chief executive officer of Metawear, said in 2013 she set on a mission to help bring back manufacturing back to the U.S.
“I opened Metawear, a factory in Fairfax, Va., that is turnkey production for cut and sew, garment dyeing, screen printing, embroidery, everything under one roof, all embedded with sustainability,” Zaroff said. “To address Instant Fashion, it’s quick returns and lower minimums.”
She also said fabric choice matters and her company, Under the Canopy, has focused on organic cotton and other organic fabrics that are made in the U.S. for their availability, cross-seasonal appeal and sustainable characteristics.
“When you incorporate the high minimums, long lead times, risk factors, the compliance, the logistics and really look at how that adds to the cost, we actually make a case that even if cost of goods is more in the U.S., you’re likely to be more profitable,” Zaroff added.
That’s not to say that innovation isn’t still important, especially when it comes to making materials more sustainable, which was the subject of seminars at PV and Texworld.
In a “Smart Materials” seminar at PV, Claudia Richardson, materials innovation manager for Patagonia, said, “We have a lot of suppliers who are interested in working on sustainable solutions. We like to be innovators in the space and hope that other people will follow.”
Among Patagonia’s efforts in the field are the world’s first Neoprene-free wetsuits made with natural rubber from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council certified by the Rainforest Alliance, innovation to reduce CO2 emissions, and the use of Repreve recycled polyester and development of spider silk.
Sara Kozlowski, director of education and professional development at the CFDA, said, “Co-creation is the future of fashion,” noting the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative has 10 participating brands, many of which are focused on “transformation in their supply chain and organization…on material innovation.”
The mission of the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative is to inspire thought leadership, facilitate the implementation of innovative business practices and create meaningful change within American fashion.
One aspect involves developing a 97 percent zero waste capsule clothing collection with Eileen Fisher collaborating with three Parsons graduates.
At Texworld, in a discussion of “Preferred Fibers” and sustainability, the evolution of the role of brands in environmental and social responsibility was in the spotlight.
Jeff Wilson, director of business value strategy and development at the Textile Exchange, said, “We need to stop asking what is essentially a silly question, which is ‘How much more would you pay for a better product that doesn’t hurt people or hurt the environment?’ Building an aware consumer is very important, but the industry owes itself this work. What right-minded person or brand would want to buy a product built on slave labor over another that’s not? It’s about better business and building an industry that’s doesn’t hurt people or the environment, and we’re able to do that to by driving economies of scale and not whether the consumer will pay more for it.”
Daren Abney, BCI said, “Verification is a very critical component to the BCI system and to the entire industry it’s a key cornerstone. Brands are building integrating sustainability in a way that builds business value.”
Abney said BCI grown from 375 members to almost 1,000 at the end of 2016, as an example of companies interested in operating in a better manner.
Robert Bergman agreed that brands have the ability to make claims based on metrics in pace and strict parameters.
“In this day and age, everyone has to know where their materials are coming from. You have the responsibility to know your supply chain.”
Andreas Dorner, Lenzing’s global marketing director for Textile Fibers, said, “You need to get certified and have the proper credentials and systems so you and your customers know what they are getting. There is no way today for a brand not to have an environmental or sustainable story.”