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PARIS — Sustainability and technology remained the headline topics at the recent editions of the Première Vision Paris, Texworld Paris and sister trade shows Apparel Sourcing and Avantex here.

Visitor numbers were largely flat, coming off a high base following a run of strong editions, with a dip in Asian visitors attributed to the Lunar New Year. PV Paris attributed a 5 percent dip in American visitors to current challenges related to the transformation of the retail landscape.

A number of mills at Texworld had upped their sustainability criteria, with 71 exhibitors participating in the show’s Sustainable Sourcing itinerary. “Traceability is becoming the biggest issue in the U.S. and European markets,” said Lenzing senior vice president for Europe and the Americas Marco Schlimpert. The company showcased its Ecovero eco-responsible viscose fiber, which launched last May and is seeing brisk demand, as well as its Refibra technology, which involves upcycling cotton scraps, for example from garment production, in addition to wood pulp to produce new virgin Tencel Lyocell fibers using closed loop production. Within the re-branded Texworld Denim section, meanwhile, Pakistan-based Rajby Industries, whose biggest clients include H&M, Inditex and Mango, debuted new sustainable cottons that use up to 50 percent less water in the dyeing process.

The sustainability push from mills at PV Paris ranged from a bulked up offer of recycled cottons to the launch of special yarns geared to knitwear production in Marchi & Fildi’s Ecotec portfolio, focused on a circular economy approach, and the arrival of fledgling Hong Kong-based recycled leather specialist, Recyc Leather, which had several visits from top-tier luxury brands. The company produces its skins using waste leather scraps from a glove-making factory based in southern China mixed with natural latex.

Recyc Leather's range.

Recyc Leather’s range.  Dominique Maitre for WWD

The fair confirmed the planned launch of Première Vision Marketplace, a new business-to-business e-commerce venture helmed by Gaël Séguillon. The online marketplace, which will connect buyers with the fair’s exhibitors and their collections on a subscription basis, is set to launch in the second semester of 2018, starting with the show’s fabric mills.

But there’s still work to be done. While the fashion industry is up to speed on e-commerce and digital processes, the maturity of the tanneries and mills in that domain is patchy. “There are huge expectations from the fashion industry, but we still need to evangelize and help companies build their visibility online,” Séguillon said.

“A number of companies I met with are still operating as they did 100 years ago, taking orders with paper and pen.…And while for designers and buyers digital processes and having access to immediate information is the norm, there are [the old-school] agents still doing the rounds with their suitcases of samples.”

Among trends, Lacoste creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista observed “more and more interesting yarn mixes, synthetics being mixed with naturals.”

Sara Maguire, girls’ wear designer at Primark, noted an “amped up” offer of “eco fabrics that you wouldn’t necessarily think were eco, with Lurex threads going through them and stuff, and a lot of hi-tech recycled fabrics.”

“There were lots of pastels and soft fabrications,” she added, also listing foil effects, Lurex in shirting and knitwear, colorful stripes, broken lines, and blurred and cloudy prints.

Designer Olivier Theyskens gravitated to “amazing classics,” although compared to 15 years ago, “it’s a bit of a battle to find them, with the salons nowadays having been taken over by a more mid-market industry,” he said.

“It all comes down to the nobility of the fiber. I’ve seen the most beautiful linens and linen-silks. I’m really looking to upscale qualities and highly engineered materials.”

Mirroring the trend for fashion houses bringing studio creatives into the spotlight, Ines Massi was on hand at Ratti SpA to show visitors around her collection of fabrics for the firm’s bespoke line which she now heads on top of ready-to-wear. The richly textured collection was inspired by Maud Wagner, an acrobat and contortionist of the early 20th century, billed as the first known female tattoo artist in the U.S.

A tattoo-inspired silk from Ratti's bespoke collection.

A tattoo-inspired silk from Ratti’s bespoke collection.  Dominique Maitre for WWD

“Ines encapsulates the vision of the collection. We wanted to give a chance to one of our designers to make a collection that comes from their heart,” said director Mario Ratti. The company, which works closely with Kering’s stable of brands, saw sales on its rtw collection leap 40 percent in 2017, boosted by “Gucci’s skyrocketing success,” he said.

Meanwhile, Andrea Crespi, general manager of Eurojersey SpA, the Italian manufacturer of the patented Sensitive Fabric, said increasing interest from fashion players like Burberry and Belstaff in its technical fabrics led to a 20 percent uptick in rtw sales in 2017, to around 28 million euros.

Visiting the Wearable Lab Village, James Henley, vice president of men’s design at Lands’ End, flagged City Bright — a Taiwanese firm offering patented smart heating modules for garments — among ones to watch.

“The way that technology has become such a big part of our daily lives, I feel like it is only going to become a natural thing for us to start incorporating that into our apparel. Be it for health reasons or comfort. Some of the technology I’ve seen here, it’s like putting on an electric blanket, which could be advantageous for the conditions in some of the northern States.”

Adrien Deslous-Paoli, managing director of De Rigueur Lab, a French firm specializing in integrated wireless charging devices, real-time tracking and data storage for leather goods, said he is in discussions with brands including Louis Vuitton and Hermès. The company is already collaborating with Lancel, Jérome Dreyfuss and Lacoste.

Participating in one of the space’s roundtables, Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, which has partnered with PV to promote French fashion, cautioned that the secret to success with wearable tech lies in a fusion of function and emotion. “If not, it’s very simple: people get bored. This is why a number of the first-generation of brands and products failed.”

Among innovations at the fair, Toray presented a patented heat-sensitive material with DuPont dubbed Tyvek that changes color when touched.

The heat-sensitive Tyvek material by DuPont at Toray's stand.

The heat-sensitive Tyvek material by DuPont at Toray’s stand.  Dominique Maitre

Perusing brands specializing in rare know-how in the Maison d’Exceptions area, Ron Hillas, senior materials development manager, trend and innovation at Deckers, stopped at Village Embassy. Scouting for possible collaborations for the group’s Ugg brand, he had struck gold.

Founded in 2017, under the initiative Chinese-American fashion designer Angel Chang, and specializing in indigo-dyed cotton pieces, the cooperative gathers the know-how of more than 200 artisans from across around 20 villages in the rural province of Guizhou, in southwestern China, using traditional techniques from the indigenous Miao and Dong tribes dating back more than 2,000 years.

“I love that they have a story to tell and that they’re trying to keep a tradition alive. It’s rare to see such dedication as that young lady has. She actually went and lived with the community for a year to learn how they make and produce things. And you can see the integrity of the material. I also like the fact that it changes over time, it wears in and takes on a beauty of its own,” said Hillas who hinted a collaboration with Ugg was a possibility. “As a company that does a lot of business in China, to give something back would not be a bad idea.”

Designers at Texworld said they were looking for standouts as consumers move away from a throwaway clothing culture. “Most customers now want something they can keep, rather than throw it out,” said Emma Bailey, outwear designer for U.K.-based wholesaler Paragon Clothing, which supplies many British fashion brands. “In recent seasons people have been looking for standout pieces, meaning embellishments were strong, but now most people have a statement piece in their wardrobe. Now it’s getting cleaner again so we’re trying to find out how to move on.” While she said U.K.-based brands are increasingly price-conscious because of Brexit, the firm is still seeing brisk demand.

Nicola Barker, senior buyer for U.K.-based men’s wear specialist BMB Clothing, said increased prices were putting pressure on the company. “You have to work a lot harder to stand still,” she said. “We’re doing really well, but it’s difficult to move forward. You have to absorb [the price increases], but men’s wear retail sales prices are sneaking up a little.”

Turkish weavers said they were benefiting from renewed demand for artisanal and natural fabrics. “Business is improving because it’s moving more toward old-fashioned, less technical textiles,” said Ceri Behar, managing partner of Turkish mill Etiteks, which counts brands including Bershka, Zara and Stradivarius among its main customers. “It’s either very clean and technical or [artisanal]. Wool is very much back, but with more relaxed, natural textures and touches of metallic.”

The firm’s response to ongoing market pressures and competition from other markets is upping its innovation quotient, he said. “The Turkish market is investing much more in design and innovation. We are spending more on professional designers who are the best in their field,” he said, adding that the company has seen sales increases in the region of 25 percent annually for the past three years.

“The market is good, but from a price perspective, it is tough because of the increase in cotton prices in December, although it has been getting better since,” said Saud Saeed, business developer for Pakistan’s Rajby Industries, exhibiting within the re-branded Texworld Denim section, where he said footfall had been slow.

Chinese silk manufacturer Shanghai Saité also said raw materials prices were putting pressure on the company’s business. “Silk prices are going up so it’s very tough,” said the company’s U.S. director So Young Kim. “We’re trying to develop blends to drive sales.” Popular blends at the moment include silk/cupro and silk/Lurex, she added, while the company’s velvets, made from a combination of viscose and cupro, are also selling well.

At Apparel Sourcing, Ethiopia was the country of honor, with 14 manufacturers exhibiting as the country pushes to develop its textile industry. “Ethiopia is a hot spot for sourcing at the moment,” said Messe Frankfurt France chief executive officer Michael Scherpe. The country is working to improve its infrastructure to attract more international investment, notably.

Among Ethiopian exhibitors, Village Industry, which makes cotton and leather shopping bags, was showcasing its own brand Afar, which used soil-dyed cotton and leather to create distinctive accessories, priced from $25 to $150. The company’s products are hand printed and made on traditional wooden looms, and it offers printing with dyes made from coffee or wine, for example.

Elsewhere at the sourcing event, Nanjing-based Modern Star Enterprises was representative of a new generation of design-led Chinese manufacturers. Specializing in silk, the firm offers artwork printed apparel, and includes department stores like Nordstrom and David Jones among its customers.

Show-in-show Avantex featured 20 exhibitors this session. Standouts included U.S. company Torq Labs, which makes connected leisurewear with Ecocert-certified fabric and sensors to create health and fitness data. After winning the 2017 Avantex prize and working at Paris-based start-up campus Station F since last July, the company is preparing to launch its first commercial products soon, said ceo and cofounder Julian Holtzman. French firm Induo, another highlight, offers patented cotton shirting fabric with stain and sweat resistant properties developed at European textile innovation center CETI, and saw significant interest at the show.

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