Despite market challenges, denim is doing fairly well. On the one hand, the category is riding on a still-healthy US market, and a strengthening market in Europe. On the other, for all but the most high-end, price pressure is relentless.
“Business is good, but it’s very competitive. There are new companies coming into the market all of the time,” said Bhavesh Patel at Anubha (India).
“Textiles is the only industry where product prices always go down year after year. But cost go up each year,” said Jawad Khalid at Blue Diamond by Sapphire (Pakistan), summing up the sentiments of just about every denim mill and garment manufacturer, regardless of what country they are from.
As in most categories, too many suppliers chasing too few buyers is driving down prices.
“Buyers want better products, more sustainability, and lower prices,” said Syed Kamran Shah at Soorty (Pakistan), a challenge that’s not likely to go away any time soon.
“The path to survival is to find ways to control costs. You also have to be innovative…very innovative. Then you can sell the ‘newness’ at a higher price,” he explained.
Kingpins has emerged as a leading place to source innovation.
New and Innovative
“Our business is up about 10-30% this year,” said Kazi Chan at Base Wealth (Hong Kong).
“We working with customers on more new developments … they are interested in new fabrics. Before, most buyers were just using running fabrics. Now they are willing to try new fabrics and new styles,” he added.
However, most buyers are still being cautious and want plenty of flexibility.
They could find that at Indigo Istanbul (Turkey).
“We’re are able to play with color. We’re very strong with sulfur dyed colors,” said Roberto Cedolin. One of Indigo Istanbul’s bestsellers was a multi-colored fabric.
“You can buy one fabric and then use it all year. You simply adjust the color or use different washes on the one base fabric to get different looks,” he explained.
Indigo Istanbul’s fabrics are 99% cotton and a massive 150 cm wide.
“We are selling to both mid tier and luxury brands. Buyers like the color richness we can deliver,” said Mr. Cedolin.
In terms of style innovation, the stand out was Stella Blu (Hong Kong), which was showing a collection of ‘must buy’ fabrics that featured indigo.
“We want to take indigo beyond the 5-pocket jean,” said Marco Stefanelli. The collection was focused more on tops and outerwear and included super lightweight laminated cotton voile, a quilted 4-layer fabric for outerwear, and an indigo fabric with foil lamination on the reserve side.
Cleaner & Greener
The Kingpins organizers have made making denim more sustainable their core mission, so not surprisingly, mills brought their best product developments in sustainably produced denim.
For most mills the focus was on using recycled fibers (Repreve, Refibra), cleaner chemistry, and reducing water usage.
One of Prosperity Textiles’ key sustainable offerings was denim that contained about 15-25 percent Repreve (recycled polyester).
“Sustainability is an abstract idea. Yarns that use recycled water bottles are an easy concept for consumers to understand,” said Aaron Driggers at Prosperity Textiles, discussing the challenge communicating the sustainable aspects of a product at retail.
Still, although everyone is talking about recycled materials, virgin materials make up about 70-95% of the fabric composition. And, fabric with a recycled component account for about 10 percent of all fabrics on offer. Looking ahead, as recycling technology develops we will see
“Cotton is still the most important material. It isn’t going to go away. It’s affordable, it’s biodegradable – two key factors. We’re at the early stages of developing recycled cotton.
It’s not just about fibers. For many mills the solution lies in cleaner chemistry. “Our Conserv Blue process uses 95 percent less water during the dyeing stage,” said Esra Kula from Kipas (Turkey).
Sapphire (Pakistan) has introduced its Leaf dyeing process, which is a superficial dye that is easier to laser off, thus uses less energy.
Looking to the East
While most mills rely on Western markets to drive their business, a growing number are now looking to develop business in Asia – with Asian brands.
“The Asian market is growing, that’s why we came here,” said Mr. Cedolin. Kipas (Turkey) was also exhibiting at Kingpins Hong Kong for the first time, and also for the purpose of reaching Asian brands.
With traditional markets at maturity, there’s no doubt that the world’s leading mills will be making a bigger effort in to make in roads into new markets in the coming years.