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Textiles Report: Material World

Textiles are back in focus as designers, retailers and brands put a renewed emphasis on quality and provenance.

The current trend for daring textile design looks set to continue into spring 14. This is affecting every sector of fashion, as high street retailers are inspired by designers such as Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto and Jonathan Saunders, as well as brands such as Burberry.

This is leading to an unusually positive outlook for the textile sector. While the UK and global economic situation continues to be a concern, the move back to quality fabrication, as opposed to embellishment and trim, is a significant factor.

Furthermore, technical developments - and the boost given to performance fabrics by Stella McCartney’s designs for Team GB at last summer’s London 2012 Olympics - are also coming to the fore.

The sector has been dogged by price fluctuations, but it is looking more steady than it has for a number of seasons, as both wool and cotton prices stabilise at levels that the industry has accommodated.

Michael Scherpe, president of Messe Frankfurt France, the trade fair organiser behind the TexWorld fabric shows, says globally the textile market expanded by 6.3% in 2011 to reach a value of $630.6bn (£401.1bn), representing a compound annual growth rate of just 4.4% for the period 2007 to 2011, based on figures from the research firm MarketLine.

Growth came largely from the Asia-Pacific and South American regions, with the US and Europe losing market share. Europe’s market share has dropped from 22% in 2007 to 19.6% in 2011. The US’s share has dropped from 14% in 2007 to 11.5% in 2011.

Scherpe says: “Given the considerable uncertainty in the global economy and the fact that the debt crisis in the eurozone continues to hit business and consumer confidence, textile and clothing markets are expected to remain subdued in 2013, as in recent years.”

He continues: “But in the current economic situation, higher quality is selling well compared with a decade ago, driven by demand for high-end fashion garments from developing countries. In developed countries, brands favour higher quality ‘to make the difference’, whereas high street fashion keeps developing higher-quality capsule collections, mixed up with basics, to attract quality trend-savvy customers and to boost their bottom line.”

In some sectors cotton use is on the up, despite the cost. Chantal Malingrey-Perrin, who runs Paris textile show Première Vision’s ‘Denim By Première Vision’ exhibition, says: “Cotton prices have been stabilised for several months now, but the raise didn’t have an impact on the final consumer. The impact was mainly on the weaver and garment makers, who have had to adapt and absorb the increase while continuing to provide to their customers equally high quality and creative collections.”

Malingrey-Perrin maintains that the denim sector - worth $94bn (£59.8bn) globally in 2012, according to Euromonitor International - is growing, as non-denim brands add denim to their offer and new brands launch.
Another factor affecting costs as well as trends is the widening availability of digital printing, which has more economical set-up costs than traditional printing, giving an advantage to small runs.

Retail and fashion consultant Sim Scavazza says: “Fashion has been up-trading in terms of fabrics for the past two to three years as the feel and handle of fabrics and the use of natural fabrics has become more important.”

Scavazza welcomes the perceived return of a focus on textiles in fashion design. “The skills that I learned as a trainee buyer were partly through textiles. We kind of lost that art as buying became all about cost. Cost is still
the issue, as no customers want to pay more, but jerseys are coming back, giving garments texture. And we are seeing jacquards too, even in cheaper fashion.”

She adds: “The focus on textiles is great for a small number of companies, but how do we translate that to the middle and mass markets when we have really squeezed the textile industry?” Scavazza believes that this will be achieved through technical developments in textiles, which are creating fabrics that appear to be more expensive than they are, adding value through enhanced performance such as cold weather heat retention.

The UK textiles sector is more optimistic than it has been for a number of years. Peter Ackroyd, global strategic adviser to industry body The Woolmark Company - and who is also executive director of the Campaign for Wool and president of the International Wool Textile Organisation - is witnessing a revival in demand for British menswear fabrics in particular, largely off the back of the success of top-end British heritage brands in Asia.

Indeed, trade body the UK Fashion and Textile Association estimates that the value of UK manufactured clothing and textiles in 2011 was £8.1bn, with an estimated overall export value of £7.3bn, up from £6.8bn in 2010.

Wool prices have stabilised at 1,000 Australian cents per kilo - a level that underscores the quality of fibre, Ackroyd says.

Ackroyd also highlights how a new mid-market focus on authenticity is leading to increased demand for British wool and worsteds. “Several menswear retailers want to talk about the origin of the fabric, as the cloth is so important to the garment,” he says, citing some Marks & Spencer menswear being labelled with the name of the UK weavers responsible for supplying the fabric, such as Alfred Brown, based in Bramley, near Leeds. John Lewis also has a strong menswear tailoring business that uses UK fabrics.

Men’s young fashion brand Ben Sherman has also started crediting its mills. Leon Soulsby, the brand’s international tailoring sales development manager, says youthful menswear shoppers respond to this: “They
buy into the theatre of it as much as anything. For spring 13, we’re crediting the Italian mills we use and for autumn 13, we’re doing the same with the British mills.”

The brand is strengthening its links to mills and its autumn 13 collection includes a limited-edition collection made with a Shetland fabric from Yorkshire mill Abraham Moon.

And it’s not just menswear, according to Eleanor Robinson, buying manager at premium etailer My-wardrobe.com, womenswear brands are engaging more with provenance, particularly at a premium level. She says: “The Chanel pre-autumn 13 show put Scottish knitwear and tartans back in the spotlight. As consumers
become increasingly tired of disposable fast-fashion and adopt more of an investment approach to shopping, they are looking for good-quality, long-lasting and hard-wearing fabrics.”

She adds: “Fabrics made in the UK tend to tick those boxes more readily than those from the Far East or other fast-fashion producers.”

However, it is about more than origin; Robinson says current trends are putting textiles into the spotlight for shoppers: “As minimalist fashion builds pace, there is added focus on the quality of fabrics. Nubbly wools and luxurious silks, for example, work beautifully with the new, clean, simple silhouettes.”

International fashion consultant Anne Tyrrell concurs: “It is a very exciting time for textiles,” where the fabric, its quality and provenance are becoming an endorsement of the quality of a garment. She continues: “There is a tremendous demand for new fabric developments and our UK mills are doing fantastically, which must be applauded.”

Trends are working to the fabric industry’s advantage, while consumers are scrutinising textiles more rigorously than ever. Retailers and brands are keenly aware of this, which is boosting prospects for the sector in the year ahead, despite the perilous economy.

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