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Thread by thread

The lowdown on what the textile industry is talking about as new trends shape the year ahead.

The past few seasons have proved to be testing times for the textile industry, and 2012 promises to be equally challenging.

“The mild winter, poor sell-throughs, overstocks, the eurozone crisis. The Olympics, the diamond jubilee, developing markets, the growing US economy. Price of commodities, currency depreciation, weak pound to dollar, stronger pound to euro,” lists James Dracup, group managing director of luxury knitwear manufacturer Johnstons of Elgin. He adds “shortages of trained and technically skilled people” to the list and, like many in the industry, he remains cautious about the coming year, admitting that “2012 is going to be a more testing year, if that is possible, than 2011”.

Rising costs and pressure to keep pricing stable have been squeezing the textiles industry over the past few seasons, with many forced to put up their prices. However, these volatile fluctuations appear to be stabilising, so increases can be kept to a minimum. Dracup says: “Do we see prices rising further throughout next year? No. Are our prices in January 2012 higher than January 2011? Yes.”

Flying high

This certainly applies to cotton, as Allen Terhaar, senior adviser at Cotton Council International (CCI), which promotes the use of cotton, explains. “Cotton prices have dropped significantly from their record highs of a year ago, and price volatility has lessened significantly. These are positive developments overall,” he says. “One important factor is whether prices are stabilising at a higher base than before the extreme volatility of this past year, and early evidence appears that they are. This is good news overall because that higher base will encourage farmers to remain in cotton production and keep an adequate supply in the pipeline so that we don’t return to the very tight supply situation of a year ago.”

Saffron Hare, sales director at silk manufacturer James Hare, tells Drapers how the hike in prices affected her. “We deal mainly with silks, and silk yarn prices went up massively. We used to pay $22 (£14) a kilo for silk yarn, but by the end of 2011 it was $53 (£35). The sudden increases meant we had to put our prices up and, on our core ranges, we hadn’t put them up in over 10 years.”

Katy Bercovitch, managing director of luxury fabrics supplier Henry Bertrand, tells a similar story. “For silk prices, we’d get a quote in the morning, place our order in the afternoon and the following morning they would come back and say they couldn’t hold that price because everything had gone up. People were just ripping up contracts.”

Emerging markets

Although things may be improving, many people are looking to boost their businesses after the hard times by searching for new markets. Philippe Pasquet, chief executive of trade show Première Vision, believes the emerging economies around the world are worth considering. “Unfortunately, there’s no doubt that some key markets, particularly in Western Europe, will be severely hurt this year and will face a slow economy in the year to come,” he says. “The good news is that huge emerging economies like China, Brazil and Russia are becoming real outlets for sophisticated textiles.”

Henry Bertrand is one of those looking into these growing markets. Bercovitch says: “The world is a different place than it was even two or three years ago. New markets are developing and they are getting more and more fashion conscious. As the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India and China] get more money they become more aware of fashion and still look to Europe for the trends,” she says.

“You have to remain optimistic; I think the best part of the fashion industry is that it changes every six months, so you can constantly reinvent yourself.

“I think if you just sit still then other people are going to overtake you, you can’t just sit on your hands hoping things will get better. There are new markets, the colleges turn out new innovative designers every year. I think it’s an industry that is constantly changing and moving on, so it’s just something we’ve got to deal with the best we can.”

Pasquet believes that maintaining and encouraging a high level of investment in product development is key. “[Looking at the textile trade shows we’ve held] since the debt crisis broke in Greece last August, including Première Vision Pluriel in September, Denim by Première Vision in November and Première Vision Preview New York in January, it seems the whole chain is willing to play the game of innovation and creativity to keep the best possible appeal for fashion products.”

Linda Laderman, organiser of London trade show Textile Forum, agrees: “I would have been nervous about putting in more expensive fabrics and creative options,” she says, “but being brave and adding more fabrics and not worrying about the cost is what many people feel is giving them the uplift. Offering something that is different and a bit more exclusive is proving key.”

Laurent Garigue, founder of fabric manufacturer Laurent Garigue Partnership, agrees: “We’ve got to try to be as innovative as we can on the budgets that we can, that’s the real way forward. We’re eternal optimists, because you have to be.”

These sentiments are repeated by those working on the trends side of the industry, and spring 13 promises to deliver in terms of both creativity and innovation. Pascaline Wilhelm, fashion director at Première Vision, believes the coming season will see real change, with many people looking to innovate, particularly with new blends. Click here for more on the key trends for spring 13.

Proud to be British

Another area that will continue to prove central to many businesses is the continued focus on quality British textiles. Julius Walters, managing director of silk weaver Stephen Walters and Sons, says: “We are experiencing a strong interest from customers in sourcing British designed and manufactured fashion textiles and accessories, particularly from foreign markets,” he says. “In all cases, the heritage, quality and provenance of the products are the key factors that our customers are looking to satisfy on behalf of their end consumer.”

Keith Walker, managing director of fabric mill Linton Tweeds, agrees: “More and more customers are asking for labels saying ‘Woven in England’ or ‘Made in England by Linton Tweeds’, which has been great for us. The trend for British manufacturing has been growing and it seems like this will continue.” He adds: “2012 is our centenary year too, and we’re even making labels for clothing to celebrate this as it appears to be important to our customers.” Click here for more on the rise of the Made in Britain trend.

So it seems that although many mills and manufacturers have their concerns going into spring 13, there is plenty of room for optimism, too. 

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