By Devin Steele
CHARLOTTE, NC Exhibitor Scott Yates gave the recent International Hosiery Exposition and Conference (IHE) perhaps the ultimate compliment from the show floor.
In my 10-year career, this by far has been the best trade show Ive ever attended, said Yates, general manager of PAF Sales, Greensboro, NC, which represents BTSR International, an Italy-based manufacturer of yarn control systems. Weve had more people in this booth than we ever expected from serious decision-makers all the way to technicians on the floor. At last count, we had over 200 lead sheets, so we are definitely on track. This is money well spent.
The IHE did see a drop in attendance from the 2000 show, but managed to attract more than 5,000 visitors to the Charlotte Convention Center from around the world. Thats some 10 percent over levels anticipated by The Hosiery Association (THA), the shows sponsor.
We are absolutely delighted to have achieved this high level of attendance especially given the challenging economic climate that currently exists within our industry, said Sally F. Kay, president of THA. We heard over and over again from our exhibitors that they were visiting with the industrys key decision-makers CEOs and other top executives from hosiery companies around the globe.
Indeed, the familiar quality over quantity mantra was sung by a number of exhibitors during the shows three-day run.
Companies are not sending second or third layers of management to the shows because of expenses, so the big boys are here, said Ed Gavin of National Spinning Co., Washington, NC. Even though the traffic overall is down, perhaps the clout of attendees is a little greater.
The next International Hosiery Exposition and Conference has been slated for Spring 2007. Based upon this years results, we are projecting substantial interest in both the number of exhibiting companies and attendees for 2007, Kay said. IHE has emerged and maintained its identity as being the true must-see event for hosiery professionals worldwide.
Following are wrap-ups of a few exhibitors booths visited by STN.
The BTSR International booth, staffed by BTSR and PAF Sales representatives, jumped with activity throughout the three-day show.
The most popular machine shown by the company was the KTF 100HP tension feeder for precise measuring/feeding and yarn tension control, Yates said. Weve probably had more people look at this than anything else, he said.
Among other items shown were the SMART 248TW and the IS3W and IS3N thread break detection systems; and the SMART 64H yarn control system.
Also at the show, representatives of sister company PAM Trading Corporation highlighted the companys large selection of replacement parts for an extensive range of machinery. Additionally, PAM showcased some of its high-quality, reconditioned equipment.
The new class of yarn feeder, the PRIMO, was accentuated by the company. Created for the knitting industry, the feeder brings the capabilities of yarn separation, automatic speed control and adjustable output tension. It is about one-third the weight of the companys larger SMART KNIT feeder, according to Harrell Ligon, vice president of Lang Ligon & Co., Greenville, SC.
To have such a small feeder before, you couldnt separate the wraps, he said. The feeder stopped and started and you couldnt adjust that.
Ligon said the quality of visitors to his companys booth was not bad.
Ive got this many people who want to talk, he said, holding up a stack of business cards, Thats pretty good, because they werent in a hurry and they wanted to hear about what we have to offer. There has not been a lot of glad-handing here. People are hurting. They want answers and they want equipment that will help make them more competitive.
The hit of the show for Memminger-IRO, according to Thomas Hansen, was the MSF-AI storage feeder. The combined unit provides continuous production of interlaced elastane yarn.
A lot of people have been very interested in this because this will save a lot of money, because you have your raw materials anyway all youre doing is interlacing, said Hansen, president of IRO, Inc., Charlotte, NC. Plus, the price of covered or interlaced yarn has gone up. Weve been told by some people that you can pay for this machine in a year, so thats a good sign.
In addition to its ol standby, the SFE storage feeder, the company also drew some attention with its Digi One electronic yarn feeder, which has been upgraded with new sensors and electronics, Hansen said.
It maintains the tension over a long period of time, he said. Thats one of the problems when you have changes in temperature, the tension changes. With this, it compensates itself.
The Monroe, NC-based company, which represents such companies as Tinarelli, Takatori, Leonard Automatics and Union Special in this hemisphere, showcased is Monarch Intech 750H boarding machine.
Its the best machine Ive seen since Ive been with Monarch, which is six years, said David Murray, Monarchs managing director. This is the most predominant machine in the sock industry. There are thousands of these still in production. The problem is, they have had to be manually unloaded. But we now have a system that automatically unloads, stacks, sorts, pairs and feeds the packaging machine. So with this you can eliminate all the labor, except for the loader or operator.
The company also demonstrated is MTS-I, an automatic stripping and stacking device for all Intech-designed machines.
Paul Taylor of Scallywags Socks Pty Ltd. of Melbourne, Australia, checks out Tecnopeas Ghibli sock-boarding machine in the Speizman Industries booth.
Photos by Devin Steele
The Charlotte-based company, a distributor of textile equipment for North America and Canada, represents the Lonati Group with Lonati sock machines, Santoni seamless, Matec medical and SRA and Technopea with finishing equipment. Speizman also represents Conti Complett of Milan with toe seaming equipment, G.A. Braun of New York and Milnor Co. of Los Angeles.
The company had on display the newest generation closed-toe sock closing knitting machine from Lonati; the Conti Complett PRT-EL digitronic sewing unit with the new Stepturn-2; several boarding machines from Technopea; packing and boarding machines from SRA; the Braun 400-pound top side loader (TSL) dye machine; the American Dryer 200-pound laundry dryer; and the Sail Star dye machine.
The Sail Star unit is exclusively represented by Speizman for 100-pound capacities or smaller, said Jay Martin, Speizmans vice president of Textile Wet Processing.
In its 500-square meter booth, Sangiacomo devoted a large area to its FANTASIA machines group. Among them, FANTASIA 2C is a two-feed knitting machine designed to make top-quality patterned socks and provide increased output. The machine can knit socks with three color patterns plus background on the same course with two feeds, or seven color patterns plus background with one feed.
Sangiacomo also showed its seamless knitting machines in the JUMBO family.
The company introduced to the U.S. market the Uniplet Ange 15US closed-toe knitting machine, the next generation after the Ange 12.2 machine. In contrast to other closed-toe machines, the Ange 15US does not pose a major problem in style changing, according to Otto Curda, vice president of Trustfin USA, Charlotte, NC.
Located in Jefferson, GA, Buhler Quality Yarns Corp. gained a lot of attention with its Micro Modal ring-spun yarns, according to Werner Bieri, president and CEO.
Amy Hammond (C) of the American Association of Textile Chemists & Colorists (AATCC), Research Triangle Park, NC, is flanked by colleagues Art Caldwell and Birgit Patty.
Those products have really taken off in the past six months, he said.
The company uses American Supima® Cotton exclusively for all of its cotton yarn applications.
We came here with the expectation that there would be a lot of sellers here, but not a lot of buyers, Bieri said. But I must say that we are positively surprised about the show. The quality of visitors is very high.
Buhler shared its stand with MT Associates, a yarn brokerage and sales agency business also located in Jefferson.
A wholly owned subsidiary of Carolina Mills, Maiden, NC, Carolina Maiden is the firms sales and marketing organization. The company offers a full range of synthetic yarns, as well as cotton yarns.
Carolina produces spun polyester, as well as a complete count range of acrylic and rayon yarns. Natural and pre-dyed fibers are available in ring spun, open-end spun and air-jet spun.
Were working on a lot of the new performance-type yarns, said Mike Groce, president of Carolina Maiden. Were doing some moisture-movement yarns, some antimicrobial, low-fill fibers, atmospherically dyeable polyester ... things that cant be easily knocked off by imports.
Two innovations by DuPont Textiles & Interiors (DTI) in particular attracted interest: energizing socks with DuPont Lycra® and the roll-out of T-403, a variant of DTIs revolutionary T-400 that has been specifically developed for sock constructions, according to Sheila Robinson, public relations manager.
The concept of energizing socks is derived from the combination of specially formulated Lycra yarns and new design and knitting techniques, which enables a form of graduated compression to be built into the sock fiber. This massages legs and improves blood circulation, she said.
T-403 is a state-of-the-art elastic fiber that offers optimal stretch and recovery in socks.
Hyosungs main focus was its creora® spandex fiber, which is created from a dry spinning process that gives the yarn excellent uniformity, according to James Rusty Ford, vice president of the Korean companys U.S. arm.
The company showed creora-based garments containing a number of unique performance attributes, including chlorine resistance, fluorescence, antimicrobial and seamlessness.
Hyosung also emphasized its nylon filament and polyester yarns.
All in all, were focusing on all of our good products and weve got a bunch of them, said Ford, whose company has manufacturing operations in Rock Hill, SC.
Philadelphias Jimtex Yarns, a division of Martex Fiber Southern Corp., Spartanburg, SC, presented new colors and an expanded range of marled yarns and novelty ply yarns.
Were promoting our price and product at the show, said Stefanie Zeldin, director of new business development. We want customers to know that we are the most economical producer and provide the best possible service and the quickest possible delivery, being that we are a U.S. company.
Jimtex has a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Lincolnton, GA.
Lynn Greear and Tim Koonts, both of Sara Lee Hosiery, Winston-Salem, NC, join Milliken & Co. staffers in their booth. (L-R) Greear, Terry Hightower, Koonts, Jack Skinner and Pat Marrineau.
The Washington, NC-based company showed its high-bulk and short-staple yarns, natural and dyed, in a range of constructions, colors and brands. Among them: Duraspun® and Dralon® yarns for sports, microdenier yarns for softness and wool blends for the rugged outdoors.
McMichael Sapona Marketing, Madison, NC, is the sales organization of McMichael Mills and Sapona Manufacturing. The two companies have teamed up to provide customers with a broad product line of stretch yarns, from textured nylon to conventional covered spandex, including fiber developments such as Corterra®, Tactel® ilumiae and Celanna®.
Its been a real successful combination between the two companies, said Sapona President Dean Lail. There is a lot of synergy working between the two companies. Our sales are up this year over last year and we have a broader product range. We havent overlapped in our customer base.
Also, if we dont have enough capacity to meet customer needs, then we have more capacity that we can draw on from McMichael, to move things around. Weve run some conventional covered yarns for them and theyve done some air-covered stuff for us.
Added Saponas Johnny Knowles, vice president of manufacturing and chief operating officer: It was a nice fit because weve known each other forever, and we have the same culture, which is providing service and quality to our customers. It is a nice fit. We all trust each other and its worked well. Its one of the best things weve ever done.
The companies manufacturing facilities are Lycra® Assured yarn processors offering the latest in fiber developments with a variety of air tack, oil treatment and package delivery properties.
Nilit Ltd., the Israel-based manufacturer of nylon 6.6 fibers for fashion legwear, intimate apparel and bodywear, exhibited new Sensil® collections and products, including Sensil® EverSheer and Sensil® Cupelle.
Nilit launched Sensil EverSheer, a modified nylon 6.6 yarn used for covering and protecting spandex. Due to its unique properties, the nylon embraces the spandex tightly, creating a highly uniform appearance, a luxurious and smooth, caressing feel, according to spokesperson Natalie Blumberg. Sensil EverSheer also resists snags and picks, she said.
Sensil Cupelle integrates two newly designed polymers that achieve two distinct colors in one regular dyeing process, the company added. When Sensil Colorwise and Sensil Pastelle are knitted together in any design, the result is a combination of two distinct, even contrasting colors. The concept was invented by Nilit to meet the need for high fashion, multicolored knitted products at more affordable costs, the firm said.
A new Favardi seamless bodywear collection was also introduced at the exhibition. The Favardi studio in Italy specializes in creating unique products for mass production on a variety of equipment, including Santoni machines.
In addition, Nilit introduced a sock collection with Sensil fibers.
Nylstars Dina Dunn and Richard Ridewood assist Bob Smith of Texturing Services, Reidsville, NC, in the Nylstar booth.
Nylstar, one of Europes leading textile nylon filament producers and a growing force in North American fashion, highlighted Meryl® Skinlife, its new nylon odor-control fiber.
According to Dina Dunn, vice president of marketing for Nylstar, customers look to garments and legwear featuring Meryl for a variety of functions, including ultra-softness, moisture management, ultra-breathability, UV protection, lightness, strength, ease-of-care and wind and water resistance.
Weve had a lot of brands stop by, talking to us about getting Meryl into their products, and more texturizers stopped by than I can count, Dunn said. And, of course, some of the mills have been by, too.
Nylstar, with North American headquarters in Greensboro, NC, began production of Meryl Skinlife at its Martinsville, VA, plant this summer.
Pharr Yarns of McAdenville, NC, makes long-staple, high-bulk yarns and air-jet yarns, both branded and unbranded. The company has microdenier, heather, acrylic, nylon and polyester.
At the show, were basically showing our product line on our high-bulk acrylics, said Daniel Rankin. We do have a performance yarn were showing here, the Outlast, which is a phase-change material. It stores and releases energy in the form of heat.
Unifi, Inc., Greensboro, NC, one of the worlds largest producers and processors of textured yarn, focused on its performance yarns available in synthetic intimate apparel and hosiery, according to Kim Lewis, director of marketing.
Weve been around 30-plus years and weve always been known as a high-quality commodity manufacturer, she said. But in the last three years, we realized that a lot of our commodity yarns were cheaper to make in Asia than here. So our CEO, Brian Parke, realized we had to differentiate ourselves and create a reason for people to want to do business with us. So he brought in Mike Delaney, a person with a marketing background, who came in with the idea that to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, you have to offer more than anyone else.
Thats how we developed value-added yarns, yarns that serve a purpose.
Among those branded yarns are Sorbtek, which offers moisture management; A.M.Y., which provides antimicrobial and odor control; Reflexx, which gives high-stretch performance; and Mynx UV, which offers protection from damaging sun rays.
Three years ago, if you had told somebody in our company, were going to have branded yarns and people are going to know them by name when they shopped, Im sure most of our senior management wouldve laughed, Lewis said. Our CEO believes in it, he pushed it and now its happening.
The company, which employs about 200 people in plants in Ansonville, NC, and Asheboro, NC, showed its nylon 6.6 and polyester POY and FDY microdenier and solution-dyed yarns. Among them were the Hydrofil nylon, which has moisture-transport capabilities, and the and Sunscreen nylon, a UV stabilizing nylon.
We have seen a lot of people here from this hemisphere, said John Amirthiraj of Universal Fiber Systems. If were able to work together as a textile value chain in this hemisphere, then maybe we can compete with Asian producers and be able to produce better products much quicker.
(L-R) Todd Wheeler, Jeff Stine, Adam Scire and Ray Shearin are all with Wellman, Inc., which spotlighted its Sensura, Comfortrel XP and Spunnaire performance polyester fibers during the IHE Expo.
Representatives of Wellman, Inc. put the spotlight on the companys Sensura, Comfortrel XP and Spunnaire performance polyester fibers, according to Ray Shearin, business manager, New Product Development, Charlotte, NC. This family of fibers, developed from a patented co-polymer, allows fibers to be atmospherically dyed for greater colorfastness, delivers superior fit, shape retention, excellent abrasion resistance and moisture management, he said.
Comfortrel XPs built-in moisture management system keeps feet dry, preventing clamminess that can cause cracking, blistering and odor, according to company literature.
For the thinner and lighter-weight socks preferred for jogging and running, Spunnaire brings its high-abrasion resistance, low pilling and great wicking power, Wellman noted.
Wherever softness and long-lasting cushioning are vital, such as for golf and basketball socks, Sensura advances superior breathability and low shrinkage, as well as a soft, luxurious feel, the producer added.
Its been a real good show for us, Shearin said. Weve been very busy. There has been a lot of interest in our new products. The performance fibers are drawing the most interest.
DeSales Trading Company representatives talked with visitors who stopped by for a shoe shine or just to talk about their services, which include the buying and selling of textile yarns.
Based in Burlington, NC, DeSales markets raw/bare spandex, textured polyester, textured nylon, cotton, cotton blends, acrylic yarns and sewing threads.
Based in Toronto, Thomson Research Associates supplies antimicrobials under the Ultra-Fresh brand name. Over the years, the company has developed new textile applications for Ultra-Fresh, including apparel, carpet, boat covers and awnings, according to Fred Martin, sales manager for the Southeast.
Charlotte-based Virkler provides specialty chemical products for textile wet processing. Featured in this show were Virco Assist PSD-998, a peroxide stabilizer that replaces sodium silicate in hydrogen peroxide bleach baths; Vircolev LF-770, designed to remove grease and oil; Vircolube DL, a lubricant for wet processing of textiles to eliminate streaks and lay marks; and Vircosoft MAH-300, a softener for cotton and cotton blends.
By Devin Steele
John Emrich (white shirt), CEO and president of Guilford Mills, Greensboro, NC, challenges UVAs Neil Snyder during the Realities for Global Textile Manufacturing Competitiveness seminar.
Photo by Devin Steele
Editors note: As you read in part 1 of our series, Executive Rants, representatives of the beleaguered U.S. textile industry have not sat idly by and watched the continued demise of their livelihoods. In addition to coming together as a united industry in recent weeks, several industry members recently have stood up to publicly vent frustrations and voice concerns to government officials, academicians or anyone who would listen. In this series, we are sharing some of that interesting discourse. Again, we realize that the full context of some of these remarks is difficult to capture in written form, particularly to those who werent on hand for the entire sessions, but we aim to convey the gist of this verbal volley.
Part 2 comes from the Realities for Global Textile Manufacturing Competitiveness seminar sponsored by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) and the Institute of Textile Technology (ITT) on April 22 in Raleigh, NC. Excerpts here come near the end of the second of a two-part presentation by Neil Snyder, the Ralph A. Beeton Professor of Free Enterprise in the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Snyder was trying to encourage attendees to think differently in order to compete globally when he was challenged by several industry executives, including John Emrich, CEO and president of Guilford Mills, Greensboro, NC; Carlos Moore, former senior vice president of ATMI and currently a consultant with AM&S Trade Services, Washington, DC, who earlier in the day presented a study on China; and Steve Dobbins, president and CEO of Carolina Mills, Maiden, NC.
We hope this installment of juicy summer reading engages and inspires you.
We pick up with Snyder returning to a point he made early in the day: That consumers dont care about country of origin when making purchases.
Snyder: Ultimately, consumers will determine who the players are because of the combination of price and quality, which equals value. You better figure out how to produce the highest quality at the lowest price, like the Chinese. ... Im not necessarily saying this is something that you like, but its just the facts.
Emrich: You cant just say that without linking it to our trade policies.
Snyder: Listen to the argument you just made. I could have used that argument to keep from moving those plants from Massachusetts to South Carolina: Do you know how they live in South Carolina? Do you know they dont even have toilets down there? Do you know they dump sewage in the river?
Moore: I dont think thats quite the same. I think theres an element ... the term I use is equitable conditions in competition.
Snyder: There aint going to be that.
Moore: Well, I think that there can be, to a certain extent, because countries have tried to set rules for that. The WTO has rules that can be enforced by countries if they want to.
Snyder: Didnt you just tell us about the fact that China violates those rules?
Moore: Thats a political decision that our government makes, not to hold them to those rules.
Snyder: Which is my point. None of these rules are going to be applied if the consumer ...
Moore: Thats different, though, than saying its just something youve got to do to reduce costs. Youre assuming youre in a system in which the rules are not going to be enforced.
Snyder: But theyre still going to have reduced cost labor, for awhile. (Inaudible ... talking over each other)
Snyder: Today China is creating problems for all of that part of the world. Why? Because theyre sucking up those jobs. ... The notion that Ive got the lowest-cost producer doing it for me now makes me safe is not the way to go. Its who is the lowest-cost producer doing anything you do contracting for you or whatever because youve got to be willing to go to the lowest cost. The same way Wal-Mart is putting pressure on you, youve got to be willing to do the same thing.
Dobbins: You compare my cost against China a 40 percent disadvantage and thats a hell of a difference. And thats a political decision. Thats outside the theory of economics and free trade. Its like a unicorn. No ones ever seen one.
All of these things being entrepreneurial, thinking outside the box its like mama and apple pie, youve got to do that. Thats a given. But beyond that, its easy to say I cant win a game I cant play.
Snyder: Yes you can! The point is, the winners of this game are not going to be the ones who own the factories ... and employ large numbers of people on their payrolls, necessarily. The concept of textile manufacturers is changing, that you are owning a process and a brand and that is what you do.
Dobbins: It costs millions of dollars to get brand identification. And this concept you talked about earlier, what do we get as a country? We dont get those ...
Snyder: Let me ask you a question I asked earlier in the day. Do you honestly think anybody cares where something is made? Where does that shirt come from? The U.S. They can go hunt it down and buy it if they really cared, but why dont they do that? Because they can get a less expensive shirt somewhere else thats just as good. They dont care! Maybe you do. Great!
Dobbins: Well, theres a lot more people who are caring today. That is changing and it can continue to change. People can learn to prefer something made in this country. Now, whether we have the will to (help them) change is another story. Its hypocrisy on the part of consumers.
Snyder: It will only change if consumers change their ways and be willing to accept less for more. The concept of getting less for more ... I want you to go sell that.
Dobbins: That would be a hard sell. But the alternative is a lower standard of living in this country.
Snyder: Only if we follow the philosophy that made in America is the issue. It is not the issue.
Dobbins: I dont argue that, but Sam Walton couldnt have done what he did without what we have in this country, what people are taking for granted, the fundamental structure that we have, the value, the wealth created in this country ...
Snyder: Nothing has changed except one thing: The concept of what is our domain? has changed. Were not 13 colonies anymore. Were 50 states. Did anybody have a problem with that?
Emrich: Show me a trading partner in the world whos a world power that has no manufacturing base.
Snyder: My point is, expand your nation, your geographic focus and define that as your focus. Our country isnt 13 colonies anymore. Its 50 states. Beyond that, its the Western Hemisphere. Get it through your head ... because we are creating wealth here ... and then, while youre there, think, our country is a globe.
Emrich: First of all, we manufacture in other parts of the world, so thats No. 1, OK? No. 2, its easy for you to stand up there with your philosophy, which youre entitled to, and its hard to sit here and try to run a company recognizing it is a global world and recognizing there is consolidation ... but recognizing the fact that theres a concern its not just in textiles but its a manufacturing base that is completely disappearing and I have yet to hear a good reason of whats going to replace it. I think we should live up to the deals we make. If China makes a deal, we should enforce it, OK?
So I dont think theres not a new model. Yes, theres a new model. But let me ask you a question: Where should we go to get investment into China? China was always on the radar screen for our company, but it was an expanding market to participate in, not as a region to replace manufacturing here. ... I dont care if you take your pollution control and say, thats the difference.
It isnt a fact of our being uncompetitive here. Its uncompetitive as a platform and its what weve been up against. And manufacturing shouldnt disappear on that basis. That could change tomorrow.
Snyder: Ill tell you flat out, there are issues in the world that powers in the world have determined are more important than the ones you just outlined, which are not unimportant issues. Some of them are disease, health, hunger, quality of life in general. Do you think Im not concerned about those issues?
Emrich: There has to be a way and a balance to approach these issues, without just giving away whats been built up for 200 years.
Snyder: You would have a hard time convincing the rest of the world that were giving up much! Im telling you this, and its a fact: We are not a poor country. After how many years of worrying about all this manufacturing loss, are we richer or poorer than we were in 1985? ... Are we better off or worse off than we were in 1985?
Emrich: The question is, are our children going to be better off in 20 years than they are today if we just give up all manufacturing?
Snyder: Youre not giving it up if you just enlarge your view of what is ours.
Dobbins: The great economist Abraham Lincoln said, you cant help the poor by tearing down the rich.
WASHINGTON, DC At a June 25th hearing of the Small Business Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) urged Congress to help convince the Bush Administration to take action to stop the terrible damage being caused as a result of Asian currency manipulation.
According to Cass Johnson, ATMI senior vice president, who testified on behalf of the textile industry, There is not a more important issue facing manufacturing than currency manipulation by China and other Asian exporting nations.
In the textile sector, the effect has been nothing short of devastating, he said. As Chinese and other Asian currencies have been devalued, prices for textile and apparel products from these countries have fallen by as much as 38 percent. With U.S. profit margins below 5 percent, a 38 percent price drop by your competitor pretty much puts you out of business. As a result, since 1997, we have closed more than 200 textile plants in the U.S. and lost more than 210,000 textile jobs.
Johnson called the overall impact on U.S. textiles, the worst bloodletting for this industry since the Great Depression.
By John W. McCurry
CHARLOTE, NC The 400 or so attendees at the IHE conference, representing a cross section of the North American hosiery industry, came well-versed in the vagaries of this increasingly China-centric business.
But to make sure theres no misunderstanding of the challenges facing this textile niche, conference speakers served up a dose of bitter medicine covering the supply chain from manufacturing to retail.
Neil Hightower, best known as the CEO of the now defunct family-owned Thomaston Mills, is now vice president for the North America operations of the famous Werner International textile consulting firm. Noting that Thomaston Mills was once a major yarn supplier to hosiery mills, he began his presentation promising to strip away the bark and give a glimpse of the potentially stark future facing the industry and proceeded to do just that.
China now accounts for 30 percent of world hosiery production, with the U.S. a distant second at 16.9 percent, according to Werner statisticians. The total U.S. market for hosiery is estimated at around $6 million per year. In 2002, about $1 billion was imported, representing about 1.7 million pairs of hosiery.
The largest suppliers are Caribbean Basin countries and Mexico, with Mexicos share falling in recent years. Asia is next with imports to the U.S. increasing at extraordinary rates, Hightower said.
This shift in supply is not unique for the hosiery industry, Hightower said. It is triggered by the same drives that are impacting other segments. These include opening of world markets and lowering of protection through WTO implementation, phasing out of quotas and tariff reductions, new regional and bilateral trade agreements.
Werner may be best known for its annual assessment of world textile labor costs. The 2002 figures clearly illustrate how the U.S. is being hurt by China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries that pay workers pennies an hour.
Production in China will increase substantially, while production in the U.S., Europe and Japan will continue to drop, Hightower said. Werner predicted hosiery production will fall be 25 to 30 percent over the next five years, which means import penetration of the U.S. will be 50 to 60 percent by that time. As a result, winners will be regional proximity suppliers such as Turkey and Eastern Europe to supply Western Europe and Latin America to supply the U.S.
The proximity factor will keep the textile industry from disappearing in the West, Hightower said, noting that about 20 percent of the total industry is dedicated to proximity supply. He said the Italian textile and apparel industry is todays best example of a proximity industry.
The global hosiery industry will be very different five years from now, Hightower said. Change can bring opportunity for those that prepare for the future.
Later, Marshall Cohen, co-president of NPD Fashionworld, offered the retail perspective for hosiery. He said hosiery, like other apparel, faces a new consumer with new ideas of what to expect. He said consumers want value, are willing to go elsewhere to get value and are spending across categories, not just one budget.
He noted that hosiery products today compete with categories such as entertainment, electronic products and home furnishings for consumer dollars.
Consumers are shopping less often, but buying more during their less frequent visits, Cohen said. Socks have grown even in a down hosiery market. Family consumption has grown in multi-pack and multi-price promotions
However, he said, this has resulted in short-term gains giving way to long-term losses, with the same trend beginning to occur in sheers.
Changes in retail stores are affecting sales, too. Cohen said today all department stores look alike, chain stores resemble department stores and specialty stores are no longer special and mass merchants look like chain stores with cheaper merchandise.
Keys for marketers of hosiery include multi-channel distribution and maximizing product and brand differentiation, Cohen said. He added that newness continues to fuel growth, but consumers are showing signs of getting bored.
What is the retail future of hosiery? Cohen said price and value will continue to be the most critical driver of consumer purchasing. He said manufacturers must continue to find ways to reduce costs. And, he said, no end is in sight for retail and manufacturing consolidation.
The consumer is going to be about value and fun and will be adding on, not replacing apparel products, Cohen said, adding that hosiery marketers must promote their brands and captivate consumers to succeed. They must also understand and manage value pricing. Opportunities include development of new, interesting fabrics, creation of new products such as leggings to high cellulite and continued innovations in performance categories.
Capping off the conference was a panel discussion featuring leaders of hosiery manufacturing companies and suppliers to the industry. Participating were Ken Wong, president of Ken Shing Hosiery in China; Fritz Schulte, vice president, sales and marketing at yarn manufacturer Acme-McCrary; Jesus Garcia, president of Promotora Textile of Mexico; Nerino Grassi, president of Italy-based Golden Lady Hosiery; W.C. Cheong, president of Shin Myoung International of Korea; and John Moretz, president and CEO of Moretz, Inc.
Grassi co-founded Golden Lady in 1966 with his brother. Through acquisitions, the company has become one of the leading hosiery companies in Europe. In 1999, the company acquired Kayser-Roth in the U.S.
To remain competitive, a company must anticipate new trends and collect consumer requests in a suitable manner by varying volumes and types of products and therefore the productive and manufacturing process, Grassi said. We are launching new products with special technical characteristics that have been very successful and contribute to the growth of the brands, as far as consumption as well as recognition.
Garcia said the Mexican textile industry has been hurt of late by a variety of factors, including the U.S. recession; an overvalued peso, which makes exporting difficult; and an increasing problem with Asian-made textile products being smuggled into the country. He said the industry expected big changes in the Mexican economy with the election of Vicente Fox as president, but changes have not come.
Moretz attributed his companys success to aggressive marketing of its PowerSox brand, using well-known athletes.
But perhaps the most telling piece of information on the state of the global hosiery industry came from Wong as he responded to a question from the floor. Asked about wages of hosiery workers in China, Wong said the average hosiery worker in rural China makes the equivalent of about $45 per month. Their city counterparts, with their companies propped up by the government, have it a little better. The make about $100 per month.
NO DOUBT, the International Hosiery Exposition and Conference (IHE) in May saw a lag in attendance from its last run three years ago a virtual given going in, following all of the consolidation and downsizing that has occurred in the industry. But, while strolling the floor of the Charlotte Convention Center for three days, we were hard-pressed to find anyone complaining. Here are a few remarks we heard:
Real busy, said Ray Shearin of Wellman, Inc.
Positively surprised, said Werner Bieri of Buhler Quality Yarns.
By far the best trade show of my 10-year career, said Scott Yates of PAF Sales.
Not bad reviews, especially considering the doom and gloom emanating from certain pockets of the industry leading up to the show. As little as 12 months prior to the event, doubts were being expressed that IHE 2003 would go on at all. Like most of the U.S. textile manufacturing industry, the hosiery sector was beginning to endure its share of problems, too, the result in part to changing fashion styles and, of course, cheaper imports.
But go on, it did to the delight of several exhibitors.
IN SHEER numbers (pardon the pun), the global hosiery technology event was well off the pace set during its last run (again, pardon) in 2000. About twice as many visitors set foot on the show floor then. Traffic was fairly heavy the first two days and light on day three.
Also, exhibitor numbers were virtually halved, from about 275 in 2000 to about 150 this go round. Indeed, a few notable names among machinery suppliers were missing, resulting in the shows lacking the full complement of automatic toe-closing on single and double-cylinder machines. And floor space had shrunk exponentially, reduced in size by about one hall from 2000.
But those cold, hard numbers couldnt keep some companies from singing the praises of the IHE. For several exhibitors, the show provided the perfect platform to re-acquaint themselves to the U.S. and the world. Fiber producer Unifi, Inc., for instance, came armed with legions of representatives telling visitors about the new Unifi and its emphasis on performance yarns and accompanying marketing and branding strategies. And for McMichael Sapona Marketing, the expo represented an opportunity to explain how two companies have strengthened themselves by joining forces to form a third-party sales organization. Regardless of the downturn of the hosiery side and iffy prospects, reserving a spot in the show was a no-brainer for the latter company, according to Dean Lail. Our absence would have been more prominent than our presence, said Lail, president of Sapona Manufacturing, Cedar Falls, NC. (That reminds us of the void left by Saurer and Rieter, who recently announced their pullout from the upcoming International Exhibition of Textile Machinery, but thats another story.)
WE MENTIONED iffy prospects for U.S. hosiery manufacturing. Perhaps precarious sounds better but, either way, its hard to imagine an expansion of hosiery capacity in this country in the coming years. Consulting firm Werner International certainly didnt paint a rosy forecast for U.S. hosiery during the conference preceding the exposition. One exhibitor told us: Who knows whats going to happen? Ive been through this cycle several times. I went through the double-knit cycle, when we said oh, my goodness, were never going to make it! Then, we had some real good years after that. Hopefully, this is a cycle and people will start bringing work back to the United States. Somehow, weve got to get Wal-Mart back in, buying American. Thats the biggest secret right there.
Good luck, there. It may be easier making the Middle East Road Map to Peace work. With the retailers and importers aiding and abetting China in its quest to monopolize global manufacturing, textiles and apparel notwithstanding, the future doesnt look all that promising for U.S. production. Ultimately, U.S. government policy aside, consumers will hold the trump card as they always have. Ive seen garments made in China and made here night and day, said the same IHE exhibitor. If anybody looks at the stitching, you can see the difference. People have to wake up. They have to realize theyre getting what they pay for. Lets hope that happens.
Yeah, lets hope ...