18 May 2018
High-Tech Textiles Take on Old Favourite Fabrics at US Sourcing Show
Traditional trends, such as bold prints and metallic embellishments, jostled with high-tech textiles and augmented-reality apparel for the attention and spend of big buyers at the recent New York TexWorld international sourcing expo.
It's shiny finishes and bright prints that are right on-trend at the moment, at least according to many of the textile-industry professionals exhibiting at New York's TexWorld fabrics expo. One show-goer to particularly note the enduring US appetite for all things shiny was Jeet Phulwani, the Manager of Global Textile, a Zhejiang-based textile sourcing and distribution business. Explaining his approach to the New York event, he said: "For this fair, in particular, we feel that customers want 'bling' items – spangles and sequins – which is why we have so many of them. Thankfully, the response has been really, really good."
Striking a similar chord was Justin Seo, a Sales Manager with Minerva, a South Korean fashion brand, who said: "Foil is doing very well for us right now. Many of the customers at this event seem particularly partial to it and to metallic finishes.
"While such styles first found favour in Europe, they've clearly managed the transition to New York, as have stretch fabrics, which are also very popular at the moment."
Bright prints, especially florals, were also showing well at the event. Acknowledging this, Lee Hae-Jun, a member of Seoul-based Samchang Textile's Global Export Team, said: "American customers seem to prefer bright colours with splendid designs – big flowers, that kind of thing. By contrast, Europeans seem to prefer more solid colours."
While floral prints remained popular, some have seen signs that the more abstracts patterns may be on the way back in, with Lee saying: "While florals are still on trend, more and more ethnic designs are coming through. Previously, it was emoji prints that seemed to be the coming thing."
Another to note the contrasting tastes on either side of the Atlantic was Ali Yaman, General Manager of Larmatex, a Turkish supplier of woven and blended cotton fabrics. Summarising the key differences as he sees them, he said: "Europe is far more of a fast-fashion market, while the US tends to be a little more stable and conservative, as well as being very price-oriented."
Expanding on this theme, Emirhan Kurumoglu, a Marketing Manager with Marsala Textile, a Turkish woven fabrics exporter, said: "While European customers are focused on fashion, Americans are more focused on comfort and casual wear. As a consequence, fashion is far less of an issue in the US than in Europe."
Whatever the cultural incompatibilities between Europe and the US, these are nothing compared with the great gulf between US and Indian tastes, with Ranjeet Jawanda, a Director of Partap Fashion Fabrics, which operates out of London and Mumbai, saying: "Like India itself, Asian tastes favour the bright and colourful. Here, things are more sombre, bland even."
Another notable feature of the US market is the popularity of high performance sportswear and stretch fabrics. Targeting this particular niche was Brr, an Atlanta-based start-up keen to showcase its innovative high-tech cooling fabric. Explaining how its apparently miraculous material works, Apurba Banerjee, the company's Chief Scientist, said: "Our technology delivers what we call a triple-chill effect.
Firstly, we embed certain minerals into our raw materials before they are extruded into fibres or yarns. These are added into the polymer melts, ensuring the fibre is coated on the inside and outside. This makes them an integral part of the fabric, ensuring they are never going to be washed away.
"Secondly, rather than being round, our fibre's cross-sections are multi-lobal. This is a very common way of ensuring that moisture can be drawn away from the skin and helps to keep you cool when you are exercising.
"The third element relates to our patented way of knitting and weaving fabric. We actually make our pore size bigger as that helps the wind access the skin more effectively, again helping to remove moisture."
At present, Brr's process has only been applied to synthetic fibres and a number of cotton blends. Its success to date, however, has already been enough to secure orders from a number of leading US brands, including GAP and Joseph A Banks.
Another innovation on offer at the show came courtesy of Partap's embroidery range. Outlining the new technique employed by the company, Jawanda said: "We are now using thread embroidery, a very special type of printing. The key difference is that we do the embroidery on the thread – the ground is left alone and the printing is only done on the embroidery. In total, it uses two different yarns, with only the polyester yarn picking up the heat-transfer printing.
"Alternatively, we can also produce printed textiles with embroidery on top, something that is very fashionable at the moment. In fact, the products we make using this new technology are proving globally popular."
Hoping to find a similar level of international acclaim was Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator, a New York-based ethical style hub with a focus on high-tech textiles. Introducing one of the group's more eye-catching garments – a jacket complete with traffic-signalling LED patches – Tech Architect JC Perreras said: "It's a cycling jacket and it's really been bringing people in. While it's still in development, a lot of people have already approached us about it."
Another sector being pioneered by a hub member is augmented reality (AR) textiles – clothing that, when viewed through a smartphone app, can provide surprising information or a brief animated show.
According to Perreras, after AR apparel, the next big thing is likely to be gesture-sensing fabric. Explaining its particular appeal, he said: "If you swipe down, it reads one way, while, if you swipe right, it reads in quite a different way. If, for example, you hook it up to your phone, swipe down could mean 'phone mom', while swipe up could mean 'phone dad'."
Fortunately, such interpretative textile technology was not required when it came to gauging the mood of most of the exhibitors at this year's event, with the majority of them optimistic – if only cautiously so – about their business prospects for the year to come.
Typical of the upbeat-but-wary sentiment expressed by many, Larmatex's Yaman said: "While we are doing quite well, it is still very competitive in price terms." Others broadly agreed, with Minerva's Seo saying business was "good", while Samchang Textile's Lee, with a little more reserve, conceded: "It's getting better."
Striking a less upbeat note, however, one Turkish manufacturer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "The US market is getting smaller every day. In fact, it's getting harder and harder to stay in business here."
The winter 2018 edition of TexWorld took place from 23-25 January at New York's Jacob K Javits Convention Center.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York