After years of being upstaged by man-made fibers, cotton is now taking a lead position, offering fabrics that have both advanced performance properties and that all-important super soft hand feel.
For example, Hap Co. Ltd. (Japan) has introduced cotton fabric, called Coveross, with clever functional aspects, such as 100% cotton fabric where stains magically disappear when sprayed with plain water and exposed to light.
Moto Suzuki, President Director, was showing this, and other innovations, including a fabric that remained opaque, even when wet (especially important for whites and pastels) at the recent Cotton Council International (CCI) Sourcing Fair (Hong Kong, April 10-11).
The mood at the fair was upbeat and optimistic. While no one said that business was booming, it was clear that the better suppliers were finding market opportunities.
“This has been one of the best shows I’ve attended. The quality of the people attending was outstanding,” said Hebe Schecter, President of Kaltex America Inc.
Zaki Saleemi at Sapphire Fibers Limited (Pakistan), agreed. “This fair is by invitation only, so we know who we are going to see. It’s well organized and focused.”
“The arrangement of this fair is fantastic,” added Shehryar Burney, executive director at Yellow, an apparel brand from Beximco (Bangladesh).
“We met quite a few good suppliers here,” said Evan Chiu, Divisional Merchandiser, at Ripley (Chile).
“We mainly source in China, however we are looking to shift more production to mid tier factories in India and Bangladesh,” he told Inside Fashion,
explaining that the quality of workmanship in Bangladesh can now be better than China.
Throughout the industry, sustainability remains a key topic, with mills scrambling to introduce sustainable materials – while meeting increasingly tight price points.
“We’re looking for more sustainable raw materials,” said Jenny Yan at Target, noting that she’d met some good suppliers with sustainable products.
Solucell Air yarn from BYR International (China) is one of those suppliers meeting the demand for more sustainable materials.
One of their yarns features cotton wrapped around a degradable core. “When the yarn is processed the core is dissolved out and what remains is a hollow yarn with thermal properties.
We have replaced the typical PVA with one that when dissolved out is not polluting,” said Lorenzo Rescali, Vice President.
Foison Textile (China) has introduced denim with 50% recycled fibers. “Buyers are sampling this now,” Donny Chong told Inside Fashion.
However, mills were divided over whether buyers were willing to pay a higher price for sustainable fabrics.
At Envoy Textiles Ltd. (Bangladesh), Sabina Velasquez said buyers would pay more for sustainability. Other mills said buyers put price first, and so most don’t actually buy the sustainable fabrics.
The general feeling is that everyone would like to use sustainable materials, however most buyers either can’t or won’t pay a premium price for them. The clever supplier who can offer greener products at competitive prices will win the market.
“Actually, cotton is more sustainable compared with polyester,” pointed out Mr. Saleemi at Sapphire.
At PT Lucky Tex (Indonesia), Ratih Gunawan said that most people were asking for 100% cotton fabrics because cotton is a natural fiber.
“We’re seeing greater demand for true transparency,” said Andy Strassel, director of sportswear and jeans at Kaltex, adding that there was also a movement towards open costing.
Stretch Stays Strong
Stretch continues to top the list of bestsellers. It might not be new, but it’s selling and that’s what matters. While looser silhouettes are making fashion news, it's still the skinny jeans that are selling at retail.
“The silhouettes that are selling are skinny, or at least very tapered,” said Mr. Saleemi at Sapphire, discussing what mass market and mainstream brands are buying.
“Open ended denim is very big right now, and people want to add stretch to this,” he told Inside Fashion.
Most denim mills were featuring bi-stretch and emphasizing the importance of fabrics with good recovery.
“People are looking to bi-stretch for comfort. Our bestselling denim is super stretch (40-60% stretch),” said Ms. Velasquez at Envoy.
Other mills were also still seeing strong demand for jegging-type fabrics. “In the EU jeggings are cheap.
They are an entry-level product. In the US, they are elevated with more details such as a fly and pockets,” said Mr. Saleemi. Jeggings were also being interpreted for athleisure collections through the addition of sporty trims such as oversize zippers and more ornate metal closures.
At Foison (China) comfort stretch with 4% growth (not too stretchy) and good recovery was in demand.
In non-denim fabrics stretch is also important. “People are asking for prints with functional properties like quick dry and silky touch, said Ms. Gunawan at PT Lucky Tex (Indonesia).
Business remains good for Topson Group International (China), whose cotton jersey knit fabrics are in demand by leading Mainland Chinese brands. “We have long term relationships with our customers, which helps to keep business stable,” said Ella Ma. One of Topson’s bestsellers is a mercerized cotton jersey fabric that looks and feels like silk.
Mélange knits remain a top seller, now in softer more muted interpretations. However the ‘snowy’ or ‘speckled’ looks have become less popular, according to Irfan Akbar at Sapphire Fibers Dyeing Unit.
Stripes, for both Tshirts and polos, are decreasing, being replaced by more pronounced or ‘loud’ constructions.
“We see herringbone, pique and twill – in very ‘in your face’ constructions – becoming the next big trend,” said Mr. Akbar.
Fine gauge ‘baby terry’ (200-230 gsm) is in demand, according to Mr. Akbar. Both yarn and fabric mills said that the fine gauge qualities are seen as adding value to the garment.
From performance innovations to dynamic new weave constructions and special finishes, cotton is taking the fabric world by storm, at a time when product differentiation is no longer an option – it’s a must.