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JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2018
INDUSTRY REPORT / FORECAST 2018

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Market Forces Shaping the Future of Textile Innovation
The corner office may not come equipped with a crystal ball but the top-level execs we talked to recently have a clear vision of what’s on tap for 2018. Conversations revolved around key trends influencing industry direction and what they foresee for the year ahead. Here, and on the following pages, we take a close look at how textile businesses approach today’s need for speed and a corporate identity defined by values.

Speed to Market & On Time Delivery 
With consumers demanding faster trend turnaround and Amazon — along with other retailers  — offering delivery in a flash, textiles will need to keep pace. Similarly, as the industry shifts from pre-season to “ASAPs,” and more brands adopt a direct-to-consumer model, investing in quick turn technology or speed to market strategies is top of mind for 2018. “There continues to be a drive toward shorter and shorter development cycles, and speed is the future,” states Stephen Kerns, president, Schoeller Textil USA.

Execs all along the supply chain agree. “We definitely feel it, experience it, and respond to it,” says Lisa Owen, senior director, Global Textiles Business, Microban. “Speed to market has significant effect on all active/outdoor brands.”

Chad Altbaier, VP, Downlite Outdoor adds, “In this changing world, where consumers are going online for more and more of their purchasing needs, having effective and efficient logistical systems that will enable quick and accurate delivery of product is a requirement.”  David Parkes, founder, Concept III Textiles, mentions a recent WSJ article (11/28/17) that reports Walmart – and others in the grocery business – are charging fines for late delivery. “With the impact of Amazon, and more brands and retailers going direct to consumer, delivery will mean faster availability.”

Re-Thinking Sourcing Solutions 
“Local for local,” “regional manufacturing” and “re-balancing sourcing,” are now industry catch phases in the effort to compress supply chains as today’s business world spins faster.

“We are seeing shifts,” Owen of Microban explains. “Whereas in the past sourcing was primarily in one region, now more companies are more likely to understand the need to produce in regional markets, and thinking along the lines of ‘local for local.’ These days it has to be the right product, the right time and the right place in the global supply chain.”

Microban has recently established new distributor relationships to expand services. An agreement with Tanatex Chemicals, for instance, will make the entire Microban textile product line available in Europe for the first time. “We are working collaboratively and doing regional re-balancing of product to help source from places like Turkey, Central America, Mexico, and Africa,” says Owen. “It’s happening!”

Diversified sourcing that aligns with partner production is key, explains Pierluigi Berardi, director global marketing, Nilit. “Logistically you need to respond and adapt to the market.” Nilit has strategic locales in Brazil; the U.S. (Virginia); Italy; and China. Berardi sees traction in Central America, too.

Once described as “China + 1,” sourcing conversations now are more along the lines of “1, 2, 3, 4 + China.”

Case in point, Unifi is expanding global capabilities to be close to finished product. “That is first and foremost in terms of speed to market,” says Jay Hertwig, VP, who mentions Unifi’s new letter of intent with Guatemala. Additionally, Hertwig cites growth in Asia outside of China. Unifi now has sales offices in Taiwan, Vietnam and Turkey.  From the tech perspective we need to be “closest to the finished form,” states Bob Buck, technical fellow, Chemours, who advocates for “local for local” sourcing with strong collaboration between brand partners.

“From the vantage point of the raw ingredient supplier, we’re girded and ready to supply the need.”  Owen concludes, “It used to be that sourcing strategies were based on cost. Now time is money and that is driving sourcing decisions.” 

CULTURE COUNTS

In the Year Ahead, Technology & Values Need to Align
A  strong stance on sustainability stewardship has differentiated the active/outdoor category in the marketplace in recent years, but as consumers increasingly seek values-driven brands that promote a culture beyond heightened eco-awareness, companies are leveling up positioning to “doing the right thing” – socially, environmentally, and politically. Are we seeing the demise of a “product-first” platform in active/outdoor?  “Energy and money being spent is happening internally on things like bluesign, recycled, and sustainability efforts,” says Chris Parkes, partner, director sales, Concept III Textiles. “When I walk into meetings, what gets mentioned first are certifications like RDS and bluesign. These are the boxes being checked. And then comes product.” 

Bob Buck, technical fellow, at Chemours, believes that business as a force for good is increasingly taking hold. He states, “Over the last decade the focus has been on product. And what impact that product made on the environment and socially. Now companies are thinking more like a B-Corp and looking at how the eco dimension and social dimension play into the ethos of how the company does business.” Buck adds, that it’s not only about “how to do it,” but also how to articulate this approach.

Buck concludes, “This is a different mindset than 10 years ago. Now a social/societal model is emerging.”

Parkes agrees that product development is not the driver.  He states, “Values – yes. Company messaging those values – yes.”

Unifi VP Jay Hertwig, confirms, “We are seeing a shift in terms of interest in product performance and growing interest in values and sustainability.”

Click on to Unifi’s website and “Made for Good” is the first line in the company’s description. About a year ago, Unifi worked with a research company to reach “green” consumers to try and determine what resonates with regard to the company’s recycled polyester product Repreve. The takeaway was people’s connection with recycling nowadays is more about the transformation, rather than the act of recycling. “At the end of the day, it came back to the underlying goal of “recycling for the good of tomorrow,” explains Hertwig.  “That’s what it is really about, and we’re doing our part.”

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TECHNOLOGY | InSULATION

Warming Trends

The Season Ahead Signals Slimmer, Smarter & Sustainable Options. By Debra Cobb
Outdoorsman Eddie Bauer invented his goose down jacket back in 1936; and since then insulated outerwear has become an iconic item for the outdoor industry. The years have brought us insulation innovations ranging from synthetic batting and microfiber plumes to waterproof down, wool, and other natural fibers; and few apparel categories continue to focus more intensely on textile innovation than the cold weather active outdoors space.

Sustainability has become a must in the insulation game, with synthetic category leaders PrimaLoft and Polartec touting increasingly high percentages of post-consumer recycled fibers in their products, and European leader Thermore offering PeTA-approved vegan certification for their insulation.

DuPont renewably-sourced Sorona brand and Unifi Repreve recycled fibers are teaming up to innovate a range of high-performance, eco-efficient insulation solutions. “As we have engaged more mills for the insulation product we are seeing new information around the performance optimization for this renewable and recycle story,” reveals Renee Henze, marketing director for DuPont Industrial Biosciences.

“Once fully commercialized, we feel there will be a collection of performance insulation wadding products,” she promises.

A number of outdoor brands are creating their own eco-insulation with unusual ingredients. For example, Australia’s Mountain Designs’ Seawool is an insulating functional fabric made from a blend of recycled oyster shells and recycled polyester. And United by Blue’s B100 Fill combines sustainably sourced bison hair with recycled polyester.

Thin Is In
Recent trends have seen insulation materials trending thinner, lighter, and more adaptable to both active and static activities. The quest for “thinsulation” is driving advances in both synthetic and down insulation via innovative form factors and additives.

Over three years in development, PrimaLoft Gold Insulation with Cross Core features a substance called aerogel, developed by NASA to provide thermal regulation. L.L. Bean is launching the product in its spring 2018 line.

Aerogel is a porous, low-density, ultra-light material derived from substances such as silica or carbon gels, created by replacing the gel’s liquid with air or gas. “It’s a rock-solid thermal barrier for hot and cold,” reveals Vanessa Mason, director of engineering and technology at PrimaLoft.

The aerogel particles boost the CLO value of PrimaLoft Gold insulation from 0.92 oz/yd2 to over 1 -- the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any synthetic insulation, according to Mason.

In other words, PrimaLoft Gold Insulation with Cross Core creates more warmth at the same weight -- or meets the need for lighter, thinner insulation that provides warmth equivalent to a loftier fill. “We think this is a technology that will do well not only in our space, but in other apparel applications as well,” Mason feels. Polartec, having paved the path to thin, adaptive insulation with its Polartec Alpha product a few years back, is now offering Polartec Power Fill, a product that ups the warmth factor for “less active environments,” according to Karen Whittier, the company’s insulation product manager.

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TECHNOLOGY | WOOL

Spinning a Good Yarn

Lighter, Finer Qualities Add to Wool’s Performance Story. By Emily Walzer
Future BLACK+ denim is made with Repreve recycled bottle fiber and Lenzing Modal to create eco-aware performance jeans.
It all starts with the sheep, but it doesn’t end there. Not in today’s wool business where everything from spinning technology to sportswear trends are expanding the appeal of this natural fiber. The latest developments have suppliers thinking differently about end use possibilities and influencing consumer perceptions about wearing wool for active outdoor activities.

“Newness and innovation is an area that is driving excitement in the wool industry,” says Woolmark’s Head of Americas, Michelle A. Lee. “Merino wool is taking on some exciting momentum in new product categories like footwear, accessories, and shirting, as well as trans-seasonal, everyday items like tees and jackets. While it’s always been a performance fiber, consumers are starting to really understand this concept, as evidenced by the increase in wool products in the sports and outdoor market.”

Merino’s momentum is attracting industry and consumer attention alike. “In the last few years we’ve had more yarn spinners willing to make fine wool yarn, and make fine wool yarn specifically for the active/outdoor market,” explains Roy Kettlewell, Wool Technical Service Consultant, American Wool Council. “People have finally woken up to the fact that wool fiber is ideal for sports wear.” Wool’s moisture management, odor-control and thermo-regulation properties make “a really strong story for wool,” says Kettlewell, a Sydney, Australia-based 40-year veteran of the wool business.

“Nowadays people are thinking next to skin, versatility, increased performance and washability,” says Rita Samuelson, marketing director, American Sheep Industry Association. “This has created a new space in the market for Merino.” She mentions hosiery as a game-changer, stating, “Wool is made for socks! It has all the performance and now you can wash it, and no shrink.” Samuelson adds, “The technology existed in the ’80s in the U.S., but consumers wouldn’t use it here—it was moth balls. But when wool came back in socks, things started to change.”

Kelly Nester, CEO, Nester Hosiery has been on the front lines of that trend, with the launch of the Farm to Feet brand five years ago that features USA-made Merino wool socks. He sees real innovation happening in the knitting room, with lighter weight yarns for different applications. “It’s exciting, and a testament to the quality of the yarn,” says Nester, who explains that more brands are getting good quality Merino into the market. For example Farm to Feet uses a super-fine, but strong yarn on 200 needle socks. “200 needle machinery has been used for really fine, super-light dress socks, but now we’re using that machine for sport applications.” Following on the heels of socks – literally – is wool for footwear. New from the Suedwolle Group, for example, is the “Beta spun” yarns that have been developed internally through the spinning process. These yarns are extremely durable and strong, and will be featured in footwear at Winter OR in Denver. Woolmark also has eyes on wool footwear. Says Lee, “We’re seeing huge demand for knitted uppers. As a whole, knit technology is taking off.”

Tech for Today’s Wool
The trend away from fine wool yarns being used for woven wear has given way to fine wool spun yarns specifically suited to jersey knits. Two spinning technologies in particular lend themselves to the active outdoor market, according to Kettlewell:

Core spinning and Wrap spinning. These technologies are not new, having been around in the weaving industry. What is new is that they are now being adopted for active lifestyle.  Core spinning makes a yarn that has spandex down the middle, and wool around the outside. That gives the yarn additional stretch and allows that extra bit of stretch, for form-fitting and compression garments. Wrap spinning is the ability to wrap a polyester filament around the outside of the wool yarn. “This makes the yarn much stronger, so you can make a lighter weight jersey fabric that doesn’t sacrifice strength,” says Kettlewell. “You’ve still got mostly wool there, 85 to 95 percent, but it’s protected by the wrapped filament, and as such improves resistance to pilling and abrasion.”

Other technologies are also coming on the scene. Woolmark reports that Nanshan, a large vertical mill in China, has developed an amazing weatherproof, 100 percent wool fabric called “Optim.” “It is lightweight and due to its extremely dense weave structure it provides wind and water resistance, as well as all the amazing benefits of wool, like odor resistance, temperature regulation and moisture management.” Lee explains. “This technology is now being expanded into double-faced and other lightweight variations.”

Suedwolle’s Naturetexx yarns continue to be an area of continued interest. These are yarns that are processed without chemicals to provide total-easy-care (washability without felting).  Suedwolle developed, and is the sole producers of this technology.   Blends increasingly bring newness to the market. Suedwolle has launched several new products that include blends with Cordura, Tencel, Thermocatch, and silk—each complementing the inherent features of wool.

Cordura Combat Wool fabrics are constructed with Merino wool and nylon 6,6 fibers. Introduced just three years ago, Cordura Combat Wool is now available in a variety of styles and constructions. A new collaboration with Triple Aught Design for sweaters using Cordura Combat Wool will be showcased at the upcoming

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FOOTWEAR | Fall ’18 Outlook

Footwear Gets Futuristic

Compelling Material Breakthroughs for the Year to Come. By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry
Brooks’ new midsole material called DNA Loft is infused with rubber that gives its cellular walls more strength, which lets the brand blow even more air into the material for a super-plush feel.
New year, new innovation — footwear firms are making new technologies the centerpieces of 2018 products. From underfoot cushioning breakthroughs to sophisticated sensors to a new waterproof wool, athletic shoes and outdoor boots have performance stories to tell.

Going Under
Baltimore-based Under Armour is looking to its new Hovr platform to help it make headway in the competitive running market. The material, an olefin-based polymer developed with Dow Chemical, is designed to give what Under Armour SVP of global footwear Topher Gaylord called a “zero-gravity feel.” The material, the company said, has a super-springy feel with a lot of energy return — but still gives the wearer a cushioned feel underfoot. The material is used in a rim and core construction, and wrapped in the brand’s Energy Web textile to direct energy return back to the wearer — or, as Gaylord put it in a presentation to retailers at The Running Event conference and trade show, to “cage the animal.”

The technology debuts Feb. 1 in two models: the $120 Hovr Phantom and the $100 Hovr Sonic. Per chief design officer Dave Dombrow, the Hovr family of styles will expand, possibly into more athletic categories, for future seasons. And the two launch styles have one more key piece of technology underfoot: the shoes will both be offered with a Bluetooth-enabled sensor as part of the brand’s Connected fitness platform. (Connected styles will retail for $10 more apiece than non-Connected models.) The improved passive sensor, which syncs automatically with the brand’s new MapMyRun app (also launching Feb. 1), will track not only distance, but also cadence, stride length and splits.

All About the Blend
Working in partnership with American Woolen Mills, Stratham, NH-based Timberland is debuting NXTWool across footwear and apparel for Fall ’18. The material is made from a yarn that blends Merino and nylon (for footwear) and merino, nylon and elastane (for apparel) to make a wool that’s extra durable and has the stretch apparel needs. A felting process makes it soft, and a finishing process that layers the fibers creates a smooth surface that encourages water runoff. And since the final product is treated with DWR, it’s waterproof as well. For its debut season, NXTWool is used in a men’s bomber jacket and parka, as well as in footwear styles for men and women, including the $170 Jayne Warm Gaiter 10” lace-up boot.

Inov-8tion
Isolating graphene — an allotrope of carbon that is the thinnest and strongest material yet discovered — was a breakthrough that won researchers at the University of Manchester the Nobel Prize for physics in 2004. And for 2018, British brand Inov-8 is banking on it for footwear, infusing the material into outsoles in its new G-Series family of performance shoes.

Inov-8 worked with a research team from the University of Manchester for the past year to create a footwear application of the material. And according to Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, reader in Nanomaterials at the University of Manchester, the resulting compound is worth the wait. 

“Our unique formulation makes these outsoles 50 percent stronger, 50 percent more stretchy and 50 percent more resistant to wear than the corresponding industry standard rubber outsoles without graphene,” he said.

For Fall ’18, the brand will use the compound in three styles: a trail runner designed for long distances on hard-pack trails; a style designed for soft, muddy surfaces or obstacle courses; and a trainer made for Crossfit or the gym.  More styles will follow in 2019. Calling it a “key growth driver” for the brand, Inov-8 product and marketing director Michael Price said, “By 2020, 50 percent of the inov-8 footwear range will be graphene-enhanced. The potential of graphene really is limitless.”

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TRENDSETTER | FILSON

Hooked On Heritage

Aude Tabet and Jeremy Bennett Modernize Hook and Bullet Design.
By Suzanne Blecher
Filson’s Jeremy Bennett and Aude Tabet
As the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation reports that fly-fishing is growing, brands like Orvis, Costa and Yeti have developed initiatives to help foster females in the outdoor activity. “Women like the independence of being out there on the water. It builds confidence,” said Amy Terai, outdoor enthusiast and public relations manager for Filson.

Like the other brands, Filson execs see room for expansion. “There’s all of this interest in where your food comes from, and they want to be a part of the process and more involved,” said Terai. Since 1897, Filson has been a part of the lives of fisherman, hunters, loggers and anyone hoping to conquer rugged outdoor conditions (it originally outfitted Klondike Gold Rush stampeders).
Keeping heritage in the forefront, albeit with a modern tilt, Filson director of design, Aude Tabet, and Jeremy Bennett, manager of product development, are working to nurture –and widen – its consumer base in both field and stream and urban environments. “There is definitely pent up demand for our core product,” according to Tabet. Textile Insight talks to Aude and Jeremy about the Seattle-based brand.

Which part of the business do you work on? 
Aude:
“I oversee design for apparel and accessories. Jeremy oversees product development for accessories. He’s focused on leather bags and wallets.  We work on product development together.”

Have you worked on specific pieces together?
Aude: “We started working together three years ago when Jeremy moved to Seattle. Prior to that, we had worked on a project called Rogues Gallery (purveyor of shirts and outerwear) in Maine. Then Jeremy moved here to head up leather goods for accessories for Filson.”
Jeremy: “The two most exciting things we’ve worked on here are the weatherproof leather and rugged suede. For bags, materials need to perform and be waterproof, plus have high durability. We naturally started looking at footwear because there is a high demand for water repellency there. We worked closely with Wickett-Craig. For the suede, we went to Horween Leather and partnered with them on development. It’s top grain leather, just sueded. It has a lot of durability and rigidity throughout the cell structure.”  Editor’s Note: Before Jeremy came to Filson, a lot of the brand’s small leather goods were made in the U.S., but not in Filson’s own two factories. Jeremy was instrumental in helping fit Filson’s factories to handle leather.

What’s new for 2018?
Aude: “We’re expanding the women’s assortment in apparel. It’s a growing piece of our business, as is women’s accessories. In non-leather, Jeremy and I worked on a new development. We have carried dry bags in the past, and we thought now is the time to upgrade our quality. So, we developed a new material that will be launching in Fall 18.”
Jeremy: “It’s a PVC-free material. It’s an 840-denier nylon with a TPU finish. It’s really beautiful stuff for dry bags.”

Filson is set to open a NYC store in June 2018. Will you adjust your assortment for the urban consumer?
Aude: “What people like about Filson is who we are. We have a really broad assortment of product that works for the Northeast.”
Jeremy: “We’ll focus on craftsmanship and quality. In Seattle, we have the restoration department where we have craftsman working on higher end product – old Filson bags that we restore and hand-tooled leather stuff. It’s a great experience for the customer to come in and see that. We’ll be doing that in New York City, too. We won’t be changing much, just perhaps adding more lightweight offerings.”

What do you like most about the brand?
Jeremy: “We get to use the best materials out there. They spend the money to allow us to get those materials.”
Aude: “The brand has so much history. It was founded in Seattle, stayed there, has always been a manufacturer. It hasn’t strayed. We still create product that has been around for 100 years like Mackinaw Cruiser. We’ve been working with our woolen mill (Pendleton) for over 40 years. It’s regional. We share a story.”

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In the Market | OR + Snow Show Preview

Comfort for the Cold

Eco-Conscious, Lightweight Warmth Elevates F/W 18 Offerings.
Schoeller taps Nilit’s thermal heat tech using coffee charcoal.
Eco-advances, new partnerships and fabrics that practically ooze comfort are all talking points for F/W ’18. However, when all is said and done, people still count on textile suppliers to deliver enhanced performance. Taking functionality up a notch not only adds excitement to the marketplace, but textile wizardry is what sets authentic outdoor apart from the lifestyle and fashion brands crossing over into the active space.  “We are looked at to see what else we can do to make a better product. How we can we elevate performance and help our brand partners make experiences even better for the consumer,” says Stephen Kerns, president, Schoeller USA. 

Lightweight warmth constructed from synthetics as well as natural fibers has never been better, and new variations range from base layer to outerwear. This trend extends to using materials not thought of as traditional outdoor, such as denims and even wearables that are being tapped for Fall collections.

The mantra of “finer, softer, lighter” of recent seasons is now accompanied by “ecological and ethically made.” Look for new bio-based options for finishes and fills to play a role in the season ahead. These days, however, it’s not enough to be simply eco-friendly; increasingly it’s about the how, and with whom, a company collaborates that holds sway.

Partnerships continue to grow and diversify as textile execs find value in creating new brand relationships that afford a broader audience and year-round offerings. The Cordura collab with Converse, the Chemours partnership with Colmar skiwear, and PrimaLoft expands launches with lifestyle brands Aritzia, Tommy Hilfiger and Pashko, all serve as good examples of this trend.

Here’s a quick look at highlights for Fall ’18:
Chemours: Kicks off its “Teflon Re-Imagined” campaign that features bluesign-approved Teflon EcoElite manufactured with 60 percent renewably sourced raw material. A highlight of this brand refresh effort is a partnership with skiwear pioneer Colmar, a company looking to advance the garment industry with eco-conscious repellents. Concept III: Focuses on a commitment to sustainability, through partnerships with bluesign-approved, and compliance-ready suppliers, impressing upon mill partners to effort responsibility throughout the supply chain. Also strong attention on AMBT Merino wool and wool blends particularly those with Tencel and Modal. High performance laminates are key, as is recognizing new interest in Sherpa fabrics from Monterey Mills.

Cordura: Highlights three launches: A new denim collection from Mountain Hardwear, combining versatility and functionality for climbers without sacrificing an authentic look and feel; An urban bag and pack collaboration with Converse that brings durability to stylish transit essentials; and a first-of-its-kind adoption from Crye Precision related to company’s high-tenacity Invista T420HT fiber and Cordura NYCO fabric technology.

Gore Fabrics: Spotlights its new Gore-Tex Infinium brand that represents products designed for all-round outdoor performance, beyond waterproof/breathable protection. Four new product technologies include: Infinium Thermium Footwear; Infinium Stretch Gloves; Infinium Soft-Lined Shells; and Infinium Insulated Garments.

Klingler Asia: Previews many new knit items including brushed finishes, bonded qualities and 3-layer options in addition to a group of quilted looks, primarily double-knit jacquards with a nonwoven fill. Flannels are also featured with recycled yarns, cotton blends, and mechanical stretch. New lightweight stretch fabrics will debut for insulated outerwear.

PrimaLoft: Expands brand partner adoptions of its Black Insulation ThermoPlume technology to enhance the performance characteristics of non-performance pieces, as well as adding style components to high-performance products. New adoptions include: Tommy Hilfiger, Under Armor, Frank & Oak, Bernardo, Lands’ End, Aritzia, New Balance. PrimaLoft’s new series of Performance Fabrics and Yarn technologies results in more year-round product applications. Brands launching with F18 product include: Abercrombie & Fitch, Athleta, Isbjorn, Black Diamond, Brooks Brothers. 

Schoeller: Continues its focus on sustainable textiles and technologies utilizing Bio PFC-free technologies and products that feature Nilit thermal heat from coffee charcoal. The company’s heatable E-soft-shell is another highlight.  Styles from brand partners including Red Bull, Erin Snow, Stio, Merrell, Black Diamond, Mission Workshop and Thunderbolt will also be featured in the booth. Sorona: Debuts creative collaborations, including a partnership between Cordura/Susterra to create the next generation of eco-efficient textile solutions, in addition to new flannel and wool/Sorona blends. 

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In the Market | Digital Printing Conference

Positioned for Positive Impact

Makers Take Note: Digital Printing Represents Apparel’s New Frontier.
By Glenna B. Musante
Digital Textile printing is attracting interest among major brands such as Lululemon and VF Corporation.
In November, two industry associations that rarely cross paths joined forces to present an intensive, two-day workshop on digital printing, an emerging technology that may have the potential to reshape the manufacturing side of the apparel industry.

Digital Printing Conference V2.0 was sponsored jointly by AATCC, The Association of Textile Colorists and Chemists, and SGIA, The Specialty Graphics Imaging Association. It was held in Research Triangle Park, NC. Many of the attendees expected the workshop to focus on digital printing for home décor or textile-based signage, but as luck and new trends would have it, the focus was apparel and the potentially disruptive impact digital printing could have on the world of fashion. And several large brands were there to hear all about it.

The meeting room – which was packed both days at capacity – included a solid representation from brands such as Lilly Pulitzer, Lululemon, VF Corporation, and Levi Strauss as well as well-known textile and retail giants such as Milliken, Target, Glen Raven, Cotton Inc., Spoonflower and Springs Creative.

The speakers represented a wide variety of textile and printing industry disciplines. This included experts in digital printing technologies and pigment dyeing as well as fashion industry experts in color communication, apparel manufacturing workflow, on-demand fashion manufacturing and cloud-based production environments.

According to several of the workshop presenters, digital printing is less expensive, quicker, less cumbersome and less manpower-intensive than conventional fabric printing methods. It’s also beginning to play a role in reducing some of the long lead times associated with apparel mass production. It can be employed “on demand,” easily churn out fabric in short runs, and in the process reduce shipping costs, costs related to warehousing space and losses tied to unsold product.

Some presenters even indicated digital printing could bring apparel manufacturing back to North America. But whether it triggers a reshoring Renaissance or makes it easier for offshore manufacturers to churn out products cheaper and more quickly, the general impression over the course of the workshop was that it’s time for apparel manufacturers to take note and begin incorporating digital printing into their manufacturing processes.

An Attractive Option
Ron Gilboa, director of Keypoint Intelligence InfoTrends, kicked off the workshop with an overview of the textile industry and the impact digital printing is already having on fashion.

According to Gilboa, digital printing supports several larger textile industry trends, and this is starting to position digital printing as an attractive option for manufacturers. First, said Gilboa, fast fashion is driving a demand for short lead times, smaller production runs and quick production turn around times from design to store delivery.  Meanwhile, online shopping, which continues to increase weekly, is already changing the fundamentals of the supply chain, Gilboa said, and fueling what he described as “purchase-activated manufacturing.” In the process, this is driving a demand for small-batch manufacturing, faster product turnaround, batch consistency, local manufacturing and increased automation. Digital printing has the potential to support all of those processes, as well as help apparel manufacturers and retailers meet growing customer expectations for immediate delivery of products that reflect creativity, variety and customization.

Industry 4.0—an umbrella term for cloud-managed apparel manufacturing—is another growing textile industry trend. Highly computerized digital printers such as those being manufactured for the apparel industry by Reggiani are designed to plug into and work seamlessly with a cloud-based apparel manufacturing production system. Gilboa said concerns about the environment continue to strongly influence the textile and fashion industries and many of the new digital printers offer a full range of water-based inks considered eco-friendly plus reduce the amount of water that goes into the dyeing process. Although still water-intensive, digital printers use less water than conventional dyeing methods, and may also reduce fabric waste. According to Gilboa, 15 percent of the fabric intended for clothing currently ends up on the cutting room floor and with smaller runs possible inside a digital printing environment, there may be less fabric waste. With digital printing, there is also lower power consumption and less chemical waste.

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