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By Max W. Sung

Fast and cheap: The past two decades have witnessed a revolution in the textile apparel business. Clothing prices fell steadily, but manufacturers continued to reap handsome profits. For long, Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Uniqlo are few of the household names known for their cheap as well as trendy clothing. Now, Primark, the Irish clothing retailer owned by ABF, is joining the pantheon of cheap clothing retailers. It is also venturing into Italy with plans for three stores and has also announced plans to expand beyond Europe and open eight stores in the United States.

Primark is known for its rock-bottom prices; its average selling price for women's clothing in Britain is 40% below that of H&M's, the Sweden-based giant clothing retailer, according to the research firm Sanford C. Bernstein. In an interview that the Economist published last month, John Bason, ABF's finance director, explained that "Primark achieves its low prices thanks to sleek logistics, a meagre marketing budget and its scale, which helps win bargains from suppliers." With such a strategy, Primark has posted 15% sales growth in the six months to February 2015, totalling $3.8 billion.

Primark was in the news two years ago when its garments were found at the site of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. The building housed several textile factories, including Primark supplier, New Wave Bottoms. To its credit, Primark has to date paid $14 million compensation to its supplier's workers and their dependents.

Zara, the flagship chain store of the Inditex group, the world's largest apparel retailer, accomplished its affordable clothing prices through innovative methods of apparel production and marketing. Instead of outsourcing its manufacturing to developing countries, Zara controls all aspects of its apparel production, from design to production and distribution, close to its headquarters in Spain. The company can design, produce and deliver a new garment to its stores in 15 days. Zara is the leading innovator in fast fashion, and it introduces more than 18,000 designs each year. Its designs are often similar to those from major fashion venues but produced at a fraction of the cost of comparable designer apparel. The quick turn-around also enables Zara to respond quickly to market trends and avoid accumulation of non-performing items. Louis Vuitton's fashion director Daniel Piette once commented that Zara is "possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world." In the first quarter of 2015, Inditex opened 63 new stores, thus increasing the total number of stores worldwide to 6,746 and increased net profit 28% to $568 million compared with $443 million over the corresponding period of the previous year.

Uniqlo, the Japanese clothing retailer, views itself as a technology enterprise rather than a fashion company. Short term fashion trends never sway Uniqlo; it focuses on products with functional attributes that would appeal to a broad range of consumers. It has relatively long development cycles, as it tests and refines new designs and products. One of its successes is incorporating its HEATTECH technology into its ultra-light compact down garments for thermal comfort. HEATTECH uses fabric as thin as 0.55mm, but stores body heat within air pockets deep within the fibres to keep the body warm. Fast Retailing, Uniqlo's parent company, reported 47% increase in profits for the year to August 2015. H&M, the second largest global clothing retailer behind Inditex, closely follows fashion trends by including sub-collections within two main collections it releases each year. This enables it to take advantage of new trends that may appear at any time. In the first quarter of this year, ending February 2015, H&M's net profit from 3,551 stores worldwide increased 36% to $432 million. It now operates more than 3,700 stores in 61 countries. H&M offers customers vouchers in exchange of used garments, which will be repurposed and recycled with the goal of creating a zero-waste economy. Earlier this year, it announced a million-euro annual prize to advance recycling technology and techniques.

For fast fashion to continue to move forward, it must address a number of issues. The availability of cheap and trendy clothing has promoted a culture of waste, such that consumers will wear a garment a few times and discard it for a trendier item. The wastage has an environmental impact in the energy expended in creating garments and in disposing of them, as well as the release of toxic substances into the environment from processing and finishing these garments. The working conditions in textile factories in developing countries have ethical and sustainable concerns and needs to be addressed effectively, but without penalising the livelihood of textile workers. Similarly, the copyright of fashion designers also needs to be secured, and knock-offs of their designs by fast fashion retailers must be prevented. The Design Piracy Prohibition Act, which the United States government passed in 2006, is a promising initiative.

In the wake of the textile factory disasters in Bangladesh, consumers have begun to adopt slow fashion. This process could counter the growing trend of fast fashion while proponents of slow fashion, such as Maxine Bedat, co-founder of the inline retailer, Zady, seek to incorporate workplace safety and sustainable practices for the production of textile garments, like use of sustainably produced fibres, conservation of water and energy, and reducing toxic contamination of the environment into standard business ethics.

The future hopefully will lie in the coming together of fast and slow fashion, in developing a textile industry that is both profitable and sustainable.











Special Reports

  • Cotton output projected to fall next season, but trade will remain stable: The low price of cotton in 2014-15 is making a significant knock-on effect on cotton farming worldwide. The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) says that planting area worldwide in 2015-16 is projected to reduce 7% to 31.1 million hectares. Lower price in 2014-15 is the reason for it. Prices had declined to 70 US cents a pound in December 2014 and continued to decline to 67.35 cents/lb the following month. It has since been floating in the 60-cent range, except in the state-controlled China market. Besides farmers reducing planting area, cotton production will also suffer from disparate impacts of El Niņo.

Exhibitions & Conferences

  • ITMA 2015 Preview III: ITMA Milan gears up to grand opening next month: The expectations of ACIMIT and UCMTF, the Italian and French national associations, respectively in the 9-nation European Committee of Textile Machinery Manufacturers (CEMATEX), were reported in the two immediate past issues of Textile Asia. Since then, the views of the Spanish Textile Machinery and Garment Association (AMEC AMTEX), which coordinates the Spanish industries' participation in the 17th ITMA, have become known. AMEC AMTEX expects this show to be an "amazing" international meeting point for the Spanish textile industries. Altogether 58 Spanish companies will join the show. Occupying 4,445 sq.m of exhibition space, they will display innovative initiatives in the area of textiles and garments, fibres and yarn, research and training, sustainable production and technical textiles.

    By C.K. Chow

  • Milano Unica ends on a positive note with increased foreign exhibitors: Began ten years ago - bringing some of the world-renowned trade fairs promoting Italian and European fabrics and accessories such as Ideabiella, Ideacomo, Moda In, Prato Expo and Shirt Avenue under one roof - for promoting mainly Italian and European fabrics and accessories, this show has been welcoming an increasing number of non-European exhibitors lately while separate shows are also held on foreign shores - in New York and Shanghai. Foreign participation in the just concluded 21st edition of Milano Unica has increased more than 77% to a total of 128 exhibitors including the Japan Observatory and a new Korea Observatory.

    Speaking at the opening ceremony, the president of Milano Unica, Silvio Albini, particularly emphasised this transformation. "Milano Unica is getting more and more international," he said citing the increasing number of foreign participants joining the show. At the same time, he also emphasised the significance of Milano Unica as a platform for promoting Italian and other European textiles and fashion.

    By Vicky Sung

  • Botto Poala succeeds Albini as Milano Unica president: After leading Milano Unica as its president for four years, Silvio Albini is stepping down. His successor is Ercole Botto Poala, the chairman of the 150-year old Italian wool manufacturer, Reda, a family enterprise, and the vice-president of Ideabiella, a consortium of wool-weaving specialists from Biella in the northern Italian region of Piedmont.

  • Designers parade fashion on the street as fabric makers showcase new trends: Among the many programs in the 21st Milano Unica in Fieramilano city last month was the On Stage Milano Unica. When this project was launched seven years ago, ten international fashion designers were given the opportunity to show their work in Milano Unica for the first time. The project continued in subsequent shows to bring emerging designers to present their creations to an international audience. This time in Milan, three designers (Mis Min, Ricostru, and Youjia Jin) from China, two from Italy (Ultrachic and Luca Larenza) as well as Sid Neigum from Canada, Weber+Weber from Austria, Pieter from the Netherlands, Miuniku from India, and Sulvam from Japan were invited to join On Stage. The fashion parade took place in the centre of Milan's fashion street, Via Monte Napoleone, with guests sitting on rows on both sides of the street.
    - Vicky Sung

  • Business of Design Week in Hong Kong: Business of Design Week (BODW), an annual event that Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC) organises, will be held this year from November 30 to December 5 with Barcelona as the event's partner city.

  • Ink jet conference: The Ink Jet Conference that the UK-based IMI Europe organises annually will take place on December 2-4, 2015, in Amsterdam.

  • Munich Fabric Start: The next Munich Fabric Start is to be held on February 2-4, 2016, in Munich, presenting 2017 spring/summer collections.

  • The Bremen International Cotton Conference that Bremen Cotton Exchange and Bremen Fibre Institute jointly organise annually will hold its 33rd edition on March 16-18, 2016, in the Hanseatic City of Bremen, Germany.

  • Nonwovens symposium: Edana, the Brussels-based association of nonwovens and related industries, is planning an international symposium on Nonwovens in Warsaw on June 1-2, 2016 with top-level professionals from across the nonwovens and related industries as speakers.

  • TBIS in Melbourne: The Hong Kong-based Textile Bioengineering and Informatics is organising the 9th Textile Bioengineering and Informatics Symposium (TBIS 2016) in Australia next year. It will be held from July 12 to 15 at RMIT University in Melbourne.

  • China leather fair: The All China Leather Exhibition (ACLE), which is held annually in Shanghai, will hold its next presentation from August 31 to September 2, 2016, at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre.

  • Textile machinery fair in Tashkent: The Central Asian International Textile Machinery Exhibition (CAITME) which is held biennially in Uzbekistan will hold its 10th edition at the Uzexpocentre in Tashkent from September 7 to 9, 2016.

  • MFI announces 55th Dornbirn MFC: The Dornbirn Man-Man Fibres Congress that the Austrian Man-Made Fibers Institute (MFI) organises annually will mark its 55th edition on September 20-22, 2016, in Dornbirn, Austria. It will be devoted to discussing the role of fibres and textiles in automotive as well as fibres for nonwovens, fibre innovations, finishing and functional additives.

  • Kind + Jugend set for next September: Kind + Jugend, the trade fair for children's and infants' needs held annually in Cologne is scheduled to be held from September 15 to 18 next year.

Fashion Trends

  • The beauty of power for spring-summer seasons: Belstaff, a luxury brand based in Hong Kong, has launched a collection for 2016 spring and summer seasons. The as the collection is called The Beauty of Power, because the designer of this collection, Delphine Ninous, who is also the vice president for women's design at Belstaff, was inspired by the beauty manifested in power from the thrust of ocean waves to the hum of a throttled engine.

  • Four strong metropolitan looks for women next autumn-winter seasons: The Italian fabric supplier Gruppocinque has launched its fabric collection for the 2016-17 autumn and winter seasons. The collection dedicated to women's contemporary fashion aesthetics comprises four strong metropolitan looks with colour accents on a modulated neutral ground, and a smart contemporary interpretation of nature re-imagined through a new mix of colours, textures and pattern.

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