In the dark ages before the dawn of the Internet, it was not uncommon for textile companies to brand fibers and fabrics, marketing them directly to the consumer. Newspapers, fashion magazines, and television broadcasts were peppered with taglines such as “Klopman–Fabrics You Can Lean On,” “Fabric by Springmaid,” “Elasticized with LYCRA,” along with DuPont’s ads for Dacron, Orlon, and Antron knitwear, Visa by Milliken, and others.
But fast fashion, offshoring and the “race to the bottom” brought an end to all that. Fiber and fabric production became cheap and anonymous, with no budget available for the branding and marketing of components. Apparel brands began promoting less tangible aspects such as fashion trends and lifestyle to a consumer who was no longer concerned with a product’s actual content.
Today there are few textile “component” brands with high levels of consumer recognition that remain in the apparel industry. One exception is Invista (formerly DuPont’s Textiles and Interiors unit) which over the years has not hesitated to spend money to connect with the consumer.
As a result, Invista brands like LYCRA and COOLMAX command a premium within the trade, and most consumers equate anything that stretches with the name LYCRA. Today, Invista’s approach focuses on branding fabric concepts or consumer benefits, rather than a specific fiber.
But textile branding to the consumer may be on its way back. Driven by social networking, consumer interest in transparency and the concept of experiential marketing, savvy textile companies are once more reaching out to consumers to drive demand for their products at retail and back through the supply chain.
Case in point: synthetic yarn producer Unifi’s ground-breaking “TurnItGreen” campaign at the ESPN X Games in January, promoting Unifi’s REPREVE recycled polyester. Bett Anderson, corporate marketing and communications manager for the company, explained the strategy behind the project:
“X Games Aspen provided a perfect opportunity for us to tell our story in the consumer space, so our strategy was to create a total marketing surround. The night of the Women’s SuperPipe finals, we officially launched the #TurnItGreen campaign by lining the halfpipe green with our iconic green beanies.
In addition to our ad during commercial breaks, which featured two-time Olympian and pro snowboarder, Elena Hight, and focused on how plastic bottles you toss in the recycling bin can turn into cool gear, ESPN on-air commentary during the event tied in recycling awareness and how REPREVE turns everyday things green. We also launched the #TurnItGreen campaign over social media, asking people to submit pictures or videos showing how they are turning it green in their own lives.
We gauge success based on new REPREVE inquiries, as well as growth of existing programs. We have been very pleased with the response and engagement surrounding the REPREVE #TurnItGreen campaign that we launched at X Games.”
Unifi recently posted a video summing up the REPREVE X Games experience.
POLARTEC, formerly Malden Mills, is another fabric brand that engages the consumer through social media and experiential marketing. Its blog combines posts about new product and company history with call-outs related to the company’s social activism and lifestyles of its core outdoor-enthusiast customers.
Emphasizing transparency, New Zealand’s ZQ Merino program selects and brands the Merino wool fiber of its partner growers, who are vetted for animal welfare, environmental care and social sustainability. Their website, blog and animated videos communicate various end uses for Merino wool and its performance qualities.
Cotton Incorporated’s recent Cotton or Nothing experiential marketing campaign engaged consumers during New York Fashion Week with a staged demonstration protesting the substitution of other fibers for cotton in apparel. Consumers were invited to have their pictures taken with unclothed mannequins holding protest placards, and to sign a Cotton or Nothing manifesto. A website, www.cottonornothing.com, encourages consumers to document their disappointment with apparel made with synthetic fibers. The program is intended to persuade apparel manufacturers, many of whom moved away from cotton during the fiber’s 2011 price increases, to curtail their use of synthetic fibers and return to cotton.
Supima, the licensing brand for American-grown long-staple Pima cotton, recently launched a more traditional ad campaign in the New York Times T-Magazine. The ad identifies a new consumer-focused website which highlights Spring 2014 collaborations with hip apparel brand Uniqlo and others.
It’s clear that the use of 21st century marketing techniques to communicate meaningful fabric and fiber attributes such as sustainability, transparency, and relevance to the consumer is resulting in successful placements with apparel brands and retailers. Jay Nalbach, chief marketing director for CRAiLAR Flax, believes that branding is a big bonus for the raw material manufacturer.
“Transparency to the consumer is a part of it, but it is also a way to use fiber, yarn, and fabric information to invest in the manufacturer, who can use the insight to market their own brand.”
While products made with the new technology are just beginning to work their way through the supply chain, Nalbach foresees some kind of consumer marketing being developed by CRAiLAR in the future. “We absolutely want every opportunity to engage the consumer,” he insists.