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Price Still Impedes Innovation in Apparel

Price continues to be one of the biggest bumps in the road to innovation.

“Consumers can’t keep asking for more from their products and not expect them to cost a little more,” Lenzing’s director of business development for apparel and denim, Tricia Carey, emphasized Wednesday at Texworld USA in New York City.

She was speaking as part of panel titled “New Technology in Fibers” alongside David Sasso, vice president of international sales at Buhler Yarns, and Invista marketing director Jean Hegedus, who both echoed her sentiment.

With that being said, fabric suppliers often use fiber technology as an excuse to hike their prices, so it’s important that brands educate themselves about what the cost should actually be.

“It’s not as much as you think. If we raise the price of our fiber by 2 cents it somehow becomes $2,” Carey quipped. “The fiber partners tend to be more the silent partners, and once you get the right [pricing] information you find out that’s not the case.”

“With a product like Lycra, which is generally about 2 percent content in a pair of jeans, that’s literally about 15 cents worth of Lycra fiber in the garment in the first place,” Hegedus noted. “People do often use fiber as an excuse to raise their prices so it is important to be educated or you will be taken advantage of.”

Sasso said most companies make their margins by operating on a “confused” market price. The same goes for natural fibers. That’s why it’s crucial for brands to have a great relationship with their fiber supplier.

“If cotton prices are up, that doesn’t mean that happens right then and there,” Carey pointed out. “There’s a lag time involved.”

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But at the end of the day, brands have to balance cost with what the consumer is willing to pay.

“We have to make products that sell and not just build shelf space,” Sasso said.

Hegedu agreed: “It’s about understanding mega trends and developing product that can respond to it.”

Lenzing has a similar modus operandi. “When we’re working on new product developments it has to come from a market request,” Carey said.

And that demand doesn’t always come from consumers.

“The thing that’s a little bit frustrating to a fiber producer is that when you look at research, consumers say they want sustainable products but they’re not willing to pay more for them,” Hegedus said. “So a lot of innovation is actually being driven by the industry, not the consumer.”

It’s worth noting that a lot of the properties people are demanding from their products don’t even need breakthrough technologies.

“By creating yarns that are bulkier or tighter, there are easier ways to create functional fabrics without chemistry. If you want cooling fabric in the summer, add more twist to the yarn. If you want warming fabric in winter, add less twist. A lot of people forget these very easy ways to achieve certain things,” Sasso said.

Invista starts the process earlier than that.

“We look more toward fiber because it gives you a permanent solution. For cooling, we have Coolmax fibers which have specially engineered processes that wick moisture away from the body,” Hegedu offered, noting that brands that rely only on finishing to add certain properties to a garment run the risk of its performance declining over time. “Going the fiber route and combining it with fabric construction and how you finish the garment in the end is very important.”

Whatever direction brands opt to go in, education is paramount.

“When you have a new innovation you have to make sure that what you’ve done works all the way through the chain. For instance, you have to work with the mills to make sure they can weave it properly,” Hegedu stressed.

And don’t forget to communicate any cost increase—and why.

As Carey put it, “If that message can’t be communicated with the consumer then that’s where it’s at. They will never be willing to pay more. You’ve got to be able to invest [in fiber technology] and promote to the market that there will be a cost to this.”