Underwear vendors hit snags in production and delivery

Retailers are getting left out in the cold as underwear suppliers run into snags in production on 2004 product. As we reported in late August, SmartWool cancelled its base layer program due to problems with the wool's processing, and now Layers and Mountain Hardwear have run into delays and cancellations with Visa Endurance materials from Milliken Mills.
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Retailers are getting left out in the cold as underwear suppliers run into snags in production on 2004 product. As we reported in late August, SmartWool cancelled its base layer program due to problems with the wool's processing, and now Layers and Mountain Hardwear have run into delays and cancellations with Visa Endurance materials from Milliken Mills.

Milliken's Visa Endurance incorporates silver ions into fabrications to minimize odor and bacteria. Layers uses the material in its Thermion AG products, and Mountain Hardwear was trying to co-develop a new fabric using the silver technology with Milliken for its mid-weight eXtend underwear.

In Layers' case, an initial material delay from Milliken due to mechanical difficulties snowballed into delivery delays when its sewing contractor decided to hold off production until the Thermion AG material arrived. The domino effect has pushed Layers' delivery to late October or early November.

"All of our standard Thermion fabric had come out just fine. (Our contractor) had all of our standard Thermion since early July," Layers' Chuck Millsaps told SNEWS. That contractor handles the sewing for both the Thermion and Thermion AG products and told Millsaps that given the size of the program, it would rather wait until all the materials were in before it started sewing.

Millsaps is expecting two shipments shortly that'll make up the bulk of the orders and start shipping to retailers on Oct. 27, at Layers' expense. The black men's pants will be arriving by Oct. 31 and Layers will ship them in early November. Millsaps added that the company will give affected customers preseason terms on fill-ins.

Mountain Hardwear's challenges with its eXtend mid-weight products has led it to cancel orders, affecting close to 175 retailers in the process. Mike Wallenfels told SNEWS that the company has been dedicated to permanent antimicrobial technology for a number of years, which led them to the partnership with Milliken.

"This new attempt has good and bad news. We developed a program with Milliken Mills that brought the price down to a competitive level and the retailers supported it very well," Wallenfels said. "We did two weights -- a featherweight and a mid-weight. There are no issues whatsoever with the featherweight product. It scores off the charts on picking, pilling, wicking, as well as antimicrobial."

The problems surfaced with the fabric used in the mid-weight base layer program that Mountain Hardwear and Milliken were trying to co-develop. The hand of the fabric was inconsistent in feel with each color and shipment received from the mill -- as the colors got darker, the fabric got stiffer. The silver and women's French blue colors were on the money, but once the silver component was added to the black and navy blue colors, the fabric became boardy.

"We were asking quite a bit, and we were actually working with Milliken on creating something that was strictly unique to Mountain Hardwear," Wallenfels told us. "You play those gambles when you try to come up with something that's different from what's on the market. We thought we'd gone through the testing protocol, but sometimes things are different between small production test runs and then full production runs. They couldn't seem to get the problem licked.

"The fabric difference from sample yardage to production yardage was a surprise for both of us," he added.

Mountain Hardwear shipped what it had in the lighter colors -- about 1,600 units -- but is not making more for the season. Wallenfels said the company is calling it quits on the rest of the mid-weight program and continuing forward with the featherweight line using the eXtend treatment. The company plans to add a price-point product that meets the performance levels of base layers on the market and is competitively priced.

"Milliken has worked very very very hard in trying to fix this. They have burned through a lot of hours and a lot of time and energy to try to make this right and they've tried to do anything they can," he said. "Eventually push came to pull and we couldn't come up with a fabric that met our needs, which would be No. 1, people feeling like they're buying a comfortable product."

Another glitch that Mountain Hardwear has run into is a dye transfer issue on some shipped garments that have been stored in packaging for a prolonged period of time. Due to the nature of the fabric and the silver antimicrobial treatment, the black cuff fabric leaves a stain on the lighter colored body fabric. Wallenfels said it doesn't happen on every garment, is not permanent and can be washed out. The company will accept returns and credit retailer accounts for any stained garments returned by customers. To get a return authorization, contact your rep or Mountain Hardwear dealer service at 1-800-330-6800.

SNEWS Views: Bad news comes in threes they say, and that certainly is the case here -- first SmartWool, then Layers and now Mountain Hardwear underwear program delivery issues. Retailers have told us they are left scrambling to fill in holes right at a time when underwear sales typically pick up. One retailer told us -- and we hope this is atypical of the treatment retailers are getting -- that he has gotten a lot of "sorry about that" when orders were cancelled, but no offers for solutions. Needless to say, he's scrambling to ensure he doesn't lose vital sales. We'll be interested to see how competition delivery issues bolster Patagonia's underwear image. While Patagonia is still the dominant underwear vendor in the market, its stock has slipped in recent years as competition has stepped up both in terms of quality and delivery. Certainly not every vendor is, can be, or even wants to be a Patagonia vendor, but we would imagine the Ventura company is fielding an increase in underwear delivery requests right now, both from its regulars as well as from new hopefuls. We'd expect to see a lot of wheeling and dealing come Winter Market '04.

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