Outdoor Retailer Winter Market ’11: Textile prices on the rise, but cutting cost on comfort is risky

Textile inflation is ahead, but companies shouldn’t detour and chintz on comfort to cut costs according to experts who spoke during the Creature Comforts textile seminar at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011.
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Caution: Textile inflation is ahead, but companies shouldn’t detour and chintz on comfort to cut costs.

That was the advice from fabric experts at the Outdoor Retailer “Creature Comforts” textile seminar Jan. 20 at Winter Market.

“Textile prices are on their way up,” said David Parkes, president of Concept III Textiles International. “Demand for cotton is up 80 percent in the past 12 to 15 months, and that’s putting [upward price] pressure on the alternative fabrics as well,” he explained.

Parkes said outdoor and apparel makers should never undervalue the significance of the right materials for their products, whether the key characteristic is comfort, wicking performance or weather resistance.

Chris Harding, managing director of Equip Outdoor Technologies, said picking the right fabrics is largely dependent on who the customer is, what will they be doing, and when or where.

The mountaineer has similar yet different needs than the rock climber, for example. Top priorities for the mountaineer are waterproof and windproof fabrics, where the climber demands free movement and moisture management first.

Type of product also matters. Next-to-skin apparel should focus on stretch and ventilation. Mid-layers are primarily about warmth and wicking. Synthetic insulations should maximize compressibility and durability, but down-filled garments demand attention to shell fabrics. They need to be light enough not to compress the down but abrasion-resistant enough to resist ripping.

Attendees agreed with the obvious wisdom of choosing the right category of textile for the product’s intended end use, but they wondered how to choose the best individual fabric from the slew of options out there. One answer came from speaker Karen Kyllo, deputy vice president of global soft lines at SGS Consumer Testing. She suggested the use of third-party analysis.

Kyllo shared examples of SGS’s testing of various performance claims. Like this one: SGS looks at both tensile strength (how much force it would take to break the fabric) and tear strength (the resistance required to keep the tear from spreading).

Lab testing does have its limits, though. When it comes to odor-resistance, Kyllo’s team resorts to old-fashioned subjective methods: “We have a panel of people who smell it.”

-- David Clucas

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