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Five Factors Influencing Market Dynamics

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Having navigated a year defined by change and resilience, as COVID re-shaped our industry, the textile community faces some big challenges going forward. Issues influencing business today run the gamut from the nuts and bolts of day-to-day management to a major reshuffle of the global supply chain. We reached out to top-level execs for their take on a handful of critical factors impacting the state of the market in 2021.

A dozen companies participated in our Altered States coverage, with execs taking time out of their busy days (“hectic” was often used to describe workday schedules) to respond to our questions. Here’s what they had to say about new ways of conducting business, while missing face-to-face experiences.

Topics include:

  1. Supply Chain struggles: How to smooth delivery and fix fragmentation?
  2. Digitalization: Whether to continue/accelerate investment in virtual showrooms, online sourcing platforms and 3D product development?
  3. Remote workforce: Where does corporate culture reside? In the office, or at home?
  4. Pricing problems: How are you dealing with the rising cost of raw materials?
  5. Trade Shows: What’s on the calendar?

Participating Brands

  • brrr°
  • Charles Ross
  • Concept III
  • Downlite
  • HeiQ
  • IntelliFresh/Silvadur
  • Kentwool
  • Nester
  • Nilit
  • Polygiene
  • TTG
  • Unifi

1. The Supply Chain

“We expect that there may be unpredictable supply chain disruptions and challenges on an ongoing basis now, especially as the Delta variant causes some governments to impose new restrictions or suppliers and manufacturers face their own challenges with raw materials, labor, transportation and logistics. It’s more important than ever before to manage your inventory very carefully, plan for possible disruptions, be candid with your customers when there are surprises or delays, and be nimble and ready to respond when something happens.”

Mary-Cathryn Kolb, Founder & CEO, brrr°

“The only solution is constant attention to customer service. Servicing the business is different today and focused on constant detail to accomplish what the supply chain can achieve, and working to satisfy each link in the chain.”

David Parkes, Founder, Concept III Textiles

“There have been huge challenges in global logistics the past year and it seems like it will continue at least for another 6-12 months. We have managed quite well to get goods out in time, but unfortunately the cost for transports have sometimes been four-fold compared to pre-COVID. I think thoroughly planning and foresight is key for keeping the supply chain operational and within budget.”

Ulrika Björk, CEO, Polygiene

“By keeping our focus on post-pandemic opportunities, we accelerated our R&D efforts to expand our Sensil branded sustainable Nylon portfolio. Plus, we instituted process improvements to make our own production more environmentally responsive. We worked with our network to put in place all the supply chain components to ensure that we successfully launch the new products that respond to emerging conscious consumer demands and that will benefit all the partners along our supply chain from raw materials suppliers through to brands and retailers.”

Sagee Aran, Head of global marketing, NILIT

“Today’s global supply chain, and specifically cross-continent material movements, has experienced unprecedented impact in terms of time delays, soaring logistics costs, and most importantly, the opportunistic cost associated with not having merchandise on the retail shelf when needed. The recent significant supply chain struggles will likely alter the state of the market as retailers consider and seek out vendors located geographically closer to the end-use market. While compelling cost advantages from Asian producers will still drive the bulk of orders, retailers may now be a bit more wary of putting all their eggs in one basket.”

Madhukar Kulkarni, Global textiles business director, IFF (The Silvadur business is now part of IFF Health & Biosciences division.)

“Sourcing and sustainability were important to our customers prior to COVID, but as the pandemic progressed, we saw the value of our domestic offering grow. COVID-related disruptions in international production and logistics services highlighted the value of having domestic partners. We maintained production and ensured smooth deliveries to our customers when overseas providers were experiencing significant delays and/or closures. COVID certainly underscored the importance of diversifying one’s supply chain to include domestic providers as a means of offsetting periods of unpredictability and unreliability in international supply.”

Keith Horn, President, Kentwool Yarn, and Lauren Luneckas, president, Kentwool Performance Apparel


2. Digitalization

“Nothing will ever fully replace actual in-person networking and engagement. While we have learned a lot about how to take advantage of technology and interact in new and creative ways, Unifi plans to return to in-person tradeshows and our mobile tour activations when it becomes safe. We will, however, continue to use the online platforms we have already invested in and expand our digital marketing footprint.”

Jay Hertwig, VP of Commercialization, UNIFI

“With the office landscape changing and remote work more prevalent, the need for having a strong digital platform is critical and worth the continued investment. Digital won’t, however, completely replace in-person meetings or being able to see and touch products. We are continuing to evolve our virtual showroom and online platforms to do more, and do it more effectively, remotely while balancing that with a safe return to in-person.”

Brian Parnes, COO/CMO, Downlite

“The new, emerging virtual channel has covered the gaps for the ingredient sourcing industry. A good example of this is the development of PerformanceDays.com and FunctionalFabricFair.com of The Loop, which gathers all the information from their trade show exhibitors and presents fabrics that are easily accessible to be reviewed, and compared online. 3D has improved the visualization. Software has not been adopted so smoothly, but is progressing in the right direction.”

Charles Ross, Performance sportswear & sustainability specialist

“brrr° recently created a Digital Fabric Library so customers can see detailed descriptions of our products and request samples, and it’s one of the best investments we made in recent years. It automated what had been a very manual process, and put the power directly into the hands of our customers. We also invested in custom Salesforce development to add more capabilities on purchase order tracking, fulfillment, logistics and other core functions. We will absolutely continue to invest in our digital transformation, and we love to see our mill partners and other suppliers do the same.”

Mary-Cathryn Kolb, Founder & CEO, brrr°

“From a B2B perspective, manufacturers and wholesalers found that VR showrooms were immensely effective in driving orders from brands. The digitized programs helped expedite business in reducing the time from sales to market. The elimination of travel increases sustainability, and the upholding of professionalism and realism through the technology has enabled the supply-chain’s acceleration. Going forward, virtual appointments and showrooms will be a useful tool in the fashion industry’s arsenal and will undoubtedly open up more business opportunities. That said, whereas digitization and virtual interactions are here to stay, some physical meetings will remain unavoidable and essential. Whether it’s trials onsite at mills and similar activities that require physical presence, there is no alternative to personal human interaction. The only question is finding the right balance. Think about fabric samples. Brands may now do their color selection on the screen but for most physical properties of a product, they would still want to have a piece of fabric sample in front of them for evaluation.”

Hoi Kwan Lam, CMO & product management, HEIQ


3. Remote Workforce / Corporate Culture

“Nester Hosiery management operates with both on-site and remote staffing. Historically, we have had remote workers in other states who traveled to the manufacturing facility several times a year. Prior to COVID, this remote work was concentrated in functions that could be easily facilitated with technology. The onset of the pandemic forced all management to transition to remote working and we were relieved to see how productive this arrangement was across multiple areas. In some ways, communication became more efficient. Reduced or zero commuting and fewer interruptions allowed a high degree of task focus. Collaboration, however, is optimized with on-site interactions and it has been refreshing to get back to working together at our factory and development center.”

Kelly Nester, CEO, Nester Hosiery

“We have always supported a large contingent of our workforce away from the office, even before the pandemic. We think our business development experts are better deployed out in the markets with the customers they serve. That flexibility has helped us recruit some of the best people in our business sectors. Before stay-at-home orders hit, we regularly brought our outside staff to headquarters in Higginsville to work with and build relationships with the people located here. We certainly have missed those team building experiences but we have worked hard to keep everyone in the loop with other methods. Video conferencing became a vital tool during the shutdown and we will continue to use it going forward. We fully intend to reinstate our regular in person meetings once travel is possible for everyone. We have a brand new showroom at our headquarters and look forward to using it for internal meetings as well as hosting our customers when they, too, are free to travel again.”

Greg Vas Nunes, Chairman & CMO, TTG

“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we implemented a COVID Emergency Response team to ensure we took all necessary steps to support CDC guidelines. We transitioned employees in our corporate offices to remote work. While our corporate offices are back open, we also continue to implement telecommuting and flextime policies while limiting conference room capacity and business travel. We believe corporate culture can reside in both the office and at home. Unifi is a global company, and as such, is flexible and versatile in the ways we are able to live out our corporate culture.”

Jay Hertwig, VP of Commercialization, UNIFI

“Managing NILIT operations in so many countries was excellent preparation for the situations imposed by the pandemic. However, I think we discovered a deeper appreciation for just how important face-to-face communications are in retaining and strengthening corporate culture. When the stay-at-home orders hit our headquarters location, we realized that we may take for granted the value of the in-person interactions we enjoy at the office. Working remotely can be isolating and not the best for supporting corporate culture if the interpersonal bonds can’t be supported. Therefore, we invested in new communication technology to enrich our employees’ ability to connect and make work flow more personal and efficient. These communication investments will continue as business returns to normal so that all of our employees feel connected, productive, and integrated in our organization wherever they may be working.”

Sagee Aran, Head of global marketing, NILIT


4. Pricing

“At Farm to Feet — and with all Nester Hosiery business units — we secure a forward material position down the supply chain. This allows us to guarantee pricing through future seasons for retailers and brands. 2021 has tested this for us. I give us a B+, but of note we did have some lower volume component items without positions where we have absorbed at-once increases, and experienced pricing challenges. With regard to future seasons we have had to assess all styles and either tighten our margin or plan for increases, which usually lead to higher retail prices.”

Kelly Nester, CEO, Nester Hosiery

“Further underscoring the importance of a domestic supply chain, we have been able to mitigate increases in raw material costs by leveraging our close relationships with our U.S.-based wool supplier. COVID spurred dramatic increases in freight costs for imports, not to mention the delays seen in transit and at port during Customs clearance. Of course, rising material prices are impactful to business, but there are certainly real costs associated with delays as well. Utilizing domestic material suppliers gains us cost efficiencies that allow us to continue to provide our customers with premium products while insulating them, whenever possible, from dramatic price increases on our yarn.”

Keith Horn, President, Kentwool Yarn, and Lauren Luneckas, president, Kentwool Performance Apparel

“Price increases are a challenging reality created by pressure within the supply chain; Raw material, labor and transportation all factor into the cost increases. We all work together to minimize the impact of this. Partnership is vital.”

David Parkes, founder, Concept Ill Textiles

“This problem isn’t a new one and has been an issue since time immemorial. It isn’t going away and will continue to be an issue with the only alternative being to innovate away from raw materials that cross an unacceptable price threshold and fine alternatives. Necessity is the mother of invention and that has historically been the driver for innovations and the discovery of new technologies. All of this exemplifies HeiQ’s philosophy. We provide our customers solutions that are more sustainable and help them save costs at the same time, such as our HeiQ Pure TAG and HeiQ Clean Tech.”

Hoi Kwan Lam, CMO/ product management, HEIQ


5. Trade Shows

“Trade shows are important points of customer outreach in many of our markets, especially our newer markets like AIRADIGM apparel and footwear performance fabrics and CELLATEX medical device membranes. The pandemic certainly disrupted trade shows across the board. With almost all of our customer contacts working from home or barred from hosting meetings, we looked for other ways to engage. The virtual trade shows just weren’t as effective for us. Instead, we chose to develop engaging sample mailings and used video conferencing to conduct demos and work on product development. We hosted webinars and used electronic media to get information out to our customers. I think trade shows will once again become a part of our customer contact strategy in 2022 when they can provide that interpersonal reward and hands-on product experience that make trade shows so beneficial.”

Greg Vas Nunes, Chairman & CMO, TTG

“Trade shows have always been a great platform to meet with many suppliers and customers in one place. They have also always been an enormous monetary and time investment for companies. I believe trade shows will have to evolve — new places, perhaps once a year versus twice a year. Being customer-centric, we are also evolving to ensure more focused time 1-on-1 with our customers versus too much emphasis on trade shows.”

Brian Parnes, COO/CMO, downlite

“It was a major challenge to try to pivot trade shows to a virtual model during the pandemic, and frankly it didn’t work very well. It’s hard to replicate that experience virtually when so much of the value of the show is the in-person interactions and the unplanned drop-in visits and impromptu conversations that happen when you start chatting with someone. It just doesn’t translate well to a virtual platform. With higher vaccination rates and easing of restrictions on travel and gatherings, in-person trade shows could probably resume in 2022. But I think they will look quite different. Lower density to allow for social distancing, fewer attendees, smaller travel and show budgets for some vendors, etc. Trade shows are still enormously valuable, and this is a great opportunity for the organizers to rethink how they deliver that experience and to find innovative ways to make them even better than they were before the pandemic.”

Mary-Cathryn Kolb, Founder & CEO of brrr°

“As the industry has looked at other ways to communicate and interact more digitally, that will only continue as we try to be smarter about our travel and the impact that has. But there isn’t a substitute for personal connection. The big marketing spends that had previously been used for booths at fairs may be the big change going forward. Looking at what was being spent on those booths, that now seems a little extravagant and can be used in a more impactful way.”

Ulrika Björk, CEO, Polygiene

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