Textile Show & Tell: New Ideas, Business Models Transform How Industry Connects
Want to learn the latest developments in materials, sourcing and sustainability happening in denim? The Turkish denim mill ORTA invites textile execs to hop on a hot air balloon ride through the Turkish countryside and enjoy an immersive sensory virtual reality experience as a fun, relaxing and informative way to discover it’s denim innovations.
Prefer to stay grounded? Designers can browse the “shelves” housed in a variety of digital fabric libraries now available from suppliers or visit the latest virtual sourcing platforms to select materials from around the world without getting on a plane. Want to listen to a podcast hosted by an ingredient brand? Or catch up on company news and climate goals via textile-specific YouTube videos? How about a quick check of factory certification on a brand’s self service portal just like you’d check your bank balance online? All these options are now easily accessible.
As the textile industry continues to undergo change, new and different ways to inform and engage customers are taking shape, transforming how companies connect with customers and the end consumer.
Execs are quick to point out that many of today’s strategies were in the pipeline prior to the pandemic, but COVID, combined with good leadership, accelerated things. That is certainly the case with digital platforms and online initiatives. We’ve been hearing and talking about digitalization for years, but adoption hasn’t been nearly what many expected. That has changed to the point that the momentum in digitalization is now influencing how industry designs, sources, and markets textiles.
Digitalization is also changing how the industry connects. In-person events are returning, and execs confirm the value of live fairs. Yet video conferencing, virtual sales meetings and livestream trade shows are here to stay. Consider that this Fall several new products from ingredient brands were introduced digitally, often during online textile trade shows; a trend that marketers are convinced will become the norm.
Sustainability is at the root of modern-day sales and marketing decisions. Execs say they like that today’s advances in technology can provide customers big experiences with a small carbon footprint.
Here, a handful of textile company execs explain how preparedness and an eye on innovation crafted contemporary corporate brand strategies fit for a transforming industry.
W.L. Gore: Thoughtful Development
“No one could have foretold the pandemic but there was a feeling of what was happening. So for us, it wasn’t a knee jerk reaction, but thoughtful development ongoing,” explains Nora Stowell, global sales and marketing leader at W.L. Gore & Associates. The company updated internal systems enabling associates to work better together, and enhanced customer relations while also effectively introducing new product to a broad audience.
Gore-Tex One serves as a good example. The self-serve online portal was already in the works pre-pandemic with a handful of customers, but the platform, initially serving predominately garment customers, now includes footwear, gloves and accessories. Customers can look up a laminate, check order status, find factory certification information and provide retailers with marketing material. “It’s like logging into a bank account to check your balance, pay a bill, etc.,” says Stowell.
What she finds most interesting is how Gore-Tex One influences Gore’s MPS score, an operating model for a successful customer-focused strategy. Stowell explains, “One thing we track, for example, is ease of doing business. And the positive digital experience with the portal is higher than those who aren’t on the portal, and has led to higher sales.” Stowell expects this trend to grow and in the future all of Gore’s customers will interact with the company this way.
“This direct link with the digital customer is a big piece of Gore’s digital journey with measurable results.” – Nora Stowell, global sales and marketing leader, W.L. Gore & Associates
“This direct link with the digital customer is a big piece of Gore’s digital journey with measurable results,” Stowell states.
Going virtual has proved positive in product induction, sales meetings and retail sales training. Earlier this Fall, Gore introduced the use of expanded Polyethylene (ePE) as a new complementary material platform to serve as the basis for its membrane technologies. (The company has combined its expanded polyethylene (ePE) with another polymer, polyurethane (PU) that improves performance and durability. Beginning in the Fall/Winter 2022 season, the new ePE membrane will appear in general outdoor and lifestyle garments, lifestyle footwear and snow sports gloves.)
The ePE virtual launch was a professionally-done Microsoft Teams live event with a 45 minute presentation that combined participation by different members of Gore’s leadership team and pre-recorded videos.“The reach that digital has been able to play has been huge,” says Stowell.
Gore hosted its first global sales meeting with 400 attendees. Whereas in the past associates would have to travel to attend, with some associates then flying every week to see customers, this event had a significantly smaller carbon footprint, and smaller expenses. Currently in the works is Gore-Tex Brand Voices, an eight episode podcast series featuring Gore’s sustainability journey, the new ePE product and Gore’s new tagline around responsible performance. Gore is also gearing up for Fall ’22 with its “Experience More Tour,” a retail staff training program centered on digital e-learning regarding ePE.
Cotton Incorporated: Growing Recognition of Change
“We had the foresight a number of years ago to create cottonworks and COVID brought home the true value of having that kind of connectivity,” says Mark Messura, SVP global supply chain marketing at Cotton Incorporated. “Because we had already built the road — the infrastructure to connect — it allowed us to launch in the height of the pandemic, during a chaotic and disruptive time.”
According to Messura, starting four years ago there was growing recognition within Cotton Incorporated that the industry was going to design differently using digital tools. “We looked at transformative technology that changed the way we market the cotton supply chain. Is it automated manufacturing? Is it Blockchain? And we identified the impact of 3D design with companies like Browzwear, CLO and Optitex gaining traction.” Two other harbingers of change were curriculum updates at leading universities (Cotton Inc., works extensively with academia) and what was happening in industries outside of textiles. “We saw the way GPS technology was changing the way farmers do business, for example,” Messura explains.
“Pre-pandemic was an in-person world, now we’re in a virtual world. We have a great asset; it was a matter of how we were going to leverage it.” – Megan Peterson, director marketing and industry programs, Cotton Incorporated
Cotton Inc’s cottonworks is a comprehensive online digital platform that serves as a one-stop for industry. “Cottonworks gave us both an opportunity and a challenge,” states Megan Peterson, director of marketing and industry programs. “It’s an opportunity to get in front of more people, but the challenge is to get them there. We enhanced our virtual marketing efforts, as example, getting on websites where customers are to redirect them to cottonworks. We advanced our email marketing efforts and tripled the number of webinars, giving us another reason to reach out to people and get them to the site,” Peterson explains. “Pre-Pandemic was an in-person world, now we’re in a virtual world. We have a great asset; it was a matter of how we were going to leverage it.”
And it worked. According to Peterson, numbers are up significantly, there is more traction on the site, and visitors stay longer. “Our bounce rates are down and our metrics are quite good.”
Now the challenge is how to keep customers coming back.
Content is key. To that end, a big effort went into the rollout of cottonworks DIgital Fabrics content. Recycling and circularity is trending so cottonworks has focused on providing information on these topics. Performance technologies is also highly trafficked on the site, so there is continuing education around that as well as teaching new fundamentals.
Videos are playing a larger role. Peterson says they have just finished five videos on their technologies. “Videos are a great way to get a lot of information out in a short period of time,” says Peterson, who sees more websites, more presentations and more virtual marketing on the horizon.
Primaloft: Driving Emotional Connection
“For a business with a tagline, ‘feel the performance,’ it’s been a peculiar time,” confirms PrimaLoft’s Tara Maurer-Mackay, senior vice president – product strategy, in reference to the absence of in-person interaction during COVID. “However, as a small company we can react quickly — which is an advantage — and our trajectory of innovation never stopped.”
The PrimaLoft marketing and sales staff rallied, working to develop a new suite of digital assets that brought personality and physicality to virtual presentation. Maurer-Mackay highlights creation of high-quality product renderings and raising the bar on productive and engaging video calls. “Our brand team is driving an emotional connection to our products,” Maurer-Mackay explains. “Showing white on white on a table is not particularly sexy, and a lot of the technology can be complex to communicate. We’ve worked to distil messaging into something that resonates with brands and the end consumer alike.”
“We’ve worked to distil messaging into something that resonates with brands and the end consumer alike.” – Tara Maurer-Mackay, senior vice president – product strategy, PrimaLoft
In October PrimaLoft launched its first big consumer-facing ad campaign, “Seek the Unseen,” that focuses on the unexpected, emotional moments of everyday life that often go unnoticed, with a centerpiece video spot that educates and entertains. “We have always played in the B2B landscape. But now we’re communicating directly to consumers about how PrimaLoft can help improve lives,” explains Maurer-MacKay.
Also this Fall, PrimaLoft introduced P.U.R.E. 2.0. P.U.R.E., which stands for “Produced Using Reduced Emissions,” is a proprietary, renewable manufacturing technology that now achieves up to 70 percent reduction in carbon emissions, up from 48 percent previously. “The second iteration of P.U.R.E. was full steam ahead pre-pandemic. We’ve now taken the platform to a broader application and it can be scaled in manufacturing,” Maurer-MacKay adds.
In addition PrimaLoft recently announced a strategic alliance with Origin Materials to develop high-performance, carbon-negative insulating fibers for diverse apparel applications, including for leading outdoor, fashion, and lifestyle brands, as well as home goods applications such as hypoallergenic insulated bedding. A prototype is in the pipeline with a projected launch date of 2024-25.
Polartec: Entering the 3D Space
In an effort to drive efficiency and reduce waste in fashion design, Polartec has stepped into the 3D space. A new collaboration with Browzwear, a 3D digital solutions specialist for the fashion industry, will usher in “true-to-life” 3D performance fabrics — a first for Polartec.
What this means is that users will now be able to digitally design and create with Polartec’s performance fabric range. The fabric library was made available in October in the VStitcher 2021.2 Edition with subsequent rollouts of new fabric technologies in future upgrades, according to the companies.
“Browzwear not only improves the efficiency and sustainability of using Polartec fabrics, 3D platforms enable designers to realize the potential of their creativity and fuel our industry.” – David Karstad, VP marketing and creative director, Polartec
Using Browzwear designers can accurately visualize the fabric’s texture, drape, and movement 3D. The tools allow for a high-degree of accuracy which in turn will eliminate excessive garment sales. Other benefits include leveraging 3D renderings in the sales process, enabling data-driven manufacturing and reducing overproduction and accelerating collection development overall.
The first rollout features 14 different Polartec fabrics in unique color palettes ranging from next-to-skin technologies Polartec Delta, Polartec Power Wool, and Polartec Power Grid, to insulation technologies such as Polartec 200 series fleece, Polartec Alpha, Polartec High Loft, Polartec Thermal Pro, and Polartec Power Air. Polartec NeoShell rounds out the collection with weather protection.
“Browzwear not only improves the efficiency and sustainability of using Polartec fabrics, 3D platforms enable designers to realize the potential of their creativity and fuel our industry,” comments Polartec’s VP marketing/creative director, David Karstad.
The Lycra Company: Embracing Digital
“We must embrace digital transformation,” says The Lycra Company’s CEO Julien Born. “The launch of the LYCRA ONE portal leverages our connectivity across the apparel and personal care value chains and offers a one-stop seamless solution to rapidly move our customers’ ideas from concept to launch.”
“We must embrace digital transformation.” – Julien Born, CEO, The Lycra Company
The new online customer portal serves as a knowledge and service center and allows brands, retailers, and garment makers to connect to a global network of mills in a convenient platform.
A need for a digital experience in the marketplace was already being identified pre-COVID, according to the company. Through the LYCRA ONE portal, users can source innovative fiber solutions using the digital fabric library. Users can also take advantage of the portal to expand business relationships, learn about capabilities, and view product catalogs. LYCRA ONE also provides access to webinars, white papers, and videos covering a range of topics from new fiber technologies and industry trends to marketing.