Mills are starting appreciate that they have a huge market right in their own backyard.
All of a sudden the China market is getting serious attention from international denim mills and local denim exporters. After years of being shunned in favor foreign markets, mills are starting realize that there truly might be ‘no place like home.’
Lackluster sales in the traditional markets has made the China market increasingly appealing. Mills said that after a few years of declining sales, this year business was stable. So now ‘good news’ is being defined as flat sales, because at least they’re not decreasing.
The China market, in contrast, is seeing strong retail sales growth. True, the market is wildly competitive, finding a list of key customers is arduous and getting paid is “challenging,” but it’s a huge market and it’s growing.
To this end Kingpins launched its China City Tour last year, and fueled by its success took another group of mills on a three-city road trip again this year.
Stopping in Guangzhou, Shishi and Hangzhou, the tour brought a selection of international and domestic denim mills to three key jeanswear producing cities.
“The EU market is saturated now, you are not going to get the growth there,” Asad Moten, marketing manager at Soorty Enterprises (PVT) Limited (Pakistan) told Inside Fashion, talking about why his company joined the China City Tour.
“The opportunity is here, that’s why we came to China,” said Adnan Fateh, manager marketing & sales at Mekotex (PVT) Limited, one of the biggest vertically integrated denim mills in Pakistan.
“The truth is we don’t know much about China, even though we are based here. This is a good opportunity for us to get to know the market,” said Kwok Sau Yung, sales manager at Upper Universe Industrial Limited, adding that he hoped to find one or two local brands that they could develop business with.
The fair drew domestic brands, garment factories, and the local buying offices for international brands such as Target, G-Star and others.
“We’ve seen many good visitors today. We used to go to the fairs in the EU and US. This is the first time we came to China,” said Farzan Saiful, sales manager at M&J Group, a Bangladeshi garment factory that works with H&M, G-star, Jack & Jones, Selected, and others.
“From what can I see, most of the visitors here are local garment factories that are looking to buy fabric. It is great for us, because those are people we can potentially sell to,” said Mr. Moten at Soorty.
“Personally, I have always loved Kingpins. It is small and intimate and every exhibitor – whether big or small – has the same size booth, so in a sense we all have the same opportunity to attract buyers. Also, show’s open-plan layout makes it easy for people to see what’s really going on,” said Chiara Taffarello, designer at Unionmill International Co., Ltd, one of China’s biggest denim garment manufacturers.
New Trend & New developments
Opinions on what’s selling vary greatly. Depending on whom you talk to, some suppliers say stretch is still popular, hence they are adding more stretch to their collections. Others say buyers are asking for less of stretch. Several mills said that they see the trend for stretch has switched from the women’s market to the men’s market. As women’s jeans move towards looser fits, the amount of stretch in the fabric is decreasing. At the same, ‘comfort stretch’ has really taken off in the men’s sector.
What everyone does agree on is that authentic appearance and hand feel is dominating the market. In the past few seasons, in order to make denim more comfortable or to add more performance, mills made denim that no longer had the look or feel of denim. The qualities that consumers have traditionally loved about denim were almost completely obliterated. That’s now changed.
This season performance products are almost all disappeared. Together with most of the activewear products, jacquard and multiple colors are also gone from the market. Traditional indigo in 100% cotton or cotton-rich blends is back in fashion.
“The activewear fad is dying down. It's time for people to realize jeans can never become yoga pants, and vice versa. It is always welcoming to add comfort to denim, but it’s foolish to try and make denim into an activewear fabric,” said Andy Zhong, sales manager at Prosperity Textile Limited.
Denim with colored warp yarn or denim with neps in the weft yarn, knitted denim that looks like a woven (Invista's Lycra Hybrid), and sustainable finishing were some of the new developments mills were trying to promote this season.
On the garment side, designers say they are bring back the 80’s look - with a twist. Color blocking featuring tone-on-tone or earth tone pairings of fabrics is one of the top directions. Contrasting colors on pockets, collar, cuff, or hems create unexpected details.
“The old school trends are coming back. They have a retro look, but not exactly the same and when the look was first introduced. We are play with the fit and with color blocking to add a little bit fun to the garment,” said Ms. Taffarello at Unionmill.
Price wise, the competition is fierce. Best selling products (volume drivers) are still the basic products people have been making for many seasons.
Regardless of the price point, the focus in the denim sector is shifting back to making good quality, authentic denim. The bells and whistles of fancy finishes, a colorful shade palette and sports-inspired performance properties is giving way to good old fashion denim – and that’s exactly what consumers want.