Jiangsu Sunshine Group is the biggest vertically integrated wool textile enterprise in Asia, if not the world. Based in China it boasts the country's largest scale production for a range of worsted fabrics, men's and ladies' suits and corporatewear. It recently branched out into denim fabrics and garments. Niki Tait reports on a recent visit to the company.

Established in 1986, the Jiangsu Sunshine Group is the largest wool textile enterprise in China and Asia, if not in the in the world, producing high yarn count lightweight fabrics.

The totally vertical organisation is fully integrated from spinning to finished garments, producing 'Sunshine' worsted fabrics, 'Venetia' men suit's, 'Gezelie' ladies' suits and 'Pompei' tailored uniforms. It has a production base of around 800,000 square metres with total assets of 4 billion Yuan and fixed assets of 2.5 billion Yuan (May 2003).

Since 1992, when China's clothing industry began its considerable growth, Sunshine has introduced what it claims to be the world's most advanced spinning, weaving and dyeing machines, testing facilities and garment-making equipment imported from countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Japan and Belgium.

Following continuous investment of 1.2 billion Yuan (approximately US$150 million), Sunshine now has 120,000 worsted spindles, the majority with a count size of 120nm, 1000 high speed 7,000-12,000 rpm looms, and high-grade apparel production lines. It is ISO9002 and ISO14001 certified.

Today the company has an annual capacity of 22 million metres of high-quality wool fabrics, 15,000 tons of spun tops, 100 million metres of denim fabric, and 1.2 million superfine suits and separates.

Sunshine technical innovation centre

Since 2000, Sunshine has also been diversifying into new fields including pharmaceuticals, real estate, electric power, farming and forestry. But at the end of 2003, textiles and clothing still accounted for 90 per cent of the 6.5 billion RMB (US$785 million) business.

50 per cent of all production is exported, generating US$ 100 million. 60 per cent of foreign income comes from clothing and 40 per cent from exported yarns and fabrics. 35-40 per cent of fabric by volume is exported, and approximately 10 per cent of all fabric produced within the company is used in-house.

For all domestic garment production Sunshine fabric is used. For export sales, some fabric is supplied by the customer. Exports go to around 20 different countries, although the principal export market is Japan, and are mainly made on an ODM (original design manufacture) contract basis.

Suits are also made for export. The main customer for clothing exports is Just from Japan. Fabric customers include Hugo Boss of Germany and Armani of Italy.

Both the textile and apparel aspects of the business are growing, and Sunshine plans to expand domestic and export production in equal proportions. By the end of 2005 the company expects its income to be divided between wool based textiles and garments (30 per cent), denim fabrics and garments (5 per cent), power generation (30 per cent), pharmaceuticals (30 per cent) and other aspects (5 per cent).

Across the textile and apparel business 6500 people are employed, 4400 in textile production and 2100 in garment manufacture. There are four clothing factories, 27 factories covering all aspects of the wool fabric production from spinning through weaving to finishing, and three denim producing factories, two for weaving and one for finishing. All the factories are sited around Jiangyin City, Jiansu Province where the head office is also located.

Textile products

Examples of Sunshine worsted fabrics

The Jiangsu Sunshine Group is the largest worsted wool textile enterprise in China with a production base of high yarn counts and lightweight fabrics.

'Sunshine' worsted fabrics meet the requirements of various domestic and overseas markets. The yarn counts range from 64s to 150s; and the raw materials include pure wool and blends. Fabrics with the higher high yarn count (above 80s), account for over 75 per cent of the domestic market.

The main products include 20 categories with over 6,000 fabric qualities including gabardine, fancy suiting, tweed, natural stretch, cheviot, worsted, nap fabric, mohair, Lycra, Tencel, wool/linen with health protection function, soybean protein fibre, and cashmere.

Through the use of nano-technology and other new hi-tech techniques, Sunshine worsted fabric finishes include permanent anti-moth, oil resistance, anti-soil, waterproof, wrinkle resistance, fade-proof, anti-ultraviolet, bacteria resistance, anti-electrostatic, infrared ray heath protection, light, cool and heat preservation.

Between seven and ten new products are currently being developed every day.

Yarn production

Production starts when the raw wool arrives at the factory where it is washed, cleaned and combed through eight different cleaning processes using 55 Sant'Andrea Novara cleaning and combing machines from Italy. Most of the raw wool comes from Australia, though the cashmere comes from China.

Most of the wool is dyed before spinning in a totally automated process using mainly imported dyes such as CIBA dyes from Switzerland. Yarn dyeing equipment has been imported from OBEM in Italy. To get special effects the company also prints the yarns, though any fabric printing is subcontracted due to the very small quantities.

Ten processes then draw out the yarn before being sent to the Italian Cognetex spinning machines. In total there are 120,000 worsted yarn spindles. Swiss Scharer Schweiter Mettler and German Saurer machines are used for the twisting processes, Swiss Benninger machines are used to produce the warps for the 1000 high speed Belgian Picanol weaving machines.

Fabric research and development
The company has developed a technical innovation system that consists of a technology centre, wool textile research institute, quality testing centre and China's only post doctorate wool industry research station.

Over 50 per cent of the 200-plus staff in these institutions are Doctors, Masters, senior engineers and graduates. The centre is equipped with CAD, electronic colour testing, computerised dye matching, and special testing machinery for wool fabrics.

The total investment in the centre is RMB45 million with a further RMB100 million for the post doctorate station. The technical centre is responsible for product development, technical key problem solving, and quality testing, as well as national testing and technical innovation projects.

Denim production
The company started producing denim fabric in the last quarter of 2003 and by the year end had produced an initial 10 million metres. In 2004 it has the capacity to produce 100 million metres per year.

Jacket finishing

By March 2004 the company had set up a design, development and sampling centre to produce denim garments though it had not actually started production. The main domestic production is likely to be mine workers' uniforms, though it is likely that 50 per cent of production will be exported and a domestic fashion brand may be developed.

Denim garment production should commence before the end of 2004 though capacity has not yet been agreed.

The decision to produce denim was based on the fact that much domestically produced Chinese denim fabric was of inferior quality. Good quality domestically produced cotton yarns are available and Sunshine, with its existing knowledge of fabric production, felt it could produce a far superior fabric and utilise the well-known Sunshine fabric brand for its promotion and marketing.

However the company currently plans to limit the denim production to 5 per cent of the total business. There are no future plans at present to develop any other types of fabric.

Clothing products

Jachet finishing using Macpi equipment

Sunshine has invested in over 2000 sewing and pressing machines from Juki, Dürkopp Adler, Strobel and Pfaff, with finishing and pressing machines mainly coming from Macpi in Italy.

Gerber Technology in the USA and Lectra in France have supplied the made-to-measure CAD and eight automated cutting systems. Annual productivity amounts to 1.2 million suits and separates split 50:50 between domestic production and export.

There are three brands: Venetia, Gezelie and Pompei

  • Venetia
    Established in 2000, the top grade men's suits brand Venetia is made by the Jiangsu Sunshine Garment Co Ltd. Venetia adopts a complete Italian garment making system, technology, management and culture. There are 12 Italian technicians and managers permanently working in the factory. Garments are made from fabrics made in-house by Sunshine. 20-25,000 suits per year are produced by 100 operators. The suits retail in China at around 1200 RMB (US$150), and the company produces around 500 styles a year. Production orders equal 500-21,000 garments per style.
  • Gezelie
    The ladies' suit brand Gezelie is made by the Jiangsu Gezelie Dress Co Ltd and combines French styling with Japanese advanced technology. Many well-known European and Japanese brands are also made within its factory. The garments use exclusively produced Sunshine fabric, with garment styling and fitting tailored for Asian women. All products are exported to Japan. Annual production is up to 400,000 across 1000-1500 styles, with 600 people employed in production.
  • Pompei/Sunshine
    Sunshine is a corporate wear label used by long-standing customers; for new customers the brand has been replaced by Pompei, a domestic corporate tailored garment brand based on European styling. The company's 7000 corporate wear customers include China's Civil Aviation, the Public Security Department of China, China's Customs, the Commercial Inspection Department, The Hong Kong Army Unit, banks, insurance offices, and stockbrokers. Between Sunshine and Pompei 1100 people are employed in manufacturing 500,000 garments and suits per year.

Reasons for the company's success
Vice general managers Chen Li Fen and Yu-Lin Liu say Sunshine's phenomenal growth from village government industry to publicly listed concern in less than 20 years is three-fold.

From the outset the company's director targeted the top quality market for both textiles and fabrics; the company has continuously invested in the best machinery, technology, techniques and technicians; and it offers a quick response service to its customers.

Also, unlike many factories in China where workers come from elsewhere in the country and have to be housed by the company, 80 per cent of Sunshine's staff live locally. This provides greater workforce stability and longer periods of staff service.

Niki Tait, C.Text FTI, FCFI heads Apparel Solutions, which provides independent assistance to the apparel industry in the areas of manufacturing methods, industrial engineering, information technology and quick response.