Established skills and tradition were not enough to save some apparel makers from layoffs and factory closures in 2011. But acquisitions, an environmental focus and international expansion helped others to build on a solid recovery from the recession.

WINNERS

VF Corporation
In one of 2011's biggest deals, US-based VF Corp announced its plans to buy major footwear brand Timberland in a US$2bn takeover. As well as boosting earnings by US$700m a year, the purchase would leverage VF platforms in Europe, Asia and Latin America, and boost e- commerce operations. VF said it would "aggressively" grow Timberland's women's wear business. The June announcement - which received regulatory approval - was followed by healthy Q2 figures with strong sales growth in outdoor and action sports (up 23%) to jeans and sportswear (both up 10%), 'image-wear' (up 16%) and contemporary brands (up 11%).

Li & Fung
The Hong Kong-based sourcing giant rolled on towards ever greater profitability, booking a 27% hike in full-year profit and declared a goal of reaching a core operating profit of US$1.5bn by 2013. For the year ended 31 December, profits rose to US$548m. And although Li & Fung's performance was off target, MD William K Fung praised the company's "robust performance", noting the company had achieved success "despite the financial crisis and recession". Too ambitious? Analysts are not sure, but the company remains optimistic and is reported to have a $1bn acquisition war chest to help the process along.

Salvatore Ferragamo
Italian footwear and high-end clothing manufacturer Salvatore Ferragamo showed the value of looking at emerging markets for potential sales as well as sourcing, reporting an 85% jump in net profit for the first nine months of the year through rising sales, notably in Asia Pacific markets. The figures speak for themselves: Asia Pacific sales grew 36% over the nine-months, increasing over 50% in luxury-addicted China compared with the same period in 2010. This helped translate into a 27.6% increase in overall revenue over the period to reach EUR549.8m.

LVMH
The French luxury group cemented its global position, acquiring Italian rival Bulgari for EUR4.3bn ($6.2bn), and by the end of the year announcing control of just over 98% of Bulgari shares. In October LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton revealed a 15% jump in nine-month sales to EUR16.3bn and said the results confirm its confidence in the rest of the year. This showed a "continuation of the trend evident since the start of the year", the company said. The momentum continued in Asia, Europe and the United States, while Japan returned to growth over the period. The company also launched a Maison Louis Vuitton store and its brands Fendi, Donna Karan and Céline made strong progress.

Toray
Japanese textile maker Toray Industries Inc showed the value of innovation in 2011. It began full scale production of a new ultra-fine nylon yarn for stockings and inner wear, which it claims is significantly finer than rival products. Micromafin has a thickness of just 0.5 dtex and excellent for use in light products such as lingerie. Also, when used in textured yarn, Micromafin's ability to trap air also makes it suitable for "thin and warm products", it said. Meanwhile, the Japanese company produced an environment-friendly fibre using PET derived from bio-based para-xylene sourced from US renewables business Gevo. "This biobased PET has exhibited properties equivalent to petro-based PET in laboratory conditions," Toray said.

LOSERS

Nike
Nothing is forever in business. So 2011 was the year when Nike ran into some trouble, when even this sportswear powerhouse was hit by rising input costs. In March, it admitted gross margins had declined in the 2010 third quarter as higher production and transport costs offset favourable currency trends and cost-cutting. Nike CEO Mark Parker said: "Higher cost will continue to affect our profitability in the near term." And company CFO Don Blair said prices would rise, and from spring 2012 these would involve "more significant price increases across a broader range of styles."

Crocs
Footwear innovator Crocs had an unfortunate start to the year, agreeing to pay the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) US$230,000 in January and to modify its packaging to atone for and remove "unsubstantiated" antimicrobial claims. The Colorado, USA-based foamy-plastic shoe maker has also made the claims in advertising and on its website. "The EPA will take action to protect the public against companies making unverified public health claims," declared an agency official.

American Apparel
It was another rocky year for the Los Angeles-based firm. The company warned in an April regulatory filing it was "currently experiencing significant liquidity constraints" and "may need to voluntarily seek protection under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code." For 2010, net sales slipped 4.6% to $533.0m from $558.8m, including a 13.4% slump in same-store sales. But founder and CEO Dov Charney said later there was little chance of American Apparel going down, and would be still in business in 20 years' time. The company launched its first jeans line and struck an online store deal with eBay. But Charney was sued this year for $250m in damages by former sales assistant Irene Morales in a sexual harassment suit - rigorously opposed by the company.

Inditex
The Spanish giant had a shock when one of its suppliers was accused of enforcing slave labour conditions on workers producing garments. Unions claim a police raid found a number of Bolivians making Inditex clothes (for its brand Zara) were living and working in "poor conditions" around Sao Paulo. Inditex said they had been employed illegally by a subcontractor, without its knowledge. The company said it was considering appealing against some $700,000 in possible fines from the Brazilian labour ministry.

Huntsman Textile Effects
Who says the Swiss never have a hard time economically? Dyes and chemicals maker Huntsman Textile Effects announced it would cut up to 500 jobs and possibly close its facilities in Switzerland to increase global competitiveness. Up to 600 jobs in Basel, where it has production facilities and business support offices, could be affected, with 100 workers moving to other sites across the company on top of the job losses. The company partly blamed the strengthening Swiss franc, a safe haven during the Euro crisis. Huntsman Textile Effects makes dyes and chemicals used to enhance the colour of finished textiles and improve wrinkle resistance, freshness and repel water and stains.