For many years Japan has been a major target for European textile exporters. But now leading Japanese weavers are keen to expand textile sales into Europe - with innovative finish techniques seen as the key to winning new customers.

Typical of this trend is the latest collection from Nippon High Pile which employs distressing, stamping, burn-outs, brushing and prints over jacquard knits to lend added character to its next winter's fake fur and velvets collection.

Similarly, specialist finisher Kimura Swnko reports vastly increased demand for its services, particularly in the field of flocking, sequinning and bonding.

Demand for novelty surface effects is not just confined to fabrics for the streetwear trade. "In today's marketplace Japanese manufacturers targeting the very top end of the European designer label scene are just as keen to create different looks and handles via the latest finishing techniques," they comment.

The Chugai Kunishima Corporation focuses on a process whereby woollen fabrics are exposed to strong sunlight to lend them a drier, springier handle and increase their drapabe. These fabrics are now being offered to European customers as the branded Sundry range.

Chugai is also experimenting with bamboo fibre as a blend partner for both wool and linen.

A talking point of the Hayazen Textile collection is opossum hair as an alternative to cashmere in luxury fibre content blended fabrics. "Opossum is both lighter in weight and warmer in wear than cashmere," it claims.

Nippon Keori Kaisha dominates the top end of the Japanese home market for suitings, and up to 70 per cent of its latest collection for both the men's and women's wear market is in pure new wool. The MAF mark, which distinguishes fabrics based on merino yarns, will also be promoted to European customers.

By Sonia Roberts.