Blog: Leonie BarrieUncertain times should spur innovation

Leonie Barrie | 8 May 2018

The uncertainty of potential tariffs affecting the clothing and textile sector – and a Trump administration that appears poised to levy more of them – loomed large over the annual Sourcing Conference organised by the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).

Speakers at the same event also shared how innovation and new technologies are helping pave the way for the US apparel industry to become faster and smarter – and sharpen its competitive edge in commercially uncertain times.

Separately, concerns have been raised that tariffs proposed by US President Donald Trump on Chinese imports could destroy thousands of American jobs, despite his intention to boost domestic employment through the move.

And the threat of higher tariffs on Chinese imports of cotton from the US – the world's leading exporter of the fibre – are adding another layer of uncertainty to the cotton market.

On the other side of the Atlantic, an exclusive just-style analysis of the latest Eurostat data provides a big-picture overview of the state of the EU textile and apparel industry and trade. Understanding these critical patterns is key to helping companies better explore the region's huge sourcing and market access opportunities.

Mexico could also boost its export to the European Union (EU) under the newly expanded trade agreement between the two – but faces big challenges in lifting sales to the continent, observers have told just-style.

And at first glance, the future looks bright for the Turkish economy in general, and the textile and garment manufacturing sector in particular. But while Turkish investments are on the rise, there are concerns too.

The UK retail market is poised for a major shakeup with news that supermarket groups Sainsbury's and Asda – the UK's second and third largest grocers – plan to merge. As major clothing sellers, too, the move would drive operational efficiencies, boost their buying power with suppliers, and challenge their value clothing rivals.

As the apparel industry wakes up to embracing digitalisation as a way of delivering on speed, customisation and transparency, it is also seeing a gap in the digital skills set of its workforce. Some tips the industry can take include collaborating with teaching staff on job expectations, sharing new technologies, and making them accessible to students.

Biodegradable banana silk, a solvent-assisted dyeing method for cotton fibre, and a biodegradable coating made from squid ring teeth protein that prevents microfibre shedding are among a dozen material innovations that have the potential to drive the apparel industry to a more a sustainable future.

A campaign group's new report has called for the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to be scrapped, and suggests most certification schemes in the textile sector are guilty of making false promises on sustainability.

Fashion retail giants Arcadia Group, Inditex, Gap Inc and Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) are to make their products mohair-free following an investigation into the industry in South Africa.

US fashion brands sourcing from Jordan have been accused of taking little targeted action to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers in their supply chains.

And new research suggests the global T-shirt market is set to continue to see moderate growth in the medium term, with the biggest gains in markets such as China – which is also the world's largest T-shirt producer.

Meanwhile in other news, Spanish denim mill Tejidos Royo will be the first to offer a new environmentally-friendly indigo yarn dyeing process that uses foam instead of water; Tonello has developed an all-in-one system for garment finishing; and robotics firm SoftWear Automation is looking to roll out its Sewbot T-shirt workline in Europe.

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