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Fibre Play

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Images Business of Fashion takes a quick look at fibres that rule the roost.

Cotton the most preferred fabric for intimate wear is facing stiff competition from the new age fabrics made with innovative and revolutionary fibres that have within them properties like anti sweat, odor control and of course stretch. We take a quick look at the fibres that rule the roost when it comes to intimate wear in India.

Names like DuPont Sorona, Lenzing Modal by Lenzing, Lycra by Invista, Inviya by Indorama, Freshsil, Birla Cellulose by Aditya Birla and Creora by Hyosung, et cetera top the list when we discuss the most preferred fibre that are used for intimate wear. The above mentioned fiber have niche properties unmatched by others.

Things changed dramatically the moment Lycra introduced; its stretch quality was appreciated by all. This led to innovation and invention by other brands as well. Today, properties like anti-odour, anti-sweat, anti-microbial et cetera determine the choice for intimate wear fabric by manufacturers.

Aptly putting the dynamics of fibre or yarn manufacturing in intimate wear, Varun Vaid, principal consultant at Wazir Advisors shares, “Unfortunately, India is positioned poorly on this parameter. Local brands and manufacturers prefer focusing on very basic stuff. Since, the demand pull for any innovative product was not there; basics were ruling the market. But now with international brands like Triumph coming in and playing their design card, things are bound to change, albeit slowly. For now availability of any innovative fabric remains a major challenge.”

Chronicling the fabrics used for intimate wear over the last few decades, Abhay Chhapia, CMD, Abhay Group highlights, “About 15 years ago, 90 per cent of the innerwear was made from 100 percent cotton woven non-stretch fabric. Five years later, out of the 100 percent, 10 percent was allocated to cotton knit fabric. In the following period, the share shifted to 50:50. Eight years ago, about 30 percent of innerwear was made from 100 per cent cotton woven fabric, out of which 50 percent was cotton knit fabric and 20 percent was polyester or cotton mix fabrics. Now, since the last two years, about 10 percent of the innerwear are made from 100 per cent cotton woven fabric, about 50 per cent from 100 percent cotton knit fabric and 40 percent from polyester or cotton mix fabric.”

Chhapia further says, “Currently in polyester or cotton mix fabric segment, there are few manufacturers who use polyamide or Lycra fabrics which are skin friendly and made from third- generation yarns. People have realised that cotton fabric is not suitable for Indian climatic conditions. In contrast, polyamide or Lycra fabric dries fast and gives  perfect fit.”

Need for innovative fibres and fabrics

Hitesh Ruparelia, co-founder, Grace Group that has lingerie brand Sweet Dreams says, “Natural fibres cannot keep pace with consumer demand and modern consumption pattern. Hence, alternates were discovered and used. Intimate wear is the closest garment to a skin; its properties have impact on human body depending on external environmental conditions. Cotton was the most preferred fabric by intimate wear manufacturers. With changing times, fibre and fabrics kept evolving. Later, cotton was blended with spandex for shaped-garments. Cotton blends also evolved depending on the end product like garment life, hand fell, colour or absorption. Other fibre that gained grounds was Modal (a refined version of Viscose) and its blends. It offered great hand feel, good dye absorption and a nice lustre.”

Market overview and brand speak

Pranay Mehta from Freshil Wearables, a prominent fibre manufacturing brand says, “We all know that demand for fashion drives development. Unfortunately, in India we have been using basic fabric for innerwear for a long time and there was no pressure to develop good quality functional innerwear with specific fabrics. Standard fabric extensions were used by most of the brands. As a result, we do not have good high-quality stretch, light-weight cottons or functional polyamides which are must for lingerie. Similarly, we do not have a good accessories and are still imported from the far east.”

Freshil Wearables offers technology that is based on using visible silver and transferring all its therapeutic and anti-odour properties to apparels. “We use 99.99 percent pure silver, which is blended with cotton or polyester to be used in fabrics and apparels to keep wearer fresh. Even though, it is not chemically treated yet is has been rejected by Indian consumers as it does not support Indian washing styles and frequency. To this, we tried offering permanent solutions that it will retain its effectiveness even after 100 washes.”

Freshil Wearables offers 97 percent cotton, 3 percent silver yarn in single Jersey for basic innerwear and 87 percent micropolyester, 10 percent spandex and 3 percent silver yarn for lingerie. All these fabrics have anti-microbial and anti-odour properties. Moreover, their flexsil fiber is being exported to the world for the past 7-years.

“The initial challenges we faced were the resistance towards new technology and over dependence on cost. We launched SilverGuard in products like socks for the customer to try and understand its benefits. The responses were encouraging and expect the lingerie brands to use our technology soon. Our technology is best suited for innerwear, sleep wear, sports wear for it keeps fresh, wicking, conductivity and easy care properties,” shared Mehta.

A prominent yarn import and export house, Texperts has earned itself reputation of introducing innovative yarns and threads for intimate wear. Manish Mehta, partner at Texperts India stated, “We have developed innovative blends of refined bleached linen with co-fibers like modal, lyocel and polyester. There are other variants of modal and super-fine cotton with specialty in polyester fibers to add functionality and fashion quotient to garments.”

Chhapia was the one who brought Carvico SpA Italy to India. Carvico is one of the best warp knit fabric manufacturers in the world. HE entered the raw material market for lingerie in 2005.

After surveying the innerwear and swimwear industry, the raw material that was available was of very poor quality; moreover, he found that almost all manufacturers were dependent on couriers from Thailand or China for raw materials. This was the time when he introduced that Italian fabric to Indian buyers. At the other end, he had great difficulty in convincing Carvico to reduce their prices for the Indian market in order to penetrate.

For Chhapia, the list of bringing-in more fabric brands to India did not stop here. He elaborates, “In 2006, I introduced Bischoff Textil (Switzerland). They are the best inner wear embroidery producers in the world. Later, I introduced Lila Lace (Turkey) who manufactures European Laces. Eventually in 2012, I started moulded-PU cup factory in Bhiwandi under the brand name AMPIO. This resulted it halted the import from China.”

Roadblocks and Challenges

Citing the hurdles faced by fabric and fibre manufacturers, Mehta explains, “The resistance of lingerie brands to use new technology is one of the major hurdle. There is lack of a good product development cell, where they can use technology thoroughly for testing and trials. I have worked with reputed international brands that test and do trial runs before launching; with good promotional marketing to create awareness of the benefits to the end customers.”

He adds, “Another challenge for any manufacturer when launching a new product is the price comparison with an existing product. Customers are reluctant to pay more initially. So, a brand has to present the product in such a manner that it beats its competitors through innovation.”

Chhapia minces no words and states, “Regarding raw material, we are definitely way behind international market. This is mainly because of the shyness of Indian manufacturer to use good raw material instead of low and inferior ones. They are afraid that if they buy expensive raw materials they will not be able to fetch that kind of price for their end product.”

To Conclude

We are witnessing a lot of movement in consumer expectation when it comes to their intimate wear. As much as customers are open to trying new designs and styles, the comfort factor yet remains a top priority. Companies like DuPont, Freshil, Indorama, etc. are putting in their bit to introduce revolutionary fibres but it is up to the Indian innerwear manufacturers to put these fibres that can be at par with international brands. Pranay Mehta makes a valid point when he says, “Today the end consumer is much more aware and has higher expectation from a brand. Lingerie growth is more of want rather than need. Hence more innovative cuts, fabrics, styles will fuel the growth further.”