The increasing preference of experimental clothing fabrics for suiting’s has reduced the growth of worsted wool segment in India, locally and globally. Let’s look at how and why such changes are happening along with reverse preferences growing for sustainability.
The woollen industry has profoundly infl uenced the course of English history since the 14th century. Today, with all the results of technological achievement throughout the world infl uencing our lives, woollen and worsted cloth is still regarded as the ideal clothing by majority of people living all over the globe.
Industries were traditionally cottage based, with spinning and weaving often taking place in the same dwelling. But the industrial revolution of the 19th century, brought with it great change as the wool textile industry became mill based and mechanised. Although the methods of converting raw wool into cloth have changed vastly over the years, with the introduction of new forms of power and machinery, still the importance of individual craftsman is of great importance. It is also an industry mainly in the hands of long established companies with years of experience and tradition behind them.
Suit jackets are defined by many things: the fabric from which they are made (to include its colour and weight); the style or cut of the suit; the details or trimming applied; and the degree of customisation to its wearer, etc. “For sure the cut and the fi t, is paramount, as a poorly fitting suit will never look right on the wearer, regardless of the quality or detailing,” says Iqbal Ahmed of Shubham Tailors in Jaipur. It is now quite common to find various styles of suits in any country as well as fusions of elements from one or more different styles.
The Fabric Preference
A poor quality fabric can make the most expensive suit appear cheap. By far the most traditional suit fabric preferred worldwide is wool. Suits, particularly for summer are also available in silk, cotton, gabardine, linen, mohair, polyester, microfibers, herringbone, poplin, seersucker and cashmere etc. There is also the tweed suit, a rugged classic best suited to casual affairs and is to this day used in sports jackets.
Other variation in woollen suits, especially in cold weather regions, includes flannel. Reid & Taylor exquisite cloths are made from the best wool in the world including Australian merino lamb’s golden bale, the rare Ross-shire cheviot, Chinese cashmere and most recently, the incredible New Zealand bred Escorial. Similarly, J Hampstead through a combination of craftmanship and innovative technology have created worsted wool fabric suitable for designing suits.
Polyesters, in general, are low quality fabrics, are synthetic, and retain heat, and cannot be worn for longer period. Cotton fabrics, though durable but gets creased & ruffl ed on longer wear. Worsted wool is the most popular fabric for fi ne suits as it is durable and wrinkle resistant over extended wear.
Wool can be processed either as ‘worsted’ or a ‘woollen’ yarn. Woolen suits are the top of the class and are the fabric of choice for high-end, expensive suits. The elite consumers above 40 years of age who demand finish, colour and designs and are conscious of durability and styles still have a penchant for premium wool and polywool fabrics and therefore prefer worsted fabrics.
“Worsted fabric has its own class and those who like it can’t have any other fabric due to its drape and elegance. Nowadays it is being replaced by TR fabric as the fabric is cheaper and much more suitable for party wear,” says J C Soni, business head, BSL. This segment which was earlier a small percentage of the whole pie is witnessing an increase, while readymade segment has not yet made signifi cant inroads in this category.
Youngsters who occasionally wear suits and want fashionable designer stuff at competitive prices prefer low cost Chinese TR and PV fabrics. “The fibre of this bale comes from a breed of Australian Merino sheep, making it a rare and prized possession for the owner of this masterpiece. Majority of fabric are machine washable, comfort finish and easy care,” says Ram Bhatnagar, head – sales and distribution (Textiles), Raymond.
“Generally, worsted implies a tightly spun yarn that is little heavier, while feel smooth when worn. In general, the higher the super numbers, the higher the price with all else being the same. But a higher super number fabric, though feels lighter and better to wear, tends to wrinkle quickly and has less durability. Hence, suits with super numbers above 140, may not be ideal for extended, every day wear and should be reserved for special occasions,” says Rajesh Sikka, Raymonds Tailor at M I Road, Jaipur.
Likewise few years back, plain designs were in demand and therefore mills use to do bulk sales in limited varieties. “At Grasim we have developed blends of wool which are comparatively less expensive than normal worsted fabrics. However, for the coming years more innovations in these fabrics can do very well,” says Abhijeet Ganguly, brand director, Grasim (a division of Bhiwani Textiles).
Worsted cloths are not only preferred in suitings but decades ago, worsted cloth was found to be a superior playing surface for pool and carom. The smooth, fl at surface of simonis worsted cloths do not “shed” (release random short fibers from the weave) or “pill” (the bunching of the short fibers on the play surface). Most of the world has changed to worsted cloths for the superior characteristics of accuracy, consistency and durability, but sub-standard woolens or “felts” are still commonly available in the US market, usually as the basic cloth that “comes with the table”.
Since its entry into the fabric space OCM has focused on wool and wool blended worsted fabrics. About 80 percent of their domestic business comprises wool and wool blend fabrics and balance comes from PV suiting, cotton and acrylic shirting.
“However the market has moved to finer counts and microns. While a few years back the quality of fabric was measured by its weight, the preference has now shifted to finer yarn counts and the light weight finer fabrics,” says Nitin Jain, managing director and president, OCM India.
“Change is law of nature; we constantly upgrade our fabrics as per market requirement. We have added new finishing machines in our process to impart latest finishes as per trends. Further customers prefer fine suitings these days and we are spinning finer counts accordingly,” says Ravindra Sharma, VP – Sales and Marketing, Digjam Suitings.
Digjam started its operations almost 60 years back with worsted technology and was one of the pioneer brands to start worsted fabrics in India. It started its marketing from worsted which was imitated by other players at later stage. With a capacity of 38 million meters in wool and wool-blended fabrics, Raymond commands over 60 percent market share in worsted suiting in India and ranks amongst the first three fully integrated manufacturers of worsted suiting in the world.
They are the only company in the world to have a diverse product range of nearly 20,000 design and colours of suiting fabric to suit every age, occasion and style. “Our focus is on light weight fabric with finer micron,” says Soni of BSL.
“Though the worsted category has grown for Raymonds to about 8-10 percent but the overall industry has not grown that much, usage of 100 percent wool is very less in India, thanks to the climatic conditions, ” says Bhatnagar of Raymond.
Lot of innovation has been done in fabric by major players. Technology has progressed a lot, making fabrics much lighter in weight with higher twists in yarn, reducing the wrinkles to the minimum, etc.
OCM is planning to bring sueding-emerizing machine in order to produce fabric with “Peach Skin Feel and Hand”, to give velvet like surface-look to the fabric. “We are introducing new blends of wool-linen, superfine polyester-linen with 100’s wool, poly-wool-linen- Lycra and PV-linen in suiting,” says Jain.
Competition with Other Duplicate Fabric
As informal dress codes become more acceptable in the workplace, traditional worsted suiting is being used less. An increase in casual clothing provides an opportunity for the wool industry to address the younger consumer. “There are more suits designed and priced between US$500 and US$700 with features once found typically on more expensive suits like fi ne Italian fabrics, modern cuts and narrow lapels. The goal is to attract younger men who increasingly want the current fitted, formal styles as opposed to the boxy suits and more casual office wear,” says Avnish Jindal, designer, bespoke clothing.
Indian worsted suiting manufacturers are facing a threat from cheaper, and what the industry claims as spurious, Chinese variety. The ready-made segment is totally non-worsted, giving worsted brands and players a tough survival. A good quality woollen and cashmere suit length by an Indian brand may cost about Rs. 10,000 while the Chinese import would sell for about Rs. 6,000.
In addition, prices of these products are substantially lower spreading the perception among consumers that Indian-made woollen suit lengths are overpriced and require very high-maintenance, while the imported fabric is premium and versatile enough to be washed. Also a lot of other fibre fabric is sold to consumer as worsted today, for consumer, they are still buying worsted.
But markets are witnessing a reversal, not only Indian but globally. Currently, the international market is flooded with poly viscose but gradually the market is witnessing a drift back towards wool and wool blended products due to multiple reasons including the limited life of fashion, and durability, fall and style of worsted fabrics as compared to polyester viscose fabrics.
“Europe and the US are witnessing trend reversal, globally the stylists are now using worsted fabrics over PV, and this should translate into sales in a couple of seasons from now. India has always been major worsted over the counter fabric market and would continue to be so. In spite of geographical climates we expect to growth coming on account of higher spending power of the consumers leading them to buy branded premium fabrics,” says Jain of OCM.
“With tailoring and cloth material becoming expensive, it makes economic sense to buy better and durable fabric rather than synthetic and shining duplicate material for suiting. We can see a shift happening in ready-made segment especially,” says Bhatnagar of Raymond.
But India is much below in consumption of worsted in readymade segment when compared internationally. “India being a tropical country, worsted fabric consumption will remain stagnant. It is perceived to be a winter wear fabric even for winter wear, nowaday many other option are available,” says Soni of BSL.
Brand experts say that Raymond has taken a step towards educating the customer about worsted fabrics and its all season relevance, especially in the context of the challenges the industry is facing today. In a continuous effort to promote wool as a trans-seasonal fibre in India, The Woolmark Company and Raymond have entered into partnership to launch ‘Cool Wool’ collection for Indian customers.
Reid & Taylor has also developed a wide range of fabrics, keeping several factors typical to India and Indian audiences in mind. Primary among the reasons was the need to combat the misconception that worsted suiting was suitable only for winter. The company’s research and product development have produced and marketed fabric that can be worn comfortably and maintained with ease in hot tropical climates as well.
On visiting the international stores of Ermenegildo Zegna, Paul Smith, Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Hugo Boss, or the home of bespoke tailoring, the tailors located on the world famous Savile Row in London, one would invariably find that most of their products on offer are made from Merino wool.
The reason why wool fabrics have the best tailorabilty properties is because of the ease that either temporary or permanent set can be induced in the fabric, its visco-elasticity, its resilience and its natural crimp. For these reasons it is the first choice. And hence, to increase awareness about fabric and its usage, textile companies are increasingly branding fabric ingredients through mainstream advertising, to break the clutter and broad-base their appeal all year round and for newer sets of consumers.