Interview with Stephane Thouvay

Stephane Thouvay
Stephane Thouvay
MD - Product Management & Innovation
Sudwolle Group
Sudwolle Group

What are the peculiarities of the worsted yarns that you manufacture?

Four words: quality, consistency, sustainability and innovation.

As already mentioned, we produce yarns for all kind of applications within the textile industry. Today, we are selling more than 3,500 yarn types in over 12,000 colours. This represents about 23,000 single articles sold per year. 

Our yarns are special because of their quality. We use only high quality raw material by sourcing the best wool fibres from across the world. We established an audit system and an award to rank our suppliers for the best wool. Through ongoing training of our staff and elaborate quality management procedures, we are working on continuous improvements throughout our production processes. We have deep expertise and know-how level in all our production sites worldwide and, in comparison to many of our competitors; we assure consistency by offering the same continuous level of quality for each production lot and for all our yarns.

Environmental aspects are playing a major role in our products. Reducing our environmental impact is a key factor everywhere and in everything we do - from raw material and production processes to the final product.

Finally, innovation and research and development (R&D) are other essential pillars in our product strategy.

It seems that there is a lot of focus on R&D, customisation and innovation. Can you please elaborate on this approach?

With our new department Südwebs, we decided to not only set up an innovation department to develop new products, but spread within our organisation a mindset of being curious and open to new ideas and concepts. At the same time, we have intensified collaboration with our supply chain partners. Südwebs goes hand in hand with our network thinking culture. Our motto 'creating and connecting' summarises and describes this very well. Our goal is to work and develop products even more closely with customers and other stakeholders, to exchange ideas and to better understand each other.

Südwolle Group's innovation projects aim to enhance products in terms of performance, functionality, sustainability and design. We develop on average two new yarn qualities every day. 

Talking about spinning technologies, we developed Betaspun, Purespun and, most recently, Omega-Twist to further improve the performance of our yarns and finished fabrics. At the same time, we are developing wool yarns blended with performance fibres, such as Cordura, Thermocatch, Coolmax, Trevira polyester, Tencel and aramid fibres. 

We also dedicate a lot of R&D to sustainability issues. Our treatment Naturetexx Plasma for example is an eco-friendly alternative to the common chlorine-based textile treatments to make wool machine-washable. Naturetexx Plasma just uses electricity and air, no chemicals, to alter the wool fibre in a way that retains its natural characteristics.

Applying the same logic, we are developing new yarns based on recycled and biodegradable raw materials as well.

How are you coping with innovation and the use of latest technology in the market?

The 'Internet of Things' and 'Industry 4.0' have also knocked the doors of the traditional textile industry. We are optimising our business and production processes to be more efficient, flexible and interconnected. 

Robotisation and digitalisation are the two main aspects here and progress is naturally only possible in a collaborative work together with our machine suppliers. Here, we have initiated various projects with a completely new approach to imagine the spinning plant of the future.

Digitalisation is a priority for our company and our management board regularly supervises different projects we have initiated in production, sales and administration. 

Every year we invest several millions of euros in all our production sites worldwide - not only in technology, but also to improve working conditions and for employee satisfaction.

Tell us about your expansion plans.

We will build a production plant in Vietnam to serve the local market there more efficiently and to take advantage of the various trading agreements that Vietnam has negotiated recently. Here, reduced energy consumption is as important to us as the fact that we want to integrate the production site into its environment in a reasonable and sustainable way. 

In addition, we are expanding our global product range, especially for technical yarns, for automotive, home textiles and sportswear. Finally, we are dedicating resources to enhance digitalisation within our group.

Is your company taking certain initiatives for sustainability?

With German roots, we have always been a very responsible company, not just in compliance, employee welfare and corporate social responsibility, but also in environmental improvement. Sustainability has always played a major role for us. We are part of the textile supply chain and we try to constantly improve our environmental performance.

We annually publish Ecobalance, a sustainability report that measures and documents our performance in waste water management, chemical use and other relevant statistics. We are ISO 9001, 14001 and 50001 (energy management) certified.

We also take the requirements from Detox and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Foundation (ZDHC) very seriously. We are working very hard to meet the standards and we receive regular satisfying reports from brands following audits in our dyeing and treatment plants. We are very proud of these achievements.

Finally, we are offering all relevant eco-certifications for our products, such as OEKO-TEX, GOTS, IVN Best. We are also a Bluesign system partner.

What new has been planned for the future?

We count on a continuous growth in the outdoor sector and in technical yarns. From the innovation side, we also see potential in segments where wool is not such a big topic at the moment.

Digitalisation, sustainability and the enhancement of our products through R&D are three key strategic topics that will keep us busy in the next three years. We look optimistically into the future with a head full of ideas and a lot of passion for our industry. (RR)
Published on: 29/03/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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