Legitimate moisture management is the price of entry in the performance apparel fabric market
Wu Luen Knitting Company, an integrated knitting and dyeing factory set up in 1985 in Taiwan, produces tricot, spandex fabrics and special finished goods for garments, swimwear, underwear, biking wears, sportswear, shoes, industrial fabrics, hats and bags. Leo Wu, Director-Global Sales, speaks to Fibre2Fashion about sustainability, the athleisure segment, and the sportswear market.
How big is the market for circular knits and spandex? At what rate is it growing?
Knit fabric exports with spandex from Taiwan reached $8.19 billion in the first four months of 2017, a 1 per cent growth compared to the same period the previous year. Wu Luen's knitted fabric exports grew a little over 5 per cent during that duration. We attribute our share of growth to greater emphasis on functional fabrics.
Which are the big markets for sportswear? Where do you see the demand growing?
We do not necessarily track our fabric sales by sports, but rather by category because a given fabric can be incorporated into garments designed for several sports. The company's heritage is in the footwear market, which still represents about 35 per cent of our sales.
Once the company diversified into apparel many years ago, the most immediate application of the type of fabrics we manufactured was for swimwear, which was then dominated by textile companies based in Taiwan. This segment still represents about 20 per cent of our sales, mostly due to our expertise in jacquard fabrics.
The active sports market segment (tops and bottoms), the fastest growing at about 30 per cent of our sales and mostly intended for performance garments, is our current focus. However, the demand for fabrics that emphasize aesthetics over cutting edge performance destined for the 'athleisure' segment has been growing at a disproportionate rate in the last couple of seasons.
Which are your major markets for polyester, nylon and spandex fabrics?
Nylon/spandex is still the fibre of choice in the high-end swimwear and yoga apparel markets, and where abrasion resistance is a critical consideration. Polyester is perceived to have superior moisture management characteristics and still dominates performance activewear, especially with engineered cross sections and additives.
Where do you see the application of your products increasing - swimwear, underwear, footwear or industrial fabrics (please specify any other category)?
As mentioned above, we are focusing on sportswear, a segment witnessing growth at present.
Which are the three main sustainable policies followed at your units?
While boosting capacity, we only invest in energy-efficient equipment to reduce carbon footprint. We judiciously use energy, upgrade infrastructure, procedures and equipment with less efficiency to reduce pollutants released into the environment, and ensure mitigation of effluent from dye-houses. We also invest in communities by adopting local parks and donating ambulances.
What are the latest innovations dominating this industry?
Legitimate moisture management is the price of entry in the performance-active apparel and footwear fabric markets. Most brands are also looking at incorporating other benefits depending on end use. In the last few seasons, there is a quest for fabrics that cool the skin with demonstrable sustained functionality.
What is the rate at which the Taiwanese textile industry is growing? Which factors contribute to the country's growth?
The Taiwanese textile industry has actually been flat and, perhaps, slightly declined over the last decade due to increasing labour costs. As a result, many big manufacturers, including Wu Luen, have adjusted by concentrating on sophisticated, high-end products, more efficient means of production and shifting of commodity fabric production to their subsidiaries in regions where production cost is lower.
What is your market value? Please give details of your last two fiscals and your expectations for the next two fiscals.
Being a private company, we do not disclose our financials. However, our growth in 2015 was around 2.5 per cent. In 2016, it doubled to 5 per cent. Our growth forecast for this year is flat while in 2018 we foresee a 7 per cent growth.
What budget have you allocated towards R&D?
Our R&D budget is between 6 and 10 per cent of sales revenue.
Do you have any investment plans in near future?
Imminent plans include increasing the knitting capacity in our factory in Vietnam. Our long-term plans are confidential.
What markets do you plan to target in near future?
The company's business model, until recently, focused on producing fabric for converters, traders and garment factories. That still works well in the footwear segment, but for apparel, I have been tasked to complement with a brand-direct division to develop fabrics targeting specific brands globally. We believe our future growth will come from this initiative.(HO)