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Posted Date: 7/26/2010


Posted On: 7/26/2010

Why Quality, Saleable Product Starts From Fiber Forward
contributed by David Sasso, VP, International Sales, Buhler Quality Yarns Corp., dsasso@buhleryarns.com

Do you know where your raw materials come from? For that matter, do you know if your supply chain has secured enough raw materials to cover your future demands?

A few more critical questions to ask yourself:

Assuming you know the spinner, do you know how they purchase their raw materials and guarantee consistency of quality? Are there improvements in fabric quality which can be made from optimizing fiber utilization and selection? Do you understand how choosing the best spinning technology impacts optimal fabric quality, performance and price?

These questions are not typically explored at the retail or brand level --though they should be. Instead, raw materials purchasing decisions are typically left up to the fabric manufacturer, who is neither the yarn spinner nor the party responsible for raw material procurement. Yet the answers to these questions can have a profound effect on the bottom line and quality of the final product. Moreover, there is much emphasis being placed on sustainability in today's market, but you cannot begin to execute on sustainability unless you actively get involved at the fiber and yarn level.

As we know, retailers and manufacturers are in the business of making profits; this is what sustains jobs. But the strategy of going after the lowest cost "needle" and CHEAP raw materials is not enough to sustain profits any more. The retail environment may be forever changed as consumers make their spending decision based on VALUE. That value may be in various forms such as price, styling, comfort and/or longevity or any combination thereof. As such, designing VALUE into product requires an effort to know your supply chain from the fiber forward.

The Cotton Example

Let's evaluate these points using cotton apparel products. The single biggest threat to pricing and quality of the final product currently is cotton prices. Cotton prices have risen dramatically over the past year by more than 70 percent. This has been mainly a supply side issue. So how does this impact quality? Quality is impacted in two ways:

1. The supply of the fiber which is best suited for quality yarns is not sufficiently available.
--Combed Ring Spun yarns need fiber which sets priorities on length, strength, and fineness;
--Air Jet yarns need priorities length and strength;
--Open End yarns can use lower grades of cotton fibers, but place priorities on fiber fineness and strength. A higher concentration of waste can be utilized.

2. Price pressures and lack of supply forces spinners to use lower grades of cotton fiber and higher concentration of waste in the blend.

As the cotton yarns deteriorate in quality, so does the fabric. The fabric manufacturer will see an increase in fabric hairiness (prone to increased pilling), reduction in fabric strength (reduced garment longevity), reduced fabric stability (shrinkage and skewness), increased rejection rates, and the list goes on. Obviously, this is not the way to design VALUE and to gain customer loyalty. And yet, most brands and retailers are clueless about how this market condition will impact their bottom line. The impact is not immediate, but consumers' negative experience with the product may result in shopping elsewhere.

From a sustainability viewpoint, the premature disposal of cotton garments due to poor quality is an inefficient utilization of our precious resources. The quantity of land, water and energy used to convert cotton fibers into apparel is tremendous.

Take for example a woman's cotton knit top, category 339. In 2008, 2.8 billion knits tops were imported into the United States. Let's assume that each unit required 0.8148 pounds for cotton fiber1. This would amount to approximately 2.3 billion pounds of cotton fiber needed just for this category. If the worldwide production of cotton is four bales (500 pounds per bale) of cotton per acre, then you need approximately 1.1 million acres of land. Not a small number. If you claim to have sustainable practices, you must consider quality, design and durability for your apparel products to better utilize our most valuable resources.

While the issues and considerations around yarn and other raw materials may seem overly technical, they are much too important to ignore. Establishing relationships with reputable companies from the raw materials forward can help your company make great decisions on VALUE and design. At the same time, it will give you more transparency and validity to your sustainability claims. You would be surprised how little it costs to make quality product when you have the entire supply chain working with you, the retailer or brand, and not against you.

1. Includes estimated yields and waste factors

About Hermann Bühler AG, Switzerland and Buhler Quality Yarns Corp., USA

Since 1858 the Buhler Group has produced yarns for customers with the highest requirements. We are successful because we place tremendous emphasis on the quality of the fibers we buy and the innovative yarns we spin. Our highly specialized and dedicated global work force keeps us competitive, and we work collaboratively with leading brands and retailers throughout the world to provide a service that goes far beyond just the sale of yarns. We take pride in providing guidance across the supply chain to help improve processes and to ensure that the final product meets or exceeds our customers' -- and the consumer's -- expectations.

Buhler Quality Yarns is not in the commodity business. We spin high-end luxury yarns with fibers such as Supima cotton, Lenzing MicroModal and MicroTencel for superior results.

Buhler Quality Yarns Corp. is headquartered in Jefferson, GA. To learn more visit www.buhler.com or email sales@buhleryarns.com.


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