With over 60 stands to visit, three fashion shows a day and a buyer’s cocktail party to attend, visitors to the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show at the Birmingham NEC certainly had their hands full on Wednesday 2nd April. And if that wasn’t enough, an interactive workshop conference filled with a star-studded list of speakers from the workwear, corporate clothing, PPE and technical textiles industries certainly made sure there was something for absolutely everyone during the day.
The conference, which was sponsored by Microsoft Gold Partner Syscom, began with an introduction from Kate Salesse, assistant director of scientific services with the Greater Manchester Police. After welcoming everyone to the event, Kate explained how her interest in the workwear and corporate clothing industry had grown out of her involvement in the design of a disposable outfit for Crime Scene Investigators. Since then, her interest has moved onto women’s workwear and she is currently trying to procure a new uniform for the women who work for Greater Manchester Police.
From Image to I.T
The first speaker Kate invited to the stand was Tim Anson, European sales and marketing manager for INVISTA. Focusing on the trends in the European workwear market, with specific reference to the CORDURA® fabric, Tim discussed how personal image and style are of growing importance to employers and employees in workwear, as they become influenced by fashion trends.
He explained how the workwear market is expected to grow by 8.1% overall by 2012 and, if companies want to outshine their competitors, they will also need to pay attention to the other key trends: service package and price. The Scandinavian market was shown to have encapsulated these trends through its highly designed, high value and functional garments, which are consequently capturing the share of the European market. Tim completed his presentation by discussing how the durability of CORDURA® fabric can help to meet these trends by increasing the longevity of the workwear garment and therefore adding value.
Martin Rath, director of Datel, was next to take to the stand, where he explored the importance of using a web-based order management system to ensure efficient transactions between supplier and customer. He used the results of a survey that was conducted in 2007 and which targeted 4,000 buyers to help identify the benefits such a system could bring to a business. 78% of buyers who used them said that they were of the highest importance when it came to securing a contract, whilst the benefits included visibility of up-to-date information with regards to who had what and when as well as reduced administration and the ability to answer buyer questions at a few clicks of a button. Martin stressed that those considering investing in a web-based order management system should make sure that they get it right, as usability, functionality and making sure the proper controls are in place are vital if thousands of people are going to be logging on to it.
European Legislation Explained
What’s Hot and Not
Whether you are a buyer, supplier or manufacturer, a topic that those in the industry are always interested to hear about is which countries are on the up and which are on the long way down when it comes to global sourcing. Liz Leffman, managing director from Clothesource Sourcing Intelligence, explored the pros and cons of a number of countries from the most popular to the less well-known for garment sourcing. Although China is currently taking the lion’s share of offshore sourcing, Liz revealed that in reality, prices aren’t that cheap and factors including the possibility of unionisation amongst workers and wage inflation may impact on this even further in the near future. Liz named Bangladesh and Pakistan as possible alternatives for companies looking to manufacture polo shirts and jeans in particular. As her presentation was based on importing figures, Liz neglected to mention the UK, but she did discuss the European market and Romania in particular, which until recently had been the most important source for European buyers. Since joining the EU however, it has fallen into decline, becoming more expensive and suffering from labour shortages, making countries such as Georgia far more attractive options.
The audience then had a short break and the chance to consider the thoughts of the speakers so far before Neil Sutherland came on stage to replace Ian Samson from DuPont, and discuss European Legislation and how it affects choosing the correct PPE.
He began by explaining how CE marking has been the basis for free trade in Europe since 1993, and is split into three categories when it comes to chemical protective clothing. Category one refers to minor risk garments such as sunglasses and is self-certifying. Category two is medium risk and requires certification by a notified body or test house and applies to gloves, high-visibility garments and similar non-PPE clothing and articles. Category 3 covers high risk protective clothing and any garments in this category also require independent certification by a recognised notified body. Neil completed the presentation by explaining what to look for in Type 5 and 6 chemical protective garments, and what tests need to be carried out.
The Power of Antimicrobials
Antimicrobial treatments were put under the microscope by the next speaker, Arch Chemicals business director Peter Cowey. Peter explained how antimicrobials attack micro-organisms on contact to control bacterial numbers and prevent detectable odour. Antimicrobials, he said, also enable fabrics to stay fresher and cleaner for longer, which gives consumers the option to wash the garment less and save precious environmental resources.
Nevertheless, Peter admitted that antimicrobial treatments are only suitable in specific sectors. As only a tiny amount of antimicrobial is fixed to the fibre or the fabric, it is not powerful enough to keep textiles sterile in industries where hygiene is critical such as in hospitals or in food manufacturing. However, Peter described the treatment as perfect for the corporate clothing industry where style, well-being and appearance is of paramount importance, and where employees often work in confined spaces.
The Green Giant
‘Oil ruled the 20th century: shortage of oil will rule the 21st’ – Michael Kininmonth, project manager apparel, from Lenzing Fibers aptly chose this quote to illustrate his talk about the importance of producing and using environmentally friendly fibres in the textile industry. He explained how buzz words such as ‘sustainability’, ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are influencing our lives to the extent that nowadays customers are prepared to choose fibres on the back of their environmental benefits.
He used Tencel Lyocell as a prime example: it is one of the fibres the company produce and is currently making waves in the corporate clothing industry, where companies such as Russell Europe are using it in their corporate shirts. Michael said that the combination of the fibre’s performance and its environmental benefits has been vital to its success in the market. He explained how producing the fibre from eucalyptus trees that are grown in sustainable, managed forests in a 100% biodegradable process are just some of the ways in which Tencel lives up to its name as a fully sustainable product. It was certainly interesting to hear that big companies are taking green issues so seriously and that the environment is a factor that businesses can no longer afford to ignore.
The conference’s final speaker was Jim Findlay, product specialist at W.L Gore & Associates, who clarified the meanings of European Standards EN 343 and the soon to be introduced EN 14360, so that they could be used to select, specify and procure waterproof and breathable garments. He explained that EN343 is a self-certification test for wet weather performance, with low performance and durability requirements that anyone can do. He went on to say that the new EN14360 standard only defines test conditions rather than pass or fail conditions. It describes a method where vertical rain, like that produced in a cloudburst, is emulated in a rain tower in order to test the waterproofness of either fabrics or whole ready-to-wear garments. Although the obvious benefit is that the garment is tested in rain, Jim told the audience that he believed even this new test has its limitations. He questioned whether the 60 minute test was long enough to test out an out of doors jacket, and whether rain should also be produced at the sides as well as from the top to mirror more realistic weather conditions.
Arlene Hackett, defence and police equipment sales manager at Cosalt: Ballyclare, found this final talk the most interesting. She said: 'It was good to hear about the new EN14360 European Standard as I didn’t know very much about it before I came here. I’ve definitely learnt something new.’ Charlotte Crossley, product development manager at Regatta, which supplies garments for the great outdoors, agreed: ‘I found this talk one of the most interesting but even though some of the presentations weren’t particularly relevant to our company, it’s still good to keep up with what is going on in the industry.’
Mark Gamble from SATRA Clothing Technology Centre believed, however, that there was too much emphasis on PPE and not enough on corporate clothing. ‘I don’t think that the talks fitted in with the title and overall promotion of the day. You didn’t get a sense that the conference was part of the workwear and corporate clothing show.’ However, Sally Reynolds, business development manager, at Syscom, said: ‘There was a wide range of topics covered and so most people should have found something to their liking’.
Photography by: Maria Barry