Traditionally, brands have largely dealt with their direct suppliers. But with growing demands for transparency, they now need to go further and engage with their upstream suppliers, including fiber producers, to ensure their claims are true. “The whole discussion about sustainability has really made it clear that the value chain needs to be more cooperative and more engaged with each other,” said Mike Simko, global marketing director for textiles at man-made fiber producer Hyosung.
Based in South Korea, Hyosung has recently moved beyond being just a raw materials manufacturer to become a true sourcing and product development partner. “At the end of the day, we get paid by selling fiber,” Simko said. “But what we find is that if we provide that added value, people will come looking for us.”
While sustainability was driving this shift just over a decade ago, more recently this increased collaboration has benefited brands. “The last couple of years with the pandemic and the supply issues has really shown the power of having these relationships across the value chain,” observed Simko.
Market information and innovation
Simko is part of Hyosung’s global brand marketing team, based in offices across 40 countries that interact directly with brands and retailers. During the pandemic, they were able to provide advice and alternatives. For example, when a brand’s production needed to be moved, it could suggest a partner factory in a particular location. As brands seek to restrict their supplier and nearshore partners, Hyosung has also been able to provide guidance. Hyosung’s global presence not only gives it localized market insights, but also enables it to engage with customers in all time zones. For example, the US team can chat with a national brand to get things started, and then the supplier country team can take over the coordination. Hyosung’s global presence also includes 14 production facilities, and it expanded and opened new factories amid the pandemic as demand surged.
Hyosung has one-third of spandex’s market share and also brings together the three major synthetic materials – spandex, polyester and nylon – under one umbrella. “It gives us a huge network for intelligence, trend finding and problem understanding,” Simko said. This can range from changing the prices of synthetic materials to finding the specific type of material that will meet their needs.
The company’s fashion design center analyzes emerging trends, which are then shared with clients and, ultimately, the industry. To spread this information more creatively, the FDC is developing a virtual avatar to act as an influencer and trend reporter on Hyosung’s blog.
“We spend a lot of time working with our partners, whether brands or retailers, to help them understand what’s going on in the industry,” Simko said. “They obviously have their own contacts and information, but we can often help them better understand potential issues that could arise.”
Hyosung has seen brands and retailers use its testing services not only to provide quality assurance, but also to enable them to position products by substantiating their durability or functional claims. “Whether it’s a sustainability story or a thermoregulation story, we want them to have supporting data and documentation so they can communicate it to their consumers,” Simko said.
In addition to partnerships with its customers, the manufacturer also emphasizes and seeks strong alliances with fiber producers outside of the synthetic space. As Simko pointed out, spandex is always a minority blend partner, whether it’s adding stretch to cotton jeans or sportswear. Considering how spandex will be used in conjunction with materials like cotton, Hyosung developed creora Color+, which can be dyed to match the rest of the textile fibers. This eliminates the smile or effect of shiny, undyed spandex fibers.
Another consideration is the symbiosis of sustainability. For example, Hyosung’s creora Black polyester is dope-dyed, a process that injects color into the fibers when they are in liquid form, prior to spinning. By combining creora Black polyester with dope-dyed cellulosic fibers, the resulting suit reduces water consumption and also tells a story of sustainability by increasing color retention.
In circularity, Hyosung also goes beyond its own manufacturing process by working with Korean government municipalities to collect plastic bottles and fishing nets discarded domestically as recycled raw material. To come full circle, several Korean brands are adopting Hyosung’s regen jeju or regen Seoul, a polyester material made from recycled PET bottles on Jeju Island in South Korea or the city of Seoul. “We are very interested in finding alternative materials to recycle rather than turning them into waste or landfill,” Simko said. A consumer’s recycled bottle can become an item of clothing they buy later. “You’re helping yourself, you’re helping the environment, and it’s almost like a perfect closed loop.”
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