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Sustainability takes centre stage at the London Textile Fair

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Buyers demanded sustainability at the latest edition of the London Textile Fair. 

Demand for sustainable fabrics proved one of the biggest trends at the spring 20 edition of the London Textile Fair on 9-10 January.

More than 500 exhibitors, up from 472 last season, descended on the Business Design Centre in London’s Islington for the show. Most came from Europe – among them were textile manufacturers from Turkey, Italy, Portugal and the UK.

Buyers from several big-name brands and retailers, including River Island, Karen Millen, Oasis, Ted Baker, Jaeger, John Lewis, Boden, Mr Porter and Gieves & Hawkes, were spotted browsing the aisles. The show felt busier than in previous seasons, and many stands were crowded, especially towards the front of the exhibition area. Exhibitors were broadly pleased with both the footfall and the quality of buyers in attendance.

The hot topic over the course of the show was unquestionably sustainability. Almost all of the exhibitors Drapers spoke to said buyers had been asking about production processes, and that interest in sustainable alternatives was at an all-time high.

“The show has been steady for us and we’ve seen a good mix of big brands and smaller names,” said Zack Whitehead, sales executive at Yorkshire-based weaving specialist Marton Mills. “It’s a good show to catch up with customers. Teal has been a trend for this season, and we’ve definitely noticed a surge in interest for recycled fabrics. It is good, because it shows change is in the air, but the problem is still that retailers don’t want to pay more for sustainable fabrics. I don’t think we’ll see much change unless the government steps in and starts subsidising sustainable production.”

Another exhibitor, who did not wish to be named, agreed that balancing sustainability and price is still a challenge for retailers, particularly on the high street: “We can do sustainable fabrics, but there have been occasions where we’ve spent ages working out alternatives for big retailers and then we tell them how much it will cost they lose interest – their customers just won’t pay for the higher cost.”

Paul Sharp, head of sales at waxed cotton specialist British Millerain, told Drapers the show had hit its stride this season and that sustainable cotton was a key talking point: “It feels like the show has got bigger and better this season. Sometimes you have to wait a while before footfall really gets going, but this season we had people on the stand from 9am on the first day. People are definitely asking about sustainability and, for us, they have been particularly interested in BCI [Better Cotton Initiative] cotton.”

Dorothy Abbott, who works in marketing and design at Scottish waxed cotton specialist Halley Stevensons, added: “Sustainability has been a trend. Buyers have been asking about production processes and how sustainable they are. The way we manufacture is sustainable, but it’s never really been something we’ve shouted about before – mainly because the interest and demand hasn’t been there.”

The next edition of the London Textile Fair will be on 16-17 July.

View from the top

John Kelley Organiser, London Textile Fair

“It might not be a commercial concern yet, but retailers are waking up to the power of sustainability and they are for looking for developments in this field. It takes an awful lot of water to make a single pair of jeans, and retailers know that this is something they have to get a grip on. It is an uncertain time [because of Brexit] but at the same time, business goes on. There are some big mouths to feed and as long as mills have the right product, people are prepared to pay for it.”

Excess – Embellishment, embroideries, bold florals, sequins, lace and glitter

Data – Visual and typographical patterns, optical prints and cool colours

Structure  – Graphic checks, raised details and heavy brocades

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