Magazine article International Trade Forum

Silk Surges in the U.S. Market

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Silk Surges in the U.S. Market

Article excerpt


The silk market in the United States has changed, and it has changed fundamentally. This change is revolutionary, and it is permanent. In the United States there is a new perception of silk. There is a new look to silk. There is a new customer for silk. And there are new expectations of silk. Quite simply, for the U.S. consumer, silk is no longer seen as being the luxurious "queen of fabrics." Its image and price have been pluralized. Silk is now regarded as a fabric that is soft, popular and casual.

Competitive pricing has allowed silk for the first time to permeate almost all fashion classifications and income categories in the United States. This has spurred mass distribution, which has created mass appeal, and which has in turn resulted in explosive growth for ready-to-wear silk apparel in the country. Silk sales are strong and are getting stronger, independently and at the expense of other fibres. For the first time ever, most segments of the U.S. consumer market patronize silk. Freed of its constrictive identity of being a poshly styled luxury fabric, silk has now surged in sales in the United States. That growth is expected to continue even more boldy throughout this decade.

Market trends

The growth in the U.S. market for silk ready-to-wear apparel has been fueled by new treatments for silk fabric, imaginative fabrications and casual styling.

Casual styling is the dominant feature of silk garments sold in the United States today. Casual styling has allowed silk to permeate the "junior" and "missy" markets (i.e. consumers in the teenage and 20s age brackets), categories where silk was previously insignificant because of price restraint. Sales of men's articles is also a growth area for silk apparel.

With regard to fabrications, the touch of silk fabric is more important to the U.S. consumer than its look. Softness and suppleness are key features of silk's success in the United States. Silks such as those that are sandwashed and sueded are leading the surge in higher silk sales and deeper market penetration. Sales of sueded crepe de chine (CDC) and sandwashed CDCs have also shot up and will continue to increase.

Texture is almost as important as the feel of the silk fabric. American consumers love variety. Basically, any silk fabric with texture is appealing to the U.S. buyer. Surface interest or the appearance of surface interest is a plus factor in sales. This is especially apparent in the case of naturally stiff fabrics such as twills and blends. Twills are in fact one of the possible growth markets for silks. If twill fabrics can be softened through sandwashing or other new silk treatments, they have a strong potential. Likewise blends of silk and cotton sandwashed twills have the possibility for strong consumer appeal, as do sandwashed noils. (Silk producers in India, Bangladesh and Thailand could possibly profit from this potential by sandwashing their traditional handloomed silks, thus producing the combined effect of an enhanced texture plus the characteristic brilliant colours of these silks.)

Women's fashion apparel

The attraction that casual and textured styling holds for American women has led to the emergence of a new and different silk consumer and has redirected the fashion orientation of the U.S. silk market.

The new silk consumer: The difference between the new silk customer and the traditional silk client is that she is younger, earns her own paycheck and is not stereotypically "upscale" or exclusively in the higher income category. Instead she represents a broad spectrum of income, age, profession and geographical location.

This new silk consumer does not perceive silk as a luxury fabric. Previous adjectives such as "expensive," "exclusive" and "delicate care" are not part of her silk vocabulary. In the United States the key feature of silk today is its tactile qualities. …

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