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COLOUR GUARANTEE (HKTDC Fashion - Fabrics & Accessories, Vol 01,1998)

September 1998

Wilson Garment Accessories (Int'l) Ltd

Billwin Ltd

Wilson Garment Accessories (Int'l) Ltd

WHEN Wilson Garment Accessories (Int'l) Ltd was established 17 years ago, it pioneered the use of reactive dyes on cotton tapes and cords in Hong Kong. "No one paid much attention to tapes and cords then because they were considered minor things," says Tony Ko, managing director and co-founder of the firm.

Today Wilson Garment Accessories is one of the largest garment accessory firms in Hong Kong. Its 400-worker factory in Guangdong, mainland China, turns out 25 tonnes of tapes and 15 tonnes of cords each month for 300 customers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Japan.

The company, which received its ISO 9002 certification in 1996, has always put a strong emphasis on quality. Ko says it was the first in Hong Kong to use reactive, instead of direct, dyes.

"Direct dyes are a cheaper range of dyes and their colour fastness is very bad. With a reactive dye, the molecule reacts with cellulose to form a covalent bond. This bond is very strong so fastness is better," he explains. "A direct dye adheres to the cellulose by a hydrogen bond, which is weaker. After washing, the bond may break and cause bleeding."

The dyeing procedure for reactive dyes is more complicated and takes 8-10 hours, compared with only one hour for direct dyeing.

All dyes are screened to ensure that no prohibited azo dyes, heavy metals, excessive amounts of formaldehyde or other prohibited substances, such as PCP, are present.

Wilson Garment Accessories does not resort to "topping" applications of direct dyes to adjust the shade of its goods. "If they are in contrasting colours, the direct dyes may bleed on to the garments after washing. When there is a colour mismatch, we will re-dye our goods," Ko says.

After dyeing, fabrics are subjected to 5-6 washings, while other firms may do only 3-4. The final step is a colour-fixation process. "We stress extra washing. We consider this of utmost importance since most problems are related to this," he says. "The cost may be a little bit higher, but this way we can guarantee the colour fastness."

Prices for standard 3/8-inch-wide cotton tape are HK$0.56 per yard for coloured tape, HK$0.33 for bleached white and HK$0.31 for pre-shrunk natural raw cotton. An additional charge of HK$100 per colour is added to orders of less than 600 yards. Tapes and cords in acrylic, polyester, nylon, rayon and ramie are also available.

Clients may order any colour. "Customers give us the sample and we match that sample," says Ko. The company has been using a computer-controlled colour matching system and software databank of 100,000 colours since 1994.

Orders are normally trucked by lorry to the company's factory on the mainland. But for express service, colours can be scanned by computer in Hong Kong and the information transferred by modem to the factory, and the required dyebath can be produced in 30 minutes. Orders are generally delivered in 7-10 days, but rush jobs can be finished in 4-5 days. Sales have grown 10-20% a year over the past several years, but competition has driven down the company's prices by 10-15% this year. Wilson Garment Accessories is fighting back by developing new products, such as gross grain rayon tapes for acrylic or woollen outerwear.

The continuing Asian economic crisis has also prompted the firm to seek out new markets in North America and Europe by placing ads in magazines and developing an Internet website.

Written by Andrea Pawlyna

Billwin Ltd

IT looks rather like paper, it is environmentally friendly and recyclable (made from high-density polyethylene fibres), as waterproof as PVC, and as cool and airy as cotton. Developed by DuPont, Tyvek¨ has been around for more than 30 years. Astronauts wore it in space and, impervious to radiation, chemicals and water, it has been the fabric of choice for some of the world's messiest clean-up jobs. But today Tyvek is fashionable and at Billwin Ltd, the fabric's worldwide agent for the past seven years, the possibilities for its development are almost endless.

The company was established in 1986, manufacturing and exporting jackets, bags, caps, umbrellas and tents. The company has since grown from an initial team of just three people to a staff of 18, overseeing production at a 500-worker, 50,000-square-foot factory in Shenzhen, mainland China.

"Tyvek is our advantage," says managing director Victor Yau, "and although our original products are still our main business, we have now added many more, from toys to premiums and official souvenirs." Indeed, a quick tour around Billwin's showroom reveals a wide array of products, from premiums for McDonald's and Coca-Cola, to licensed items for Warner Brothers and Walt Disney and clothing for DKNY and Polo Ralph Lauren.

In the past four years, the company has been increasing its profile by applying more licensed characters to products. "Our strategy has been to use brand names to upgrade our products' image," explains Yau. This means securing the retail and promotional licensing rights for many major sporting events, from the World Cup to the Olympic Games. In the past four years Billwin has applied Warner Brothers and Disney characters to its merchandise with great success in the European and Japanese markets. According to Yau, Billwin is already in the bidding for the next World Cup as well as the 2000 Olympics and Euro 2000.

Despite Asia's economic problems, Billwin is enjoying its best year ever, thanks to the recent World Cup, for which the company held retail and promotional rights. "Overall our best markets are Europe and Japan. The European market is just getting better and better, although the Japanese market is obviously down this year," says Yau.

The company plans to concentrate on creating new products and applying for more patents to make its products more sellable in the region.

Meanwhile, efforts are being made to break into the lucrative but extremely competitive US market, Yau says.

Tyvek may be the key. The company has a strong manufacturing base with ISO 9000 certification and many licences, as well as OEM deals with several major international brands. With an R&D department that concentrates on developing new and improved printing technology for Tyvek, Yau is confident that Billwin's market will continue growing.

Written by Vivien Jones

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