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HI-TECH SOLUTIONS(HKTDC Fashion - Fabrics & Accessories, Vol 01,1998)


March 1998



HI-TECH SOLUTIONS
Computer-Aided Design

A WEALTH OF PATTERNS
Woven Fabrics

THE HIDDEN ACCESSORY
Zippers

HOLD FAST
Fastener Tape

WELL STITCHED
Thread

HI-TECH SOLUTIONS

Computer-Aided Design

THE CAD/CAM revolution is taking firm hold in Hong Kong's garment/textile industry, with computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing helping to speed up production, improve quality, and save on costs.

The Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) estimates savings of 30% over the course of a year in company departments which use CAD/CAM. Industry sources agree that the use of CAD lowers the time needed to perform certain tasks. Hong Kong companies trying to stay ahead of garment manufacturers in Vietnam and other low-cost countries use CAD/CAM to give clients faster service and better value.

About 1,000 companies in the Special Administrative Region rely on PrimaVision software from Prima Design Systems Ltd, an industry leader in CAD/CAM development. The Hong Kong-based firm sells its system to about 3,000 firms worldwide, a company spokesman says.

One of those is A-Fontane Co Ltd, a maker of bedding products. The 20-year-old Hong Kong company purchased a software system from Prima Design Systems in 1995 and another in 1997. Its team of three designers relies on the software for about 50% of its design output.

Designs are either created directly on the screen using patterns from the computer's memory or drawn freehand with a wand. Even hand-drawn paper sketches can be fed into the computer, scanned and reproduced on screen.

The company uses the CAD system to create designs for medium- to lower-priced bedding collections. These would retail for under HK$1,000 for a seven-piece "One For All" set. "It has helped us be more competitive with companies which are doing the same thing. It also meets with market trends. People today tend to buy lower-priced items," says Quentin Chan, director of international sales for A-Fontane.

With the click of a mouse, designer Rebecca Chan pulls up a library of patterns and colours. Each pattern can be modified to suit her needs and colours can be changed at the touch of a button. In her experienced hands, modifications are made swiftly.

"The system is quite effective for textile design. It is much faster than drawing by hand," she says. Seventy percent of A-Fontane's designs take the software's existing designs as a starting point and 30% are original designs.

Children's wear manufacturer Sterling Products Ltd has been using computers as a design aid for the past five years or so. Its team of more than a dozen designers at an associate company in New York "cannot live without it", says Kenneth Wang, managing director of the firm, which was established more than 40 years ago.

"You can't go back to doing things just by hand. It's now an industry standard. CAD has lowered the time needed to perform certain tasks, which means lower costs," Wang adds.

Sterling's far-flung production facilities are located in places such as mainland China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic, with white-collar focal points in New York and Hong Kong. "Hong Kong is no longer a manufacturing centre. It's a service centre. Our factories are in [mainland] China, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. More and more, these technologies are helping us to communicate," he says.

Both small and large companies have benefited from the CAD revolution. Managing director of two-year-old Xu Fashion Design Consultant, Leslie Cheung, marvels at how quickly his PrimaVision system can translate design concepts into actual renderings. "It's six times faster than by hand," maintains Cheung, who also doubles as the firm's chief designer.

Cheung taught himself how to use the program. He can shift between woven and knitted styles, enlarge or reduce the size of a pattern, and fill in colours on a freehand drawing which has been scanned into the system.

"The most important thing is that the colours are very true to the original," he says, comparing a brightly checked pattern from a fabric swatch with the computer recreation.

He has even added to the system's usefulness by inputting his own library of sweater styles – V-necks, crew necks, long or short sleeves, vests and so on.

Nick Wei, business development manager at Prima Design Systems, says the company's software is helping to keep Hong Kong competitive in a fast-changing world. "In the 1980s, manufacturers were the main thing. Companies would take orders from overseas customers and manufacture products. But now there is manufacturing competition from Vietnam and other countries. In the West, the demand is for quality. Hong Kong must provide good service and good pricing, and act as a link between East and West. CAD is a platform for that," he says.

Though most companies agree that CAD has become an essential workaday tool, they add that the system has some way to go before it completely replaces hand drawings or photos. For example, A-Fontane recently stopped using CAD for package inserts that show how its products look on a bed because the draping, or 3-D effect, fell short of photo-realistic quality.

The company continues to use freehand drawings for its higher-priced bedding lines (selling for HK$3,000-20,000 per package) because for fine design work, artists working on paper can turn out a better product. "For some effects, like water-colour, you need a second or third paint layer. With a computer, you can only paint once," says A-Fontane's Rebecca Chan.

Another issue in the industry concerns lingering resistance to computer technology. "If you compare Hong Kong to developed countries like Japan or the United States, we are still behind. But if you compare us to [mainland] China or the rest of Asia or undeveloped countries, then we are ahead," says Sam Ho, senior consultant at HKPC.

Younger designers are more willing to accept CAD/CAM technology than those whose careers have been spent working entirely with paper drawings. "The traditional designers need a bit of a push," says A-Fontane's Quentin Chan.

There is also the job of getting designers trained and up to speed on a computer. Basic training on a CAD system typically lasts three days, but many designers say it takes at least a month before they feel they have acquired enough proficiency to use the system efficiently.

In addition, certain CAD functions are more difficult to master than others. Xu Fashion Design Consultant's Cheung says learning how to drape a design was a time-consuming effort and required complicated commands.

Despite these obstacles, Ho says it is important to continue to promote the use of CAD/CAM in Hong Kong industries. Companies, he adds, should also offer more short courses and on-the-job training to workers.

"We have a lot of in-house training. You cannot buy software and expect people to know how to use it," says Wang of Sterling Products. "Even with the software, most of the designers like Macintosh because it is a more familiar machine for designers. But the rest of the world uses [IBM-compatible] PCs, so we have both systems."

Sterling relies on Hong Kong-based Speed Step Ltd's Profilmer CAD software, CorelDRAW and other graphics arts programs because they are more suitable for the company's character designs. "We are the main licensees for Disney and Co, Winnie the Pooh and Barbie Dolls for the US market," Wang adds.

CAD/CAM has inspired companies to think in more innovative terms and to devise new uses for the technology. Cheung, from Xu Fashion Design Consultant, is eyeing the Internet as a system for delivering designs and receiving instant feedback.

The CAD software that A-Fontane bought "helped a lot" at its fabric printing factory on mainland China's Hainan Island, says Quentin Chan. "We have buyers from [mainland] China and overseas who order fabrics from us. With the computer, we can create a much greater variety of designs," he says.

The fast-growing field of computer-aided design holds out the promise of keeping Hong Kong's industries vital, competitive and a step ahead of many others.

Written by Andrea Pawlyna


A WEALTH OF PATTERNS

Woven Fabrics

WOVEN fabric is pretty much synonymous with the development of Hong Kong's apparel industry, and although most of the actual manufacturing is now done north of the border, Hong Kong remains the nerve centre when it comes to R&D, sales and marketing. This is a well-established industry full of companies with long histories, yet new firms continue to enter the field. For the buyer this is all good news as the competition keeps the prices reasonable and the level of service high.

Long Fai Trading Co was established more than 10 years ago and sells both woven and non-woven interlining. Manager Lana Tse says demand comes mainly from mainland China and Hong Kong, through trading companies. The company buys polyester, cotton and rayon materials largely from the mainland.

The minimum order is one 125-yard roll and delivery takes one to two days after confirmation of order. "We keep stock so the fast delivery is for the more popular ranges. Less popular items may take a bit longer," Tse says.

Typical FOB Hong Kong prices per yard are HK$3 for a 65/35 blend of polyester and cotton woven interlining (model 6056); HK$4.50 for a 65/35 blend of polyester and rayon woven interlining (model 1340F); and HK$6 for 100% cotton 35/36 woven interlining (model TF664). Of course, prices are subject to negotiation.

Established in 1985, Highfull Textiles Ltd deals mostly in woven cotton fabrics although it also produces poly-cotton fabrics. The major market is Europe, although products are shipped to the US as well.

The minimum order depends on the type of fabric, but it would typically be 2,000-3,000 yards per colour for piece-dyed fabrics, the same length for yarn-dyed models, and 6,000 yards per pattern for printed fabrics.

Delivery times also vary, with 30 days after order confirmation typical for piece-dyed fabrics, 40 days for printed models, and 70-80 days for yarn-dyed fabrics. Manager Lau Wing Hin explains that it is not possible to quote sample prices, but adds, "The bigger the quantity, the better the price, of course".

KH Sze, assistant general manager of New K Textile Co Ltd, says, "Since the price of fabric is fluctuating so fast it is very difficult to give a rough price guide." However, he is quite specific when it comes to addressing the company's strengths, which are "best service, high efficiency and prompt delivery".

New K handles a range of yarn-dyed, printed and plain-dyed fabrics. Representative of the range are 100% cotton yarn-dyed rayon burnout, 100% cotton frosting dyed corduroy (model WN-036), 100% cotton printed corduroy, and 100% rayon fuji printed. Delivery, following confirmation of order, is typically 30 days for plain-dyed fabrics, 60 days for yarn-dyed models, and 45 days for printed fabrics. Minimum order is one TEU.

Major markets are South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and the US. New K sources raw materials such as cotton, polyester, rayon, linen and ramie primarily from the mainland. The main factory is in Shanghai, on the mainland.

The wide range of woven fabrics from New Success Industrial Co includes white 65/35 blend of polyester/cotton poplin (44-inch width); 100% cotton bleached white twill (43/44 inches); white 65/35 blend of polyester/polynosic lawn (44 inches); white 100% cotton flannel (43/44 inches); half-bleached white 100% cotton sheeting (43/44 inches); printed 65/35 blend of polyester/polynosic (42 inches); and printed 100% cotton sheeting (42 inches).

In addition New Success offers zippers, buttons, buckles and rubber thread. Prices, a spokesperson for the marketing department explains, "fluctuate so much and depend on quantity and fabric. There's a lot of different prices". But the company offers very competitive price points, the spokesperson says.

New Success sells to the Middle East, US and South Africa. Delivery depends on the order type, as does the minimum order. "With some fabrics which we hold in stock, which are the more popular, there's a very small minimum order and delivery is right away."

Po Cheong Industries Ltd was founded more than 30 years ago, allowing sales manager Robin Chong to claim, with some justification, "We've been a long time in this field." The company handle mostly 100% cotton woven fabric, selling to the US, Europe and South Africa. Materials come primarily from the mainland, says Chong, with perhaps 10-20% coming from Hong Kong.

Minimum order is 3,000 yards, with delivery typically 30-60 days following confirmation of order. Sample FOB Hong Kong prices are US$2-2.20 per yard for corduroy and US$2.50 a yard for 100% cotton Ottoman fabric, says Chong.

Especially strong in yarn-dyed woven fabrics is how Splendid Int'l Co Ltd describes itself, although the firm also handles a range of woven and knit fabrics, including poplin, sheeting, canvas, twill, corduroy, gingham, oxford, flannel and denim.

Monthly production is 30,000-40,000 yards. Minimum order is 2,000 yards per colour combination or pattern, for delivery typically 45-50 days following order confirmation.

Splendid sells to Europe, Japan, Australia and the US. Its fabrics are used in branded products such as Henry Grethel, Burton, Next, New's, Lawman and Apple Jeans. Materials, including cotton, linen, ramie, rayon and polyester, come from the mainland, for manufacture in the factory in Guangdong.

Written by Alan M. Abrahams


THE HIDDEN ACCESSORY

Zippers

ZIPPERS remain one of the hidden components of the apparel industry, with consumers aware of them only when they fail to work. For the professional buyer the product must not only work, it must be available to precise specifications, on time and at very low cost.

Hong Kong manufacturers can meet all these demands. They have wide experience in the field. Factories based mainly in mainland China keep manufacturing costs low, while Hong Kong's sound currency and stable financial and banking system ensure reliable delivery.

A wide range of zippers — in materials such as metal, nylon and plastic and various designs ranging from diamond and two-way open end to invisible and closed end — is available from Hang Sang Zipper Co Ltd, which also offers raw materials and semi-products. Monthly production of closed-end zippers at the factory in Shenzhen, on the mainland, runs to about five million pieces. Hang Sang sources materials from Japan, Taiwan and the mainland and exports to Europe, the Middle East and US.

Minimum order is US$5,000, for delivery two weeks following confirmation of order. Marketing manager WP Cheng explains that prices vary greatly and depend upon quantity and quality. However, typical FOB Hong Kong prices range from HK$1 to HK$3 per piece.

Nylon, metal and plastic zippers are also available from Ho Kan Hong Co Ltd. The range includes open-ended nylon zippers with autolock and with flower autolock pullers, and closed-end nylon zippers with pin lock. Production from the factory on the mainland runs to 12 million units per month.

Ho Kan Hong was formed in the 1960s and has since developed markets in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US. It sources polyester and nylon from Japan, Taiwan and the mainland. There is no minimum order and delivery is 5-10 days from confirmation of order.

Although Hung Wai Zipper Co Ltd is a new company, its factory was established originally more than 15 years ago. A full range of plastic, metal and nylon zippers is available, with production running at 4.5 million zippers a month. Yarn, plastic and metal raw materials come mostly from Japan and Taiwan.

Hung Wai sells mostly to local companies using the Jan brand name. Clients must order a minimum of US$5,000, for delivery 14 days after confirmation of order.

Nylon zippers are the main product of Lik Cheong Zipper Fty. Its factory on the mainland can produce about 3.6 million pieces a month. A US$3,000 minimum order is required, and delivery takes two weeks after confirmation of order.

Lik Cheong sells to many countries throughout the world. Tina Wong from the sales department points out that quoting typical prices is difficult as so many factors are involved, but she is sure "we can offer a very competitive price".

Established more than 10 years ago, Po Fai Ho produces zippers, as well as buttons, elastic band, hook-and-loop tape and string. Sales manager Wendy Lam says the firm can manufacture about 3,000 dozen closed-end zippers per day. Although there is no minimum order, it charges extra for special colours that are not normally in stock. Delivery is two weeks from confirmation of order.

Major markets are Germany, France and the US, with raw materials sourced primarily from Taiwan, Germany, Japan and the mainland.

A full spectrum of zippers — plastic, metal and polyester — is available from Tiong Lee Co Ltd. The products, which appear under the TLC brand name, are sold to the US, UK, Australia and local markets, says sales manager YP Lai. Polyester yarn, brass flat wire, aluminium flat wire and plastic come from Taiwan, Japan and the mainland.

The minimum order is 1,000 pieces, with delivery in 14-20 days following confirmation of order. A range of representative FOB Hong Kong prices, per 100 pieces, includes: 10-centimetre plastic autolock closed-end zippers sell for US$15.20 for size 8 and US$17.80 for size 10; and 10-centimetre plastic autolock open-end zippers, US$28 for size 8 and US$30.80 for size 10.

Founded almost 12 years ago, Union Zipper Mfy produces a full range of zippers in plastic, nylon and metal. The most popular, according to marketing manager SY Wong, are sizes 3 and 8. There is no minimum order, and delivery is two weeks from confimation of order.

Major markets, in addition to Hong Kong, are Germany, Australia, Singapore and Taiwan. Wong says Union Zipper sells mostly to local garment factories, but about 30% of output goes to buyers in the US and Europe.

The factory in Shenzhen, on the mainland, produces up to 800,000 pieces per month. Plastics come from Germany and Japan; brass from the mainland, Sweden and Japan; and nylon from the mainland, Japan and Taiwan.

Written by Alan M. Abrahams


HOLD FAST

Fastener Tape

FASTENER tape — that easy-to-use, convenient and reliable closure — is increasingly taking the place of buttons, press studs and conventional zippers. With such a burgeoning market it is no surprise to find Hong Kong companies to the fore, offering a full range of lengths, colours and specifications. Hong Kong suppliers have, in addition, a well-earned reputation for reliable service and quick delivery, as well as maintaining competitive prices.

Wing Tat Haberdashery Co Ltd offers fastener tape, and also satin ribbon, woven tape and webbing. Its factory in Guangdong, mainland China, sources nylon from Taiwan and can deliver two to three weeks after confirmation of order. Major markets are Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, the US, UK, Germany and Greece.

Development supervisor Roger Or explains that Wing Tat produces tape of 16-100 millimetres. Typical FOB Hong Kong prices range from HK$0.45 for the smallest size to about HK$2 for the largest. Prices are negotiable depending on the quantity, and minimum order must reach US$3,000.

Hong Kong Paiho Ltd, a manufacturer of hook-and-loop fasteners, webbing and elastic, has been in this field for about eight years. The company is part of The Paiho Group, which was established 20 years ago.

Hong Kong Paiho's factories in Taiwan and Dongguan, on the mainland, can manufacture a total of about 22 million yards of Trihook-brand hook-and-loop fasteners per month. This includes standard tape, bi-coloured, hook and loop in one tape, and hair-roller tape.

The firm sources nylon from Taiwan. Major markets include the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Brazil, the US, South Africa, the UK and Japan. Clients are agents and importers overseas, but in Taiwan the company supplies garment manufacturers directly, according to manager Aileen Hsu.

The minimum order is one export carton of each item, which can consist of 72 rolls of 16-millimetre tape, 60 rolls of 25-millimetre tape, 48 rolls of 25-millimetre tape, or 40 rolls of 30-millimetre tape. Tape measuring 38, 50 and 100 millimetres is also available. One roll measures 25 metres long.

Delivery, following confirmation of order, is within one week for black or white models, or one to three weeks for dyed colours. Hsu says it is simply not possible to quote sample export prices since these depend on many factors.

Hong Kong Paiho is applying for ISO 9002 certification, and Hsu says that although registration is costly, the firm believes the end result offers a systematic management and production system. "Furthermore, customers feel more confident," Hsu adds.

Luen Hing Ho was established more than 10 years ago, says accountant Wong Pik Wan. The company produces fastener tape, zippers and other fashion accessories. Minimum order value is US$1,000, for delivery one week from confirmation of order. Wong says monthly production runs to more than 100,000 metres.

A typical FOB Hong Kong price is about US$1 per 0.5 metre, Wong says. He points out, however, that prices are always negotiable depending on quantity and specification.

Nylon fastener tape, pressure-sensitive tape, sewing thread, elastic bands, nylon piping and webbing are all produced by 10-year-old San Wah Holdings Ltd. Located in Dongguan, on the mainland, the factory can manufacture three million metres of nylon fastener tape a month using nylon yarn from Taiwan.

About 80% of sales go to the Hong Kong and mainland markets, and the rest are exported. The tape bears the brand name Sancro. San Wah, which does not set a minimum order, keeps large stocks of black or white tape and can supply these products in two days. Other colours can be delivered within seven days.

Velcro Hong Kong Ltd, formed in 1983, is responsible for sales of the Velcro brand throughout the Far East. Sales manager WC Chow says the region includes the mainland, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea.

Velcro is a name often used as a generic term for hook-and-loop fasteners, which can be a problem, says Chow. He adds that Velcro's offices in North America and Europe often check that imports claiming Velcro fastening are, in fact, using the authentic Velcro-brand product.

Factories are located on the mainland and North America, with monthly production running to 2.5 million metres. Chow quotes typical FOB Hong Kong prices for some of the more popular items: HK$2.80 for 20 millimetres; HK$3 for 25 millimetres; and HK$11 for 100 millimetre, either hook or loop. These prices are for black, white and standard colours.

Clients must order a minimum of 25 metres. Delivery following confirmation of order is ex-stock.

Written by Alan M. Abrahams


WELL STITCHED

Thread

THREAD is a key component of the production process for the entire apparel industry. So it should come as no surprise to find Hong Kong companies well entrenched in this essential sector. Many have been in business since Hong Kong's garment industry got started and are well known in export markets throughout the world.

Gunzetal Ltd specialises in 100% spun polyester sewing thread, says general manager Eric Poon, although the company also produces some poly-cotton and cotton thread. Gunzetal was formed in 1970 and has developed markets in mainland China, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. It sources raw materials mostly from the mainland. Poon estimates that production runs to about 1.7 million cones per month.

As a rule there is no minimum order so long as the item is on the firm's colour card, Poon says, and even for non-standard colours the order requirement would "still be very small". Delivery, following confirmation of order, is one day, although that depends on stock availability.

A representative FOB Hong Kong price, "depending upon size, and as an average," Poon cautions, is around HK$12 per cone for 100% spun polyester sewing thread.

Hung Fung Industries Co Ltd entered the business exactly 20 years ago. Today it sells a range of products that includes spun polyester coloured thread, polyester textured coloured filament yarn, polyester embroidery thread, shoe lace, cords and webbing.

Monthly production runs to about 150,000 kilograms. Manager Patrick Leung says major markets include Asia, Europe and the Middle East, singling out Germany and Sri Lanka in particular. Hung Fung sources spun polyester, polyester filament, nylon and cotton throughout Asia, including the mainland and Japan, and the UK. The products appear under the brands H.F. and Hung Fung.

Representative FOB Hong Kong prices, "and subject to negotiation", Leung says, are HK$18 per pound for spun polyester coloured thread, HK$22 a pound for polyester textured coloured filament yarn, and HK$13.60 per 3,000 metres for polyester embroidery thread. Minimum order is 10 kilograms, for delivery seven to 14 working days after confirmation of order.

Shui Lam (Int'l) Textiles Enterprises Ltd is seeking to expand from its major markets in Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Turkey, says spokesperson Edmond Tse. The factory in Tianjin, on the mainland, produces up to 700 tonnes a month of 100% spun polyester grey and optical white yarn for sewing thread. Thailand and Taiwan supply the 100% polyester full bright staple fibre.

Sample prices per kilogram, FOB Hong Kong, are US$1.25 for 40S/2 raw white in dyeing tube; US$1.46 for 50S/2 optical white in paper cone; US$1.56 for 60S/3 raw white in paper cone; and US$1.10 for 20S/2 raw white in hank. Minimum order is one TEU. Delivery takes 30 days after receipt of an L/C.

Besides selling locally, Tseyu Int'l Trading Co Ltd exports to Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Customers' brand names are used although the company also offers its own brand, Space. Tseyu produces about 300 tonnes per month of 100% spun polyester sewing thread and 100% rayon thread. The fibre comes from Japan.

The minimum order is US$15,000, with delivery 30 days upon receipt of an L/C or signed confirmation.

Wonderfil is the brand name for Wonderful Network Ltd, which manufactures spun polyester, viscose rayon and trilobal polyester filament. The 50,000-square-metre, 150-worker factory in Hangzhou, on the mainland, produces 45 tonnes per month, for export to major markets such as Australia, Austria, Turkey and Japan, as well as for local sales. The firm sources viscose rayon and polyester from the mainland, and dyestuff from Germany and Japan.

Orders must reach US$5,000, and delivery follows two weeks from confirmation of order. Typical FOB Hong Kong prices per pound of viscose rayon are HK$44 for colour 300D/50F; HK$88 for space-dyed 300D/1x2; and HK$52 for colour 120D/1x2.

Founded in 1995, Hong Kong Knitters Ltd is one of the local industry's premier companies. Its products are used by consumer labels such as Burberry, Michel Rene, Valentino and Pierre Cardin. The firm sells locally and to countries such as Japan, South Korea and South Africa. Its factories on the mainland and Sri Lanka produce a range of thread, from C16 S/2 to C70 S/2. Monthly production amounts to 100,000 pounds. Clients must order at least 50 kilograms.

Hung Fat Thread Fty Ltd specialises in 100% spun polyester sewing thread. The company goes back more than 15 years and today sells to Central and South America, South Africa, the Middle East and many European countries. It produces under the brand Golden Chrysanthemum.

Hung Fat's factory on the mainland manufactures some 300,000 cones a month, comprising 80% of 40/2 and 20% of other thickness. Full bright fibres come from Thailand, Taiwan and Japan.

The firm requires orders of 100 cones per colour and 3,000 cones per shipment, which can be delivered within 45 days of confirmation of order.

Written by Alan M. Abrahams

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