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Mare di Moda: Will the swimwear boom fail?

By Jule Scott


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Mare Di Moda, November 2023. Credits: Mare Di Moda

Mare di Moda, a trade fair for stretch fabrics and clothing, returned to Cannes for its 21st edition last week. The picturesque backdrop of the French Riviera could not quite make up for the industry's hotly debated woes at the event - from overstocks to rising raw material prices - but the view of the French Riviera, the extremely mild weather for November and palm trees blowing in the wind in front of the Palace of Festivals converted for the event already set the mood for the summer season, which was the focus of the trade fair.

From 7 to 10 November, over 110 European companies presented their range of beachwear, underwear and athleisure fabrics and accessories for summer 2025. Despite a relatively quiet edition, the summer spirit continued in the exhibition halls thanks to colourful decorations and a full programme. While some exhibitors spoke of a decline in visitors, others reflected a lively and busy trade fair, a sentiment shared by the organisers.

"At a time when the international trade fair system is undergoing profound changes, we are validating ourselves as a reference for the high-end swimwear, underwear and athleisure sectors with an increasingly qualified offer, supported by a very selective choice of our exhibitors," said Claudio Taiana, president of Mare di Moda.

No swimwear boom

According to Taiana, the exhibitors at the fair produce exclusively in Europe, which means that there is no discussion about price and quality levels at the fair itself, and yet both prices and the current economic challenges are a topic at almost every stand. While many predicted a travel boom after the easing of pandemic-related lockdowns, this is not necessarily true for the swimwear and stretch fabrics sector. People started travelling, but clothing is not a priority at the moment, explained Elisabetta Bianco, print and textile designer at Maglificio Ripa, the textile company founded by her great-grandfather.

"There was an upturn last year, but now things are slowing down a bit because companies have bought too much - especially in terms of athletic fabrics, as this sector was very strong during the pandemic," says the textile designer. This confirms a trend that has been increasingly discussed. But the slowing growth of the athleisure market alone is not the only reason that companies now have overflowing warehouses, explained David Kaitiff, managing director at Friedmann, an English wholesaler of stretch fabrics.

"Last year, the buzzword in the industry was logistics; you couldn't get anything, no matter how much you wanted to pay, because the goods couldn't be delivered." Now the tide has turned, as companies ordered more out of necessity than they were able to sell in the end due to inflation. A cause that is now leading to a rat's tail and is only exacerbated by rising raw material prices. As Romina Barelli, marketing and communication manager of the Italian company, explained, these circumstances mean that industry giants such as the Carvico Group, which was represented in Cannes by both fabric manufacturer Carvico and Jersey Lomellina, can look back on one of the most challenging years in the company's more than 50-year history.

Fabric selections at Mare Di Moda in Cannes. Credits: Mare Di Moda

However, Kaitiff puts the contractions that were repeatedly mentioned at the trade fair into perspective and emphasises that they by no means merely reflect the trends in swimwear or the stretch fabric sector. "It's more a reflection of the general malaise of all economies, or at least all European economies," he says. It is therefore important, especially in times like these, to set up the sourcing line in such a way that a certain price structure and limits are not exceeded, said Thomas Merkel, managing director of the textile printing company InnoTex Merkel & Rau GmbH, one of the few German exhibitors at the trade fair. However, price increases are currently almost unavoidable.

"Our customers are mainly SMEs, we have a very good relationship with our customers and they also understand the situation. And we have found a very transparent solution for the increases that are unavoidable, especially in connection with energy costs," says Merkel. "Every week, at the end of the week, our customers receive a table in which we prove that we really have consumed more energy costs, as we have no interest as a supplier in unnecessarily burdening our customers with price increases." InnoTex's current price increase is three cents per running metre. This amount is both sellable and traceable.

Sustainability still has room for improvement

The situation is somewhat different when it comes to the more sustainable fabrics, which are a top priority at the trade fair - at least according to the official event programme of the Mare di Moda organisers. While the trade fair's event programme with lectures focuses heavily on sustainability, opinions are divided at the exhibitors' stands.

All trade fair visitors and exhibitors would probably agree that the topic is an important one, but while many customers are already asking for recycled fabrics, the brands that actually buy sustainable fabrics are still in the minority, says Maglificio Ripa's Bianco. "It's still a question of price, because nowadays there is still a difference and end customers are not yet willing to pay for it," explains the textile designer. More sustainable fabric alternatives at Maglificio Ripa cost around 50 cents extra per kilo, but there are also surcharges for processing and possibly dyeing the fabrics. The bottom line is that the sustainable variants therefore cost up to 20 percent more than their conventional counterparts.

Kaitiff, who has come into contact with a wide range of end consumers as part of his professional career, also confirms that demand on the end consumer side is not yet the norm. "I've spoken to world championship gymnasts and asked them the exact same question: When you choose your jerseys, do you think about using recycled fabric?" According to the textile entrepreneur, the answer was usually a resounding no, because the performance of the fabrics is still clearly the main focus.

All roads lead to Lycra

Nevertheless, The Lycra Company has made sustainability a top priority. There was also no avoiding the company, which was represented as an official partner of Mare Di Moda in Cannes. Red arrows on the floor of the exhibition hall led to the Lycra Lounge, a "space to relax and network" in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the trade fair, while the presentation "Let's talk Circularity" by Alistair Williamson, vice president, apparel, Europe, Middle East, Africa and South Asia, presented both the company's sustainability goals and new fibre technologies.

The fibre manufacturer exhibited new products including 'Adaptive Xtra Life' fibres for swimwear and 'Adaptive Black' fibres for athleisurewear. A fibre technology called Qira, which was developed in collaboration with Qore and is geared towards sustainability, attracted particular attention. Qira is the first bio-based elastane, made from 76 percent renewable, non-edible corn.

Sustainable choices and technologies need to be economically viable to be attractive to companies, Williamson confirms. Nevertheless, the switch to biologically sourced fibres, which comes at a cost for Lycra, is the right step. It remains to be seen to what extent this technology and its additional costs will actually be accepted by customers for the planned introduction in 2025, but the demand, according to Williamson, is already enormous and gives hope for a sustainable future for the Lycra Company and the market for stretch fabrics.

FashionUnited was invited to visit Mare Di Moda in Cannes.

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