It was all about fiber blends at Texworld USA in New York City last week, with one exhibitor after another turning to multiple fibers to achieve the quality and performance consumers demand.

The textile trade show was abuzz with buyers looking for the next thing in fabrics, and what many of them found to meet their needs were fabrics made from a mix of fibers from exhibitors at the Lenzing Innovation Pavilion.

For China’s Zhejiang Matsui Textile Co., which exhibited at the show,  indigo crinkle was a big selling point. The company developed the product for a European retaileras fabrics with more texture have been popular. To make it, Matsui blended 90 percent cotton with 10 percent TENCEL® to get the right hand and the right properties.

“Customers need more hand feel with more character within the fiber,” Matsui’s Moto Peng said. The company has blends of TENCEL® with polyester, with linen, with wool and with cotton to accommodate all seasons and performance for various types of garments. “Consumers can have more choice, more options for the garment, so we can sell more. Only one kind of composition in this fabric is not enough.”

Blends were big for China’s Mozartex Co. too. The company had soft hand chambrays made from blends to achieve different textures and drapes.

“Very popular this show is our new range of TENCEL® chambray textures with micro-dobbies. For many years we have been successful with basic 100 percent TENCEL® chambray and now we see more requests for blended yarns with linen and polyester,” Mozartex president Mozart Tseng said. “Texworld USA is an excellent show for us to meet with our current customers and meet new brands too.”

Kyungbang Limited, a Korean chemical and textile company, had its latest innovations in “faux” indigo on display at Texworld USA too—and fiber blends played a major role.

“Denim fabric creates a lot of trouble—the dye contamination and also the processing is very long,” Kyungbang production division manager Kyung Baek Kim said. “To get the right color, you should design it from the beginning, but then you have to carry big stock.”

To find an alternative to that scenario and meet the ever increasing demand for better speed to market, Kyungbang developed an indigo fabric using a mix of various raw materials that can be dyed a range of indigo shades and finished to get certain effects. The dye used for the fabric is a reactive dye, not an indigo dye, so manufacturers don’t have to worry about contamination when washing and making the woven fabrics.

“We use the same fabric, then according to the customer need, you may choose the color,” Kim said. “It helps lower the stock level, so quick delivery and reduced manufacturing cost is possible.”

Denim doesn’t have to be 100 percent cotton anymore, according to Kim. Kyungbang has used poly/cotton/ TENCEL® blends to get a fabric that looks similar, but feels and performs better.

“It’s an enlargement of the denim market,” Kim said.

Softness has also been paramount for fabric as consumers look for more comfort from their clothing.

At a panel on “Measuring Softness,” Alexander Grüner, global marketing and business development manager for testing solutions company Emtec, taught attendees all about a tool for measuring softness.

That tool, called a Tissue Softness Analyzer, can test a fabric for real softness  coming from the fiber, stiffness due to the construction, and roughness from the fabric’s structure or surface profile.

By using the instrument to test a swatch of fabric, the analyzer can then calculate a human touch value, or essentially, how soft a human would think that fabric was.

“People in different parts of the world have different expectations of what’s soft, so we cannot just only calculate one kind of hand feel value—we can calculate based on the needs of the market,” Grüner said.

Emtec uses trained individuals in different parts of the world for hand panels, where they touch and assess the fabric and give it a softness rating. From there, Emtec can calculate how to combine the necessary parameters to get the same softness rating that the human gave the fabric.

“You cannot objectively measure softness,” Grüner said. “Our device follows what the human says.”

What this does is remove any guesswork or variation in assessments for softness, and it can help brands secure the hand feel they want in the fabric they’ve bought, without having to wait days for the manufacturer to gather a hand panel to assess it. This softness test is just one other element in helping to cut down lead times.

Turning to sustainability, a Texworld USA seminar organized by Lenzing on “Creating a Preferred Fiber and Materials Strategy,” was filled with attendees looking to learn how to incorporate more sustainability into their products and supply chains.

“The whole idea of sustainability is that you have to start somewhere,” Daren Abney, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) membership engagement manager, said. “Brands are either being reactive or proactive and it’s really the consumer’s choice to say I don’t care that you’re not doing the right thing…and consumers are not going to do that.”

To be proactive, according to the panelists—which included Jeff Wilson, Textile Exchange director of business value strategy and development, Robert Bergmann, founder of nonprofit Responsibility in Fashion and Andreas Dorner, Lenzing’s commercial director for Europe and Americas textiles, and was moderated by Sourcing Journal founder and publisher Edward Hertzman—brands need to figure out exactly what preferred fibers are and then determine a way to incorporate them.

According to Wilson, a preferred fiber is one that’s a little better for the environment than its traditional counterpart, like recycled polyester compared to virgin polyester, for example.

“For brands and retailers today, there is no way not to have an environmental strategy,” Dorner said. “We have to show a better way, an improved solution for the whole industry.”

Overall, Texworld USA proved a success for exhibitors, brands and attendees.

“It was an excellent show and I was impressed with the high attendance at all the seminars. There is a quest for knowledge and connecting face-to-face to exchange information,” said Tricia Carey, director of business development for denim at Lenzing Fibers. “Our new platform of ‘Textile Talks’ exceeded expectations with short interviews on the show floor. I was also inspired by the new collections from the mills including yarn and fabrics with a performance edge.”