Upgrading Taiwan's hosiery industry

Friday, December 30, 2011
By Tang Hsiang-yi and Lin Yuting, Supplement Writers

Amid increasing globalization of trade and in an increasingly competitive market with ever-lower retail prices, Taiwan's textile sector has been hard hit. The hosiery industry is no exception.

“After close to 70 years of development, Taiwan's hosiery industry now faces challenges like growing costs of labor and raw materials, foreign competition, stifling over-reliance on producing as OEMs, lack of brand development and innovation and a generational gap in talents,” remarked Luo Li-qing (羅立清), director of the Hosiery Industry Development Center (HIDC, 織襪產業發展中心).

In response to these challenges, the Material and Chemical Research Laboratories (MCL, 材料與化工研究所) at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI, 工研院材化所) has pushed for remedial strategies including field evaluation of industry needs, data collection and analysis, assisting companies in applying for the Smile MIT (Made-in-Taiwan) certification (臺灣製微笑產品標章), marketing quality certified products (in both B2B and B2C modes), amplifying design competence, reinforcing brands through improved design and packaging, and mentoring new talents to fill the generational talent gap.

With the launch of the HIDC in Shetou Township (社頭鄉) this past May, the Industrial Development Bureau under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (經濟部工業局) has started reconciling industry needs and market trends. By introducing fashion-awareness and smoothening the line from R&D to marketing, the HIDC aims to help hosiery enterprises develop products with a high value-margin and upgrade to a vertically integrated, sustainable mode of operation.

Shetou Township has long been a hub of hosiery production. The HIDC sets out to revitalize the local hosiery industry by all the above mentioned means, plus assisting in worker training, quality control, product certification and integration of the academic resources.

“Asia University (亞洲大學) and Mingdao University (明道大學), for instance, lend their design talents while Feng Chia University (逢甲大學) and Chienkuo Technology University (建國科大) lend their expertise in dyeing, finishing, and mechanical engineering,” said HIDC director Luo Li-qing (羅立清).

Adding Value Through Technology

According to Luo, the MCL has developed various materials for making uniquely functional hosiery. Highlight features include “heel-wrapping design,” “ergonomic design,” shock absorbance with sole-loop, suppression of trichophyton mentagrophytes, abrasion resistance at the toes, and water-vapor permeability, mark-free design (無痕設計) and hollow polyester yarn for the instep (腳背聚酯中空紗). As Luo explained, fabric functionalities were conferred during the dying process, applying MCL's chemical research.

The HIDC integrates facilities and administrative levels to help companies streamline the proofing process, give timely response to buyers and take advantage of distribution networks. It also gives consultation services related to feature patenting and certification. So far, 5,856 products from 160 makers have been certified with Smile MIT label.

“The Center also helps hosiery manufacturers improve the quality of their products and the eco-friendliness of their operations,” Luo added. “In the future, the HIDC intends to also provide ongoing assistance to the hosiery industry and host interdisciplinary forums to explore symbiotic partnerships across different industries.”

The HIDC endeavors to increase public awareness of the excellence of Taiwanese hosiery while fostering a robust distribution and service network that benefits multiple industries.

Changhua Shetou Socks and Guava Festival

Earlier this month, the annual Changhua Shetou Socks and Guava Festival (彰化社頭芭樂節) received wide participation from local residents and travelers from other cities. Festival highlights included locally grown produces, a socks fashion show, and sales of MIT (Made in Taiwan) labeled socks.

There's probably no festival like this one where hosiery production is subtly connected with guava plantation. Since starting hosiery production after World War II, Shetou has become Taiwan's hosiery capital. In the 1960s, the township boasted 70 percent of Taiwan's socks production and exported to other countries.

Besides, among Shetou's agricultural produce, guavas are the most popular for their quality and the amount of harvest, which is more than 43,300 metric tons per year. To celebrate these two local specialties, the festival has been held annually since 2006.

One different thing about this year's festival is that it also marked the launch of the Hosiery Industry Development Center (織襪產業發展中心) established by the ITRI in May. A wide array of hosiery products from the center were on display during the two-day fair which drew 250,000 visitors. Forty-five MIT-certified shops sold their products and saw altogether NT$3.2 million in revenue.

Products on display showed some of the center's achievements during the first six months, including a hosiery collection featuring images of the 12 astrological signs, high performance athletic socks, and scarves featuring auspicious dragon totems and Chinese characters, designed just in time for the coming year of the Dragon.

Designers started with digitializing their hand-drawn sketches using the center's computer graphics facilities. Once they have decided on the color, layout and pattern, they can carry on with the center's equipment to create samples. The center can help designers get all the wherewithal they need to create socks, from start to finish. ■

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