(Canadian Apparel Magazine) - "Novelties are the nature of the business." says Saul Kazaz of the denim market. "We can't just show a customer a basic denim any more. We have to have a full range of fabrics, both basic and fancy." A principal of Kaztex, a Montreal importer of denim and other woven cottons like corduroys, twills, fancy weaves and surface interest fabrics, Kazaz notes that the novelties are there to entice customers to the line, but the basics are still the "bread and butter" of his business.
Even though the base fabric remains the same, the designs have to be re-invented each season. The ideas come from travelling and the requests of the manufacturers themselves. "We can do anything a customer needs, but the price factor decides the limits." notes Kazaz . In 1999, Kaztex introduced embroidered denims and this year the latest look is 'burnout' printing, which leaves a white design on the fabric that doesn't get stained by the indigo dyes in the wash. Also new for holiday season is stretch denim with a lurex thread, giving it a hint of silver or gold.
Kazaz founded the company in 1993, based on his experience that manufacturers swapped denim suppliers all the time: "What was missing was customer service, " he says, "so we set up Kaztex to be service- oriented and honour our delivery dates." It may sound like a simple principle, but Kazaz says he had met many customers who were frantic, having been let down on an order at the last minute.
Listening to the customer is still key: special requests from manufacturers often lead to improved products. For example, customers asked for a denim that 'washed down' faster, leading to Kaztex cutting its denim washing times in half, resulting in greater savings for the manufacturer. Others requests for darker denim led to experiments in the factory to produce yarns dipped longer in indigo dye, but which could still offer the expected properties. "Our supplier factories in China and Taiwan are very flexible; this allows us to respond quickly to new fashion trends." he says. Building contacts in China was important to Kazaz: "You have to look carefully at the factories, how they inspect their goods, where the cotton comes from, how it is treated before weaving, so that you can assure your customers of quality."
Sixty per cent of Kaztex' sales are ladies' sportswear and men's casual shirts, the other 40 per cent is workwear. The workwear market has increased for the company as the category has become more fashionable. The heavy denim business is currently soft, although lighter weights for spring skirts, shirts and tops are selling briskly. But Kazaz feels even these fabrics have hit the crest of their popularity wave now, and so he's busy searching out new replacements. Twill and canvas are obvious substitutes becoming hot with the 15-21 age group, driven by the marketing of The Gap and other hip lines.
Of the designers who are now using denim for high fashion items, Kazaz says. "That's a good thing, it brings attention to the business." but explains that denim "comes and goes" in fashion on about a seven-year cycle. The real news is the variety of treatments now available to brighten up the basics: "There's no limit to what we can do with it!" says Kazaz, listing pigment dyeing, printing and embroidery, as well as the wealth of available finishes and washes that can make the fabric distinctive.
Apart from its products, Kazaz says what sets the company apart is its attitude. "We're happy to service start-up businesses, when other suppliers will not." he says. "I've seen a resurgence of young people with great ideas coming out of the colleges, but without the backing they need to really launch a solid business. Other people send them to fabric stores when they want small orders!" he explains, 'referring to home sewing retailers. "'But we service them, because I believe eventually they will land somewhere where they will get the backing they need."