Your product range is highly concentrated, only covered yarns. Why is that?
When Filix was founded in 1934, the firm chose to specialise in covered yarns, with or without stretch. Initially we produced our own elastic yarn. However, we stopped in the late 1950s, when LYCRA® fibre was invented because it clearly was a better quality elastane. Unlike many other firms, we have opted not to expand into spinning, texturing or weaving. And for a very simple reason: limiting our production to only covered yarns inspires us to achieve excellence!
How have you developed the firm?
We have expanded by moving into new markets. While clothing remains our chief focus, accounting for 70% of sales, we have branched out into medical (22%) and industrial end uses. We are constantly having to factor in new considerations and new types of yarn, ever growing our expertise
Would you say this specific focus is unique in Europe?
I wouldn't say it's unique, but it is rare. Competitors who only work in covered yarn are few and far between, and they are mostly much younger firms, and their experience is not as wide-ranging. In France at any rate, we boast the broadest palette of covered yarns.
So just how broad is your offer?
We produce about a thousand references each year and about 20 in our FC yarn range. We also produce yarn to order, something like 400-500 different yarns produced a month. Every year, we develop an average of 400 new covered yarns. Some 15% of these new products reach the market, gradually replacing existing ranges.
R&D is obviously a priority to bring these developments to market?
Yes indeed, R&D is a core department in the firm. Filix has a payroll of 186, with seven working only on R&D. They have a 2,000 sq.m workshop and machinery for their exclusive use.
What innovations are you the most proud of?
We were an early adopter and helped develop LYCRA® SOFT fiber, which launched in the late 1990s. Up until then, sock ribbing had always been achieved with rubber. However, after three or four washes, the rubber would deteriorate and lose its stretch, so the socks wouldn't hold up. The innovation the LYCRA® fibre R&D team came up with was to make elastane fibre with maximum stretch that was gentle without being too tight, and resistant over time, for better durability. This fibre also ensured greater comfort, being gentle on the wearer. We adopted this new technology straight away, and that decision was spot-on, since the vast majority of hosiery market players had followed suit within a couple of years.
More recently, five years ago, we likewise pioneered the use of LYCRA® FUSION™ technology, which prevented hosiery from laddering. Yet again, we collaborated closely with INVISTA on this development which required a certain degree of complexity in yarn coverings. This too was a runaway success, and is still going strong. Nowadays we sell five different covered yarns achieved with LYCRA® FUSION™ technology, with various yarn counts and sheens.
Which materials do you use most?
Polyamide remains the most popular of our yarns. However, over the past 15 years we have been developing a range of complex yarns we have called FC. The idea is to mix three yarns: LYCRA® fibre, polyamide and a natural or cellulose fibre, so that we can achieve multi-component yarns with new aspects. We started off with mixes of cotton, LYCRA® fibre and polyamide, and now we have expanded into wool, MicroModal, micro-acrylic, Cupro, and as of this year, flax. This FC range now comprises some 20 different yarns, some of which have become best sellers.
You have an international footing; have you noticed any striking disparities in market needs across the globe?
There are a few specifics in terms of demand. In Europe, comfort is the overriding selling point, and we mainly use LYCRA® yarn with fine yarn counts, 17 or 22. In China and South Korea, though, shaping is the all-essential feature, so LYCRA® yarn with a yarn count of 40 is more popular. In the US, we get orders for sophisticated yarn in the sports market; it's a cutting-edge offer. Whereas for hosiery, it's much more basic, barely corresponding to what you'd find in a supermarket in France.
What are your main priorities for the future?
We are striving to maintain our benchmark position for covered yarns, keeping well ahead of the competition in terms of innovation. To do so, we are counting on developments in R&D, working in close collaboration with our suppliers, and especially with LYCRA® fibre teams. Our second lead for development is to invest ever more in technical niches, in order to expand into new markets and let all our clients benefit from our ongoing development towards an ever better command of technical sophistication.