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One of Taiwan's
Gearing Up to Take On GORE-TEX
Taiwan's Fabric Makers Embrace Branding

Taiwan's "Big Four" functional fabric makers are joining forces to turn Taiwanese textiles into a well-known brand – a sea change in an industry long dependent on contract manufacturing.

Photos: Kuo-Tai Liu

Lululemon Athletica has become the latest hot name in athletic apparel with its yoga-inspired line that combines style and function. Its profits rose 300 percent in 2007 to US$31 million, earning it a spot in Business Week's list of the 50 fastest growing small companies of 2008.

Behind Lululemon's sales growth lies the hidden force of the Taiwanese textile industry, producing the trendy, comfortable "functional fabrics" used to make the company's apparel. Last year Taiwanese functional fabric manufacturer Hyperbola Textile Co. quietly began supplying Lululemon with cloth for its outdoor athletic wear.

Located in a modern office on Fuxing North Rd. in Taipei, Hyperbola is a small company with only 21 employees that relies on innovation to generate its NT$150 million in annual sales. The company focuses its efforts on the technical side of functional fabrics, including R&D and design, leaving the actual production of the materials to subcontractors. The company's showroom is a veritable bazaar of stylish fabrics with decorative patterns and popular symbols rarely found on functional fabrics in the past.

"Our strength is design, with a strong emphasis on stylish trends," says Hyperbola CEO Tina Wang.

Escaping the Shadow of Garment Brands

"In the past, our textile factory always operated out of sight, hidden by garment manufacturers. Now we want to go on the offensive," says the 40-year-old Wang, an economics major from Fu Jen Catholic University who looks younger than her age.

Hyperbola is just one of the textile companies that has survived the offshore exodus of the Taiwanese textile industry and are now thriving in Taiwan after making major efforts to reinvent themselves.

In fact, Taiwan's fabric manufacturers, who have amassed impressive technical capabilities in R&D and production through unbranded contract manufacturing for others, are undergoing a qualitative change. They are looking to emulate the world-renowned functional fabric brand GORE-TEX, ready to stand up and trumpet Taiwan's functional fabrics to the world, even to the point of marketing the brand directly to consumers.

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