Canadian textile industry moves from tactile to technical

An association representing textile manufacturers across the country is working to create a portal for its members that will provide business-to-business e-commerce opportunities as well as industry information.

The Canadian Textiles

Institute (CTI) Thursday said it had formed an agreement with Ottawa-based iCongo Inc. to develop the portal using its ICE3 suite of Web-based enterprise software tools. CTI and iCongo are conducting focus groups to determine what kind of content users will require and are discussing how e-commerce capabilities through the portal can be integrated into their back-end systems. Those involved expect the portal to be ready for testing next month and to launch in July. The project is being supported by Industry Canada.

Although CTI has hosted its own Web site for several years, association president Elisabeth Siwicki said the proposed portal will help to better showcase the textile industry, which shipped more than $6 billion in fabrics, fibres and yarns (excluding clothing) in 2002.

“”The (CTI) Web site is primarily an internal mechanism with which we communicate with our members. This portal will be much broader in terms of communicating about the industry and within the industry.””

Although there will be some content available to the general public, the portal will also host private areas for CTI members that may include notes from directors’ meetings or company directories, said Jason Lifson, who is managing the project at iCongo.

“”When it comes to e-commerce — and this is the case with other industry associations we work with — the cost is much less doing it through a platform like this than if they do it on their own,”” he said. “”Obviously each company has different requirement, and depending on that the pricing would be different, but they can much more affordably engage in e-commerce through a portal like this one.””

The biggest challenge may be in attracting textile companies to try B2B e-commerce. Richard Zuckerman, managing director of Montreal-based Doubletex Inc. and a CTI board member, said his site has had its own portal for a while, but it has done little to attract new customers.

“”We’re really behind the times,”” he said. “”It’s a question of importance, and our sense is that if it’s not interactive — which at this point, we don’t have the wherewithal to maintain it — we didn’t think it would be that fabulous.””

Craig Jacks, president of Contemporary Sewing Materials Ltd. in Richmond, B.C., said the e-commerce opportunities in the CTI portal wouldn’t interest his firm.

“”Our industry is a touch-feel industry, what’s the heft of fabric like, that kind of stuff,”” he said. “”You can’t feel a screen.””

Irwin Kramer, iCongo’s president, said the company has seen success in other industries by companies who supplement their portals through e-marketing and training their sales forces to show customers they can use the Web to order products.

“”There definitely has to be a marketing campaign to accompany these kind of systems,”” he said, adding textile firms are in a good position to take advantage of B2B online sales. “”Their level of sophistication is probably no more or no less than any other industry.””

Zuckerman said there may be some opportunities to partner with sites that sell “”seconds”” and close-outs in the textile industry.

“”If there’s an easy way to migrate what we’re doing on our AS/400 and put it onto a Web site so that someone can at least read what our inventory sheets look like and what our prices are, maybe it’ll generate some inquiries,”” he said.

ICongo has created similar portals for the Canadian Apparel Federation, the Professional Golfer’s Association and the National Hockey League.

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