China's buttons, snaps and garment hooks industry is seeing some signs of recovery, but fluctuation in plastic and metal outlay is preventing many suppliers from maintaining quotes at a competitive level.
Customs statistics for the first 10 months of 2009 indicate that almost 47 million kilograms of buttons and snaps worth $235.5 million were shipped out. Compared with the previous corresponding period, sales are about 12 percent lower. The volume, however, increased 3 percent. This came as average unit quotes also fell 15 percent during the span.
One of the reasons suppliers were able to reduce prices considerably was because quotes for crude oil began falling in the latter months of 2008. By Dec. 18, a barrel only cost $40. This, in turn, pulled down rates of petroleum-based materials such as plastic. In time, even metal became less expensive.
Crude oil prices, however, started climbing in 2009, reaching $70 a barrel in September and hovering in the $80 mark two months later. But quotes began descending again in December. At the time of writing, crude oil is at $72 a barrel.
As a result, outlay for major materials has been fluctuating heavily. H62 and H65 brass, for instance, were $8,100 per ton in July 2008. After five months, they dropped to $4,800 a ton. By September 2009, costs rebounded to $6,200.
With materials accounting for roughly 60 to 70 percent of product prices, the variation in costs is making it difficult for suppliers of buttons, snaps and garment hooks to stabilize export quotes.
Speculation over possible yuan revaluation is fueling the difficulty in keeping prices level further. Insiders believe the currency will appreciate when the manufacturing sector begins to recover in the early months of 2010, resulting in less-competitive quotes.
There are more than 2,000 makers of buttons, snaps and garment hooks in China, 75 percent of which are exporters. The supplier base has shrunk roughly 10 percent since the global economic crisis.
About 70 percent of companies are locally owned and the rest are foreign-invested.
Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces are the main production hubs. Both have mature ancillary industries, making raw material providers, and electroplating and dyeing specialists easily accessible.
From January to October 2009, Guangdong exported $117 million worth of buttons and snaps, accounting for nearly one-half of the country's shipments in the category. Its overseas sales of hooks, eyes and clasps reached $130.7 million, representing 43 percent of national revenue in the segment.
Factories are mostly located in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shantou and Jiangmen. The emphasis is on midrange and high-end metal and plastic buttons.
Zhejiang contributed 27 percent to the buttons and snaps line in the same period, equivalent to $62.7 million. For hooks, eyes and clasps, its share is 28 percent, or $85.7 million.
The province's two key areas are Qiaotou in Wenzhou, and Xitang in Jiashan. Suppliers concentrate on upscale snap fasteners, and wooden and shell buttons.
OEM and ODM orders represent 60 and 35 percent of China's shipments, respectively. The rest is under OBM contracts.
One-half of companies have small factories with fewer than 500 workers. Midsize operations with up to 1,000 personnel constitute 40 percent of the supplier base. Large enterprises comprise the rest.
The majority of manufacturers offer various garment accessories, including most types of buttons, snaps, and hooks and eyes. Some, however, specialize in just one material.
Depending on the size of the company, the number of employed R&D specialists can be between one and 50. Product development emphasizes new embellishments and surface treatments. Models are being adorned with prints, enamel, decals, epoxy beads, glitter and rhinestones. Designs can also be milled, sandblasted or oxidized for texture.
The basic production steps for buttons and snaps are mold-making, shaping and finishing. Suppliers utilize punching and die-casting machines for metal, molding equipment for plastic, and button-cutting and milling devices for natural materials. Drills are employed to create holes in flat types.
Hooks and eyes are created by bending wire or strips of metal into the desired shape. These are then electroplated, painted, coated with plastic or wrapped in thread.
Only large factories are able to create molds and perform finishing steps in-house. In fact, vertical integration is a main concern for such manufacturers so as to avoid service fees from subcontractors. It also helps them manage quality.
QC teams can have five to 300 members. Products go through visual and tactile inspections. Some companies use needle detectors to check for the presence of iron or nickel. Lead and cadmium content is ascertained through chemical tests done by third-party institutes such as SGS and Intertek.
Of the various types of buttons and snap fasteners, metal varieties account for 47 percent of China's exports. Plastic kinds represent 38 percent and snaps take a 9 percent share. The rest is for models made of wood, shell and other materials.
Prices depend on the material, shape, finish and embellishments.
In general, plastic, shell and wooden releases are cheaper than metal counterparts. Sometimes, these are combined for pricing flexibility.
Novelty designs in leaf, flower or animal contours bring higher quotes because they require special molds.
Dyed or painted versions cost less than electroplated versions. Expenses escalate when these basic steps are complemented by enameled or glittered surfaces.
Added costs include decal, epoxy or rhinestone and crystal decorations.
Metal buttons can come in iron, zinc alloy, brass or copper.
Low-end models are between $0.004 and $0.016 per piece. They are made of iron and plated with nickel. The diameter ranges from 9.5 to 15mm.
Some designs are hollow or punched out of metal sheets, thereby reducing weight and material usage.
Two-piece sew-on snap buttons belong to this category, and may or may not be mounted on cotton or polyester tape.
Midpriced styles go for $0.017 to $0.114 and may utilize iron or zinc alloy. They are shaped through casting and normally measure 17 to 18mm across. Pieces have environment-friendly nickel plating. Various colors are available, including gold, silver and white in matte, shiny, antique and two-tone effects.
Snap and jeans buttons are included in this range. The mechanism is composed of three or four parts: The cap and socket make up the female end, while the stud and optional post are for the male end.
Models with prongs are plied onto garments, while ring types are hammered. Most magnetic fasteners have prongs, and designs for jeans are normally of the hammered variety.
Flat and shank buttons, and the caps of snaps can feature silk-screened, transfer-printed, enameled, milled or laser-engraved motifs. They may also be adorned with decals, epoxy beads and rhinestones. Natural materials such as coconut shell and mother-of-pearl serve as inlays as well.
High-end metal buttons are similar to midrange counterparts, but come in zinc alloy or brass. They do not contain lead and nickel. Gold or silver plating is sometimes adopted. Trimming is also more expensive. Examples are crystals from Swarovski, the Czech Republic and South Korea. Prices reach $0.458 per piece.
For plastic closures, low-end models are priced at $0.001 to $0.015 per piece. They are made of ABS and dyed in solid colors. Most are round, with two or four holes. Some designs feature a sandblasted finish.
Two- and three-piece snaps used for disposable garments such as medical gowns are considered low-end.
Various types of resin are employed for midrange buttons, including acrylic and polyester. Prices are between $0.016 and $0.073.
Models in fancy shapes such as hearts, flowers and leaves, aswell as four-part snaps fall into this segment.
Flat and shank varieties may have an electroplated finish to imitate the look of metal. They may also feature silk-screened or transfer-printed patterns.
Nylon buttons are considered high-end. They share many of the characteristics of midrange styles, but other options include a glitter finish, and silk-screened, transfer-printed, enameled, milled or laser-engraved logos. Some models have metal or rhinestone inlays. Prices are from $0.074 to $0.15.
A variety of natural materials can be turned into buttons, including wood, coconut shell, bamboo, corozo nut, bone, horn, conch shell, mother-of-pearl and leather. Quotes start at $0.012 and reach $0.147 per piece.
Round models dominate output, but more complex figures such as stars, pentagons and crosses can also be produced.
Some styles sport their natural colors, although the majority are dyed. The surface may feature milled patterns.
Hooks and eyes come in sizes 0 to 18. A higher number indicates a longer measurement of the closed fastener. Designs that consist of two pieces are sewn onto clothes, while four, six and eight-part models are attached to trousers and skirts using prongs or rivets.
Quotes are determined by the material. Iron varieties are between $0.0015 and $0.01471 per set, while stainless steel versions are from $0.0022 to $0.0441. Brass is the most expensive option at $0.0029 to $0.0735.
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