Despite the general slowdown in China's export industry, the body padding and guards sector continues to thrive with just a 5 percent reduction in the manufacturing base. The effects of the contraction, a result of the global economic downturn, have been minimal, with the remaining makers confident that they can take up the slack in production.
The last is critical as companies need to ensure steady supply amid strong demand.
In addition, many enterprises intend to sustain current investment in product development, which is equivalent to at least 2 percent of sales. In some companies, the allocation reaches nearly 10 percent.
Ergonomics and add-ons are the key R&D considerations in the line.
The latest pads, for example, come in shapes that conform to knee and elbow contours. Some have ventilation holes that enhance comfort.
Grommets are employed for greater shock absorption and durability. Some models have wide reinforced elastic straps that allow more movement.
Adjustable buckles, meanwhile, help users put on or take off the pads faster. Certain portions of the products, including the knee area, can be tightened for a better fit.
As regards add-ons, some wrist supporters are fitted with an electronic watch, pedometer or holder for MP3 players.
New models are released initially in the US, where the latest designs catch on easily, and then to the EU. The two areas are the largest markets for China-made body padding and guards. The other key destinations are Australia, South America, Mexico, Japan and South Korea.
To attract orders, makers are using alternative materials in new models.
Some companies adopt organic bamboo fabric, which has good moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial properties. The textile is also breathable, soft and durable.
Suppliers are also tapping bamboo charcoal fabric. The material emits far infrared rays that can raise body temperature, promote blood circulation and speed up metabolism.
A new type of terry from Japan improves contouring and cinching. The material is said to be softer and adheres better than other types of fabric fasteners.
To boost consumer confidence, most suppliers offer warranties. Some have shortened delivery lead times from about one month to 20 days at most.
Makers are also intensifying product promotion, regularly attending domestic and overseas exhibitions to advertise and keep abreast with new trends. Fuzhou Xingchun Premium Mfg. Co. Ltd, Ningbo Yinzhou Weinuo Sports Equipment Co. Ltd and Shenzhen Keeptop Industrial Development Co. Ltd are among the featured manufacturers doing so.
Knee pads and guards for inline skating and cycling, and wrist supporters dominate China's exports of protective body gear. Ankle wraps, leg and shin guards, back and spine protectors, and body padding are also available.
Prices depend largely on the materials, components and add-ons. Packaging influences quotes as well. A color box costs less than a plastic blister pack.
Materials are commonly purchased domestically. Fuzhou Xingchun procures bamboo and cotton fiber in Shandong and Jiangsu provinces, respectively.
Electronic components are from Guangdong province, while fabric dyeing is subcontracted to specialists in Fujian province.
Companies can also source materials from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. This adds about 20 percent to production costs.
Makers usually order their requirement from large providers capable of conducting quality tests. For some materials, third-party certification is acquired for colorfastness, and azo and metal content. Electronic components are checked for RoHS compliance.
Companies also send finished products to SGS and TÃV for various tests, including that for impact resistance.
Priced at $1 to $2 per set, low-end knee pads come in domestically sourced polyester and cotton spandex.
Midrange designs go for about $3 to $4 and likewise use local materials. They have nylon lining, padding and 2 to 3mm-thick exteriors in neoprene, nylon, polyester or bamboo fiber with spandex. PP caps, fabric fasteners and elastic bands are the other common features.
Made of domestic or imported materials, upscale versions are between $5 and $8. They adopt 3 to 4.5mm-thick neoprene, nylon, bamboo fabric or a blend of bamboo charcoal fabric and spandex for the outer layer. Models in this category have TPR caps, fabric fasteners and elastic bands with buckles and adjusters.
A reusable storage net bag can be bundled with the products.
Going for $0.50 and $2, wrist supporters are priced depending on the thickness of the neoprene and the type of fabric lamination. Most products have lining in a material that is more elastic than nylon.
Prices are expected to remain stable for the next six months despite the fluctuation in material costs.
China has about 100 makers of body padding and guards that also offer products such as laptop and camera bags, coolers, CD wallets and keychains. At these companies, body padding and guards typically account for about 10 to 50 percent of export sales.
Approximately 85 percent of the industry's exports consist of OEM models, while more than 10 percent are under ODM contracts. The rest are designs bearing the in-house brands of some midsize and large companies.
This article "Body padding & guards: Ergonomic designs key to competitiveness" is originally posted in Global Sources.
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