By  on June 19, 2007

NEW YORK — Mills exhibiting at last week's China Textile & Apparel show here saw buyers on the hunt for lightweight and natural fabrics.

The eighth annual show, which wrapped up its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Thursday, drew more than 100 exhibitors, including men's, women's and children's wear manufacturers, textile mills and home textile firms.

While traffic at the event was slow, textile exhibitors said the majority of buyers they met with gravitated toward lightweight fabrics, floral prints and natural or organic fibers.

Parag Tahilramani, vice president of marketing at Kumarco Inc., said cottons and eyelets, as well as print and jersey fabrics, had been a draw for buyers.

"A lot of people have asked me for silks," said Tahilramani, noting Kumarco did not offer any. "Besides that, people go to the prints and cottons."

Jerry Wu, a salesman with Focus Textiles, also saw the draw of dress fabrics and interest in cotton prints. Focus looked to respond to the heightened demand for eco-friendly goods by highlighting the company's selection of organic bamboo and cotton products.

According to Wu, there isn't a large number of Chinese mills that can develop and work with organic fibers. However, he does believe China has progressed rapidly in its textile development and is now in the process of transitioning from being a follower of trends in textiles to a trend leader.

"Just in the past five years, China can do everything," said Wu. "They've improved a lot on technical production."

Still, the challenges facing foreign mills are significant, even for those that have been working in the U.S. for many years.

Efay Linen Textile, which has offices in Shenzhen and Shanghai, is an example of a mill looking to get its foot into the U.S. market. It was the company's first time exhibiting at the show. The company has no offices in the U.S. and its representatives acknowledged that overcoming the language barrier presented their first challenge. Expectations were high, however.

"We hope we can see some of the famous companies," said Henry Zhou, an area manager for Efay.That wish was a common refrain among foreign mills exhibiting at this and other textile shows occurring here throughout the year. While landing a big-name buyer isn't common, it isn't impossible.

"I've seen large brands and retailers, yes, but they don't come in numbers," said Tahilramani. "If I see two a day, I'll consider my exhibition here successful."

Establishing operations in the U.S. has been a necessity for doing business, according to Tahilramani.

"What certainly helps is the U.S. presence," he said. "One of the first things people ask is, 'Do you have people in the U.S.?' just because it's easier [to work with]."

Focus Textiles has had an office in New Jersey and a Manhattan showroom for more than 10 years, both of which have been valuable for meeting and retaining buyers.

"My customers, most are in Manhattan so we can visit very often," said Wu. "If they deal directly with China, they still have problems."

Wu also believes expectations of landing a big-name American buyer aren't realistic or necessarily a wise move.

"I think it's a big mistake," said Wu. "It's not workable for them."

Large brands and retailers can command lower prices, putting a damper on potential profits. The mills may also not be able to meet the demands of these large clients, which could result in more problems. Despite having a U.S. presence for a decade, Focus Textiles has found success by concentrating on smaller buyers working in higher fashion levels rather than supplying mass brands and retailers.

"My customer is mid-to-high fashion and I like that," said Wu.

Craig Fruchtman, a salesman with JBC International Textile Group, said buyers were interested in embroideries, seersucker, printed chiffon and printed satins. JBC's biggest seller, however, was a metallic foil fabric that buyers had been scooping up for junior and misses' tops. It's a trend Fruchtman said has already taken root in Europe, particularly London, and he believes it will become more prevalent here.

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