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Challenges Ahead for Ready-to-Wear

Organizers are hopeful that healthy international attendance at the Paris trade shows will keep the domestic blues at bay.

The Paris trade shows this season will unfold against a backdrop of weak clothing consumption, but organizers are hopeful that healthy international attendance will keep the domestic blues at bay.

After showing feeble signs of improvement, French clothing sales are expected to fall in 2011 for the fourth year in a row as customers shun stores amid fears of a fresh recession, according to a survey by the French Institute of Fashion, or IFM, conducted in November.

The ready-to-wear industry is forecast to experience a 2.1 percent drop in sales in 2011, compared with a 0.3 percent slide in 2010, it found. And things are not looking much better for next year: The IFM predicts a 1.8 percent decline in 2012.

The grim trend can be traced to the summer, when fears about European government debt spooked stock markets and revived the specter of a regional downturn.

Of the retailers polled by the IFM, 71 percent reported that sales were down since the beginning of October, 21 percent reported an increase and 8 percent said turnover was stable. Footfall was down for 79 percent of respondents, up for 13 percent and unchanged for 8 percent of those surveyed.

Most French retailers said they had raised prices compared with fall 2010, with 43 percent reporting a hike of between 5 and 10 percent. Fearful of prompting sticker shock, retailers did not pass on the full extent of increases in the cost of raw materials, preferring to take a hit on their margins instead, the IFM found, although 67 percent of women and 60 percent of men polled said they’ve noticed the rise. As a result, more consumers are deferring their clothes purchases to take advantage of sales and discounts. The proportion of women who only buy clothes during promotional periods rose to 34 percent in 2011 from 28 percent in 2010; on the men’s side, it was up to 24 percent versus 18 percent last year, the IFM said.

Show organizers in Paris said exhibitors would have to work harder to seduce buyers this season.

“They will have to pull out all the stops in terms of service and quality of product,” said Cécile Vivier, sales manager of the Salon International de la Lingerie, adding that brands will have stay close to their customers and be increasingly flexible in terms of deliveries and buying conditions. “Nonetheless, lingerie always fares slightly better than clothing during crisis periods.” He added that tapping into emerging markets will be more crucial than ever.

“The textile industry we promote at Première Vision has already been focusing on middle to high-end markets only for many years,” said Philippe Pasquet, chief executive officer of Première Vision SA, noting the luxury end should remain safe. “The question mark is mainly over the middle range. Depending on how this market segment will fall in 2012, textile vendors will be really hit or not. We must remember that the great majority of these companies succeeded in escaping the crisis of 2008-09 in spite of three seasons of very low consumption. We hope the recovery they had over the last seasons will help them face a slowing market again.”

Etienne Cochet, president of Paris Capitale de la Création (Paris Capital of Creativity, in English), the collective that groups the French capital’s leading trade shows, believes the international character of the events is what makes them most attractive to visitors, and he is making sure overseas visitors are catered to.

“We love France and everything that supports France,” he said. “But we’re a forum for exchange [and] diversity. We are without borders when it comes to creativity.”

Cochet, who also runs Maison & Objet, pointed out that after an all-French roster of guest designers in 2011, the show will feature talents from three continents in 2012: Brazil’s Fernando and Humberto Campana as Maison & Objet designers, France’s Hubert le Gall as Scènes d’Intérieur designer and Japan’s Tokujin Yoshioka as Now! Design à Vivre designer.

“In a globalized world, I can’t make a distinction between French and non-French designers and promote only French designers,” Cochet said. “We want international buyers to come to Paris, and in order for these foreigners to come to Paris, they must feel valued, too.”