By  on February 26, 2008

PARIS — Economic uncertainty contributed to a decline in visitors and reined in order writing at last week's Texworld fabric fair at Le Bourget exhibit halls here.

Organizers said 17,100 people visited the four-day event, a decline of 4.4 percent compared with last year, and cited a softening economy and that companies seemed to be traveling to the show with fewer people than in the past. Much of the decline was attributed to a marked drop in visitors from Europe, although there was an uptick of attendees from Russia and other Eastern European countries.

Buyers said they would exercise restraint as a result of the tough business environment, with most indicating they would keep budgets on par with last year. Some, however, reported nascent signs of better business trends since the beginning of the year, which augured well for exhibitors, most of whom said business had been good, but not as strong as in years past.

With 800 exhibitors from 40 countries, Texworld traditionally draws a wide cross section of major retailers looking for bargain textiles in bulk. Exhibitors at the fair have moved more upscale recently and more fashion brands have started to attend. Still, buyers have become habituated to first visiting the more upscale Première Vision show, which runs concurrently, to get a read on the trends before coming to Texworld to place orders. That trend seemed to continue this year, especially as pressure on the bottom line has mounted.

"We do our core product here," said Liz Holmes, a designer at New Island Clothing, a firm that supplies major retailers in the U.K. "PV is for trends."

Most buyers said price remained their foremost concern. However, they also stressed there was a new appreciation for quality and more luxurious fabrics from their customers.

"Customers are willing to pay more for quality," said Julie-Anne Boothby, manager for fabric and color for Marks & Spencer.

"Price is very important," said Linda Gray, a designer with Britain's Citilites dress brand. "Our budget is the same as last year."

Glorie Martywa, product manager for Amsterdam's Vanilia fashion brand, said, "We went to PV and it's more interesting here for us. Price is important, but we're also seeing demand for quality. Business is getting better."Buyers said geometric or floral prints topped their wish list and that bright colors, even neon, would be an important story going forward. Among looks that are going nowhere is ethnic, buyers said.

"It looks so dated," said Rebecca Watson, a buyer for Sterling Group in Manchester that supplies department stores in the U.K.

Embroidery continued to be important. Indian mills like Ventures have changed their focus from ethnic looks to more jewelry-influenced styles, which proved popular with buyers.

"It's not embroidery anymore, but surface ornament," said Agush Murarka, a partner at Ventures.

Murarka said the bulk of his business at Texworld came from Europeans and Middle Easterners, adding that Americans seemed scarce.

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