By  on October 9, 2007

NEW YORK — Textile manufacturers exhibiting at Material World New York reported a steady flow of foot traffic in their booths and a strong appetite among buyers for all things eco-friendly and sustainable.

The show ended its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here on Sept. 27, drawing textile manufacturers from as far as Africa, China, India, South Korea and Argentina, as well as technology solutions providers.

Eco-friendly fabrics took the spotlight, with more than 50 mills exhibiting lines that were manufactured using organic cotton, bamboo and soy or other sustainable or renewable materials.

Patrick Regan, a sales manager with Montreal-based Manoir Inc., said he's starting to see a shift in the environmentally friendly clothing movement.

"We're doing a lot of business on the West Coast, but we're starting to see more and more demand here on the East Coast," Regan said.

He has also seen interest increase in using suppliers that are closer to home.

"There's a good push for people wanting to bring some of their production back domestic," Regan said.

He chalked up some of that to buyers wanting to be able to better control their production and quickly respond to the market.

"People want control of their production and I think there's a little bit of people wanting to say they've made their goods in America," he said.

Organics were strong sellers at the show, as well as slub fabrics, Regan said, adding, "Anything with texture does well."

Natural Fiber Mills made its debut at the show and is positioning itself as one of the few domestic suppliers of organic fabrics. The company is a new division of parent company Clovertex LLC, which manufactures specialty yarns.

Natural Fiber Mills' first line is an organic fabric called EcoShade. The line is manufactured using 100 percent organic fiber and the finished fabrics are dyed using an eco-friendly process.

"We've had tremendous reaction," said Holly Henderson, merchandising consultant with the company. "Everyone's learning that we're domestic and organic. There's not that many resources domestically."

The company is sourcing its organic cotton domestically as well as from Turkey. Henderson said he hopes the rising interest in organics will allow the company to begin sourcing more cotton from California, Texas and the company's home state of South Carolina.The weak U.S. dollar and intense global competition continue to pose some of the greatest challenges to textile manufacturers.

Sandra Milstein, a sales representative with G.A.S.A. by Guilford Argentina, said traffic at the firm's booth had been steady despite being the only Argentine exhibitor at the show.

"Most people that come here know about us," Milstein said. "We have a history of 50 years."

Despite having a reputation in the industry, Milstein said the company faces several disadvantages when it comes to landing U.S. clients.

"I suppose one of the difficulties is the distance," she said. "The other is not having trade policies with the U.S."

Morris Ajnassian, sales manager with Los Angeles-based Fiesta Fabric, said buyers were gravitating to a lot of black-and-white fabrics, as well as grays. But buyers increasingly do more window shopping and less buying at the shows, he said.

"There's so much variety today so they're shopping around," Ajnassian observed. "They're much pickier and there's a lot of competition."

Ajnassian said the market has largely stabilized this year and the rush into China for low-cost manufacturers has passed. As a result, prices have stopped fluctuating, but weakness in currency exchange remains a problem.

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