INTERSTOFF: SOME GRIPES, BUT GLOBAL MIX SCORES

Byline: Katherine Weisman

FRANKFURT--While some buyers and exhibitors continued to complain about the "bazaar" atmosphere of Interstoff, many attending the latest edition of the fabric show here last week had praise for its international scope, saying it enabled them to broaden global sourcing contacts and expand their customer base.
"For American companies, this is the only game in town," said Nina Aronzon, export sales manager for Symphony Fabrics Corp., New York. In a last-minute decision, Symphony decided to return to Interstoff after an absence of several seasons to anchor the firm's position in Europe and to attract non-European clients as well.
"We have gotten sample orders from companies in new markets like Turkey, the Middle East and Eastern Europe," Aronzon said. "These are areas where we have never been before." On the other hand, some companies, perhaps spoiled by the upscale and "private club" ambience of Premiere Vision, the Paris exhibition of apparel fabrics, continue to criticize the larger and less-tidy Interstoff.
In addition, Interstoff's late date, this time nearly five weeks after Premiere Vision, is a sore point. "Our best show is Premiere Vision," said a saleswoman for Grupo Tavex, a 149-year-old denim maker from Guipuzcoa, Spain, showing at Interstoff for its second season. "We don't like this show, but since we are interested in developing the German market, if we only get two new German customers, that's good."
"At Premiere Vision, we receive 4,000 clients. Here, we get 400," said Lucien Deveaux, principal of Deveaux SA, a French novelty fabric maker from Thizy, France. "This is our sixth fabric show for the season, but I'll keep on coming here as long as there are clients."
While figures vary from show to show, Interstoff clearly provides potential clients, as evidenced by the 20,000 or so visitors from 87 countries who attended the three-day show, which ended here last Thursday. The spring edition of Interstoff last April drew about 22,000 visitors from 88 countries.
At this 73rd version, which highlighted spring-summer 1996 fabrics, there were 1,059 exhibitors from 47 countries. Last April's show featured 1,076 exhibitors, also from 47 countries.
The mood at the show was neither upbeat nor morose. Overall, Messe Frankfurt GmbH-- the show's organizers--were "satisfied" with the results, confirming Interstoff's positioning as "a spectrum of world manufacturers." "When buyers go to Premiere Vision, they go just to see European manufacturers," says Thomas Wolenik, Interstoff project manager. "When they come to Interstoff, they get an overview of the world industry. We offer the entry into new markets at a time when manufacturers want to develop worldwide sourcing."
Organizers, however, are considering the possibility of further developing satellite shows, whose timing and product niche could better service the needs of specific kinds of clothing manufacturers, compared to the larger, general and later Interstoff. One such show, called Take Off, was held here in February and was well-timed for the men's wear industry, they said. Fourteen U.S. firms exhibited at last week's Interstoff, versus 12 a year ago. A plus development for them this time around was the low rate of the dollar against the German mark and the French franc, making prices more attractive. Still, two big veteran exhibitors, Greenwood Mills and Avondale Mills, did not return this time, having expressed dissatisfaction with the show last season.
Among those making return trips to Interstoff was New York's Alpine Textiles, a two-year-old firm specializing in novelty fabrics for women's apparel. Gerry Ross, president and principal, noted that Alpine was selling mostly fabrics for short-term delivery for fall 1995. Working on close-to-the-season programs, many European apparel makers, he claimed, were still undecided about what they would offer for fall.
Ross also noted he was betting on the renewed acceptance of synthetics, a term that was a "dirty word" 20 years ago. Slinky, an acetate and Lycra spandex knit, is a best-selling fabric for Alpine, he pointed out, as are all stretch fabrics, from elaborate lace to dull-finish mock crepes. Sequins International Inc. Quality Braid, New York--a company known as SI--is an Interstoff veteran and quite happy with the event. "It's a very important show for us, and our presence exposes us to new accounts," said Raymond Hill, the export sales manager, who said the company has benefited from both the big return of sequins in designer fashion and the weak dollar.New for spring is the company's use of clear sequins on summer-weight velvet, chiffon and stretch jersey in soft pastel colors. Many of the fabrics used by SI come from Symphony."In the past six months, there's been a strong turnaround for the sequin business, and customers want a sophisticated fabric that's a step ahead of what's coming from eastern Asia," Hill observed. "Plus, the dollar is a positive factor in that we can use it as a selling tool, making [our fabrics] a better buy for customers." While American firms may be enjoying stronger export sales in Europe, the German textile industry is in its fourth straight year of crisis. According to the German Textile Manufacturers Association, incoming orders of companies in the former West Germany fell 5 percent last year, following the 9 percent drop in 1993. Production last year decreased by 6 percent and overall sales dropped 8 percent to about $23.5 billion (32.7 billion marks) at current exchange rates.
Companies from the former East Germany fared better. Although overall production in that region is far less than it was in West Germany, incoming orders and production rose by 26 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Many makers are finding the key for survival in this tough climate, especially with the rise in quality textile exports from neighboring Eastern European countries, is to stay away from basic and traditional goods, and to develop creative niches where a higher price stemming from higher production costs can be justified.
Scheibler Pelzter, Krefeld, Germany, best known for its high-end velvets for women's and men's fabrics, took a new turn for spring 1996 with Holotex, a hologram fabric in rayon, polyurethane and metal developed with San Francisco inventor Richard Sharp. Scheibler was one of the 243 German companies at Interstoff. "With our velvets, we see an old established clientele, but we needed to have a second leg to stand on," said Walter Butzkies, Scheibler's export director. "One man called and said he wanted to use it for men's underwear."
Despite the new fabric's apparent success, business remains difficult. "We have reduced costs in such a way to withstand the tough market as long as currencies remained stable," Butzkies said.
Another German company highlighting innovative fabrics was Selbitz-based Phareta, a maker of plastic and plastic-coated fabrics for apparel and industrial applications. Phareta showed a shiny pearlescent polyurethane, PVC and polyester fabric, along with a more rigid synthetic fleece sealed ultrasonically with clear plastic. Denim maker Hof Textil & Design, Saale, Germany, has changed its course. Rather then trying to compete in the market for basic denim fabrics where makers from low-cost manufacturing countries are now producing quality goods, Hof decided to gamble on fashion denim fabric. "Four seasons ago, we changed from being a maker of basic denim to a company that makes a fashionable indigo product," said Jan Olijdam, division manager of Hof jeanswear. "But the challenge was to keep up in quantities."
The gamble, Olijdam said, has started to pay off. Winter 1995 sales are up 36 percent compared to winter 1994, and summer 1996 should post an additional 15 percent gain, he said. The strategy, seen most visibly in the firm's Blue Unexpectables range--whose features go from a honeycomb weave for a knit look to a bouclA yarn in the weft for a nubbed look--has brought Hof out of the mass market up to the top branded and designer jeans market.
An interesting side of Interstoff was the visible increase of fabrics made in Eastern Europe and in countries of the former Soviet Union. In the exhibition hall for wool and linen fabrics, the dominant exhibitors were from Russia and other Slavic countries. They included such firms as Mostex, a Moscow-based operation made up of over 20 Russian fabric companies, selling gray goods, and Krenholm, from Narva, Estonia, a 138-year-old maker of cotton fabrics.

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