Byline: Melissa Drier, Dusseldorf, and Arthur Friedman,New York
NEW YORK--Fresh off its second trip with a contingent of bridal and eveningwear firms to the Igedo fashion fair in Dusseldorf, Fashion Exports New York will receive the New York State Governor's Award for Achievement in Export today. The award recognizes FENY's success in assisting New York apparel firms to expand internationally. "Our goal is to make business happen," said Leah Kaplan, director of FENY. "Educating firms is an important element of the program, but our primary focus has always been on generating contacts and export opportunities for our constituent firms." FENY was created by the Garment Industry Development Corp. in 1991 to promote exports of New York manufacturers. The program also receives support from New York City and New York State through grants and other funding. New York State's Global Export Marketing Service, for example, has helped defray some of the costs of putting on the Igedo show and preparing firms to enter the German market. FENY begins working with companies before they make the trip, helping them develop bilingual promotional materials, providing information on issues such as export pricing, shipping and credit insurance, and assisting in identifying potential sales agents. "We felt there was a lot of untapped export potential," said Bruce Herman, president of the GIDC. "Now, we're finally beginning to fulfill that potential." Meanwhile, for the four firms that went to Igedo, it was a trip, they said, that seemed to be well worth taking. The New York firms--Karen Lawrence, Jordan, Double Z Manufacturing and Heiser-Egan--shared a stand under the auspices of FENY in the Bridal and Festive Wear Hall on the fair grounds. The companies said that in addition to written orders, they were able to make contacts with agents, distributors and buyers from Germany, Europe and Asia. "I was amazed at the acceptance," said Howard Wasserman, sales manager for Karen Lawrence, a social-occasion dress firm. "We saw 12 accounts in the first hour. We all looked at each other and thought this is too good to be true." Karen Lawrence already exports to Mexico, Canada, England and South America, "but we felt we needed to take it one step further," Wasserman said. With orders in hand and discussions initiated on signing a sales agent, Wasserman said the firm will "unequivocally be back" next season. "We've gotten some excellent response," said Ray Schneiderman, president of Double Z Manufacturing, maker of the Niki and Zum Zum collections. "I think it's a very viable market." Schneiderman pointed out that eveningwear and social-occasion clothes seem to sell well in Germany because there is little competition, with the German apparel industry being more sportswear oriented. "I'm high on the experience," Neil Giordano, vice president of Jordan, remarked. "We took orders from Switzerland, Holland and the U.K., which surprised me, as I thought there was a German focus to this fair." Primarily a bridesmaid house in the U.S., Jordan fit into the festive-occasion niche in Dusseldorf. Giordano agreed that buyers at Igedo seemed to be looking for American labels and styling. "We have written nicely, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The potential is very high," he said. "Fashion Exports New York prepared us on what to expect in terms of business, and we established our policies beforehand. We are invoicing in dollars and set up a shipping arrangement with UPS." In addition, the firm negotiated a deal with a German sales agent before coming to Igedo. It took advantage of FENY's translation service and had a price list and other sales information prepared in German. "Our investment into the country is small in comparison to the benefits to be reaped," he added. Fred Heiser, vice president of Heiser-Egan, said the company's Judith Ann Creations collection is already represented in the German market through an agent, but the more understated high-end Heiser Egan line made its European debut at Igedo. "We felt this is an open market," he said. "The U.S. industry hasn't scratched the surface, especially in better merchandise. But it won't happen overnight, and maybe that customer doesn't come to Dusseldorf at all. We had a lot of lookers, but the business that was done was little. Still, I feel there are customers there, and we'll get them sooner or later." FENY wants to take firms from the eveningwear and social-occasion market into other export markets, such as Mexico and the Premier Collections fair in Birmingham, England. The organization is also considering making a move into Dusseldorf with classifications such as career apparel. The American fashion presence in Dusseldorf--more visible this season, but always a tiny minority in this vast fair of over 2,000 exhibitors--might eventually get a designer boost. Observing the scene was Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, was at the fair with officials of Kellwood Co., for whom he designs a robe line. Kellwood was one of 15 firms at the American Chamber of Commerce's stand at the Igedo Dessous intimate apparel and swimwear fair. While there, Herman said he was checking out the turf. "I do believe in U.S. designers as a force in Europe," he said. "And if there was any time for our designers to break in, it's now." Herman said the CFDA is asked to put on a lot of shows out of the country, and "maybe next year, we'll take U.S. fashion on the road." He said Dusseldorf is one possible venue. Kaplan said plans are being finalized for another trip to Germany in the spring, but this time the FENY contingent will probably go to the larger CPD trade fair, also held in Dusseldorf. The export award ceremony, which will be held in Albany, will hand out 21 awards to a variety of companies and organizations. Others in the fashion field being recognized are the Delegar division of Belcam Inc., Rouses Point, which makes toiletry and fragrance gift boxes for department stores and drug stores, and the Brooklyn-based Izabel Lam International, which makes jewelry and tabletop accessories.
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