By  on January 25, 1994

NEW YORK -- After withstanding a mercurial year in the printed fabric market, converters said the first six months of 1994 should see steady, if unspectacular, growth.

With the trend toward soft dressing, texture and surface interests -- styles that lend themselves to prints -- converters said prints should see some significant action, at least through June. Most converter executives said sales of fall 1994 lines, which they're selling now, are consistent and that the initial interest in print fabrics for spring 1995 is much stronger than it was a year ago.

Converters said 1993 started strong. Business then fell off around mid-year, gathered momentum in the third quarter and dropped dramatically over the last couple of months, they said.

"Last year we were at the tail end of a downturn of the print cycle," said Annie Vetrone, head stylist for Missbrenner Inc. "But we think 1994 will be a robust year for prints."

"Going into last year, there was a euphoric feeling after the presidential election that was very short lived, and I think the year in our industry reflected that," said Michael Garson, executive vice president of JBJ Fabrics, a wet-print specialist here. "This year, there's more of a long-term optimistic feeling. Consumer confidence is on the way back, and people have a better idea of what the tax situation is. Also, most of the big layoffs appear to be over. People seem to know where they stand."

Gerald Greenstein, JBJ's president, added, "We're going to be approaching this year very carefully. Based on our fourth-quarter results, we see the first quarter looking steady, but we see a bigger pickup in the second quarter."

Still, some caution flags are being waved. One particular concern is how long it will take Southern California, a key market for many converters, to get back to a sense of normalcy after last week's earthquake.

An extended recovery time may hamper first-half business, while, on the other hand, in the longer run, the rebuilding will provide a shot in the arm for the West Coast economy, they said.

"Business doesn't wait for us to get organized," said Ed Albrecht, president of Texollini, a Los Angeles print converter. Albrecht, despite losing his house in the Jan. 17 earthquake, was back to work the next day. "We're going to have to put this behind us, and gradually, within the next six months, business will be back to normal."

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