NEW YORK — As many small and medium-sized apparel manufacturers made their way through the aisles at the Jacob K. Javits Center last week during the International Fashion Fabric Exhibition, many faced a recurring hurdle for their businesses: Vendors who had minimum order requirements for more fabric than they needed.

Before designers began flipping through swatches of fabric from Far Eastern, domestic and European mills, most asked about policies on minimums. Many Asian mills, which included exhibitors from China, Hong Kong, Japan and 43 from Taiwan, had appealing prices in the $1-per-yard to $3-per-yard range, but often asked for minimums of 1,000 yards or higher per color and style.

While many mills are unwilling to accommodate small orders, some mill representatives from the U.S. and abroad said they can tie in small orders with large orders from big brands, if both companies want the same fabric. However, the extra effort comes at a premium and usually makes the fabric more expensive — sometimes more than the fabric’s list price.

Textile executives said one way around minimums is to run orders on sample machines for clients that only need a few hundred yards.

"They may be a small or midsize company now," said Steven Glantz, national sales manager for Radici Tessuti USA Inc. "But maybe they’ll grow and by next year, they’ll have big enough orders."

Another way to eliminate minimums is by keeping stock on commodity fabrics, according to John Irwin, president of New York-based lace firm Malibu Textiles, which keeps stock in its New Jersey warehouse and offers them without minimums and with near-immediate deliveries.

Raymond Hill, who used IFFE as a jumping-off point for his new West New York, N.J.-based company Sequin City, also said he tries to accommodate most companies, regardless of the size of their orders. Hill said the business he did at the show was divided between apparel manufacturers, theatrical suppliers and costume companies.

Joelle Klein, a designer for New York-based 12-store retail operation Calypso, said she was inspired by prints at Burbank, Calif.-based print house Alexander Henry Fabrics, as well as various Japanese fabrics, even though she said she placed few orders."We’re looking at mills from India that do beading," Klein said. "The Japanese fabrics were amazing but we can’t do much with them because of the types of products we do."

Klein also noted that her company recently started a wholesale division with its spring 2002 collection.

There were about 40 more vendors at last week’s IFFE compared to the March show. That brought the number to about 400 exhibitors altogether, according to Amy Bonomi, show manager.

Trends at the fair centered on soft and plush looks with everything from a large selection of faux furs and other piles to groups of velvet, chenille and corduroy.

Pile looks were bonded to a variety of fabrics, which included faux suedes and — as designer Alice Roi pointed out — sweatshirt material. "I liked that it’s a look unto its own, it’s not trying to look like real fur by bonding it to a suede-like fabric," Roi said. "I think that made it very unique."

For Jamie Koff, vice president of fabric research and development at Polo Jeans, the earthtoned stripes she saw printed on corduroy, as well as indigo and canvas, were key. "The look was very tonal and it was engineered," she said.

Also important at the show was velvet, in every form. Vendors showed burnouts that were over-printed, as well as heavier, richer looks with patterns inspired by vintage home-furnishing motifs.

At Henry Bertrand, printed silk velvets did well, according to co-owner Ruth Gilbert. Included in its velvet selection was a piece that had a pattern bonded on the back, which gave the front a stamped look.

Many buyers also agreed that velvet will continue to be important for the fall 2003 season.

"The velvets are all very baroque and ornate this season," said Oona McSweeney, associate fashion director of women’s ready-to-wear and juniors at Federated Merchandising Group. "They fit into what we’re doing for holiday, which also includes fabrics with a burnout jacquard effect on sheer."

Chenille was also an important direction — used all over or as an accent. At Ben-Tex, a microfiber chenille was new. The microfiber is better for printing and handling, said Ben-Tex president Ben Paniri.Also on the soft side were a variety of fleeces, some laser-punched with a design; flocked looks, and jerseys with a sueded or peach-skin finish, such as the ones at Billon.

Decoratively, sequins, beads and metallic touches continued. Many buyers agreed, however, that the look was now more subtle and sophisticated.

"Just a touch of metallic looked new to me," McSweeney said. "Either in a sheer or as part of a print."

Designer Yansi Fugel said she saw great new ideas in decorative looks, although she’ll be moving to sequins again after seasons of using beads.

"I really liked the variety of finishes on some of the sequins," Fugel said. "It was either matte or very deep in hue and slightly iridescent. I also thought the overprinted sequins looked great."

Exhibitors focused on colors that were rich and saturated with shades of brown and red, as well as black and gray. For Cary Vaughan, design assistant at Language, warm, spice tones were prevalent. "I loved all the warm yellow and brown tones with just a touch of turquoise for color."

Winter white was also key, as were accent colors that included muted hues of green, blue and yellow.

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