NEW YORK — In a year of economic and political turbulence,exhibitors preparing for next week’s International Fashion Fabric Exhibition said they expect the show to serve as a barometer of business conditions for the coming months.

Companies planning to show at the event, which runs Oct. 15 to 17 at the Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan, are taking a variety of approaches in their fall lines, with many fabric companies trying to seek out niche areas where pricing is competitive. Some textile companies said they are trying to expand into garment production, to be able to offer full packages to their customers.

Regarding design, Jon Alba, sales director at New York-based importer Nipkow & Kobelt, said he is sticking to tried-and-true fabrics at next week’s show, such as animal prints and tie dyes since, he said, there isn’t one major trend in the market. Normally, Alba explained, his company tries to tap a major trend each season.

Alba said Nipkow & Kobelt’s apparel business is down, while swimwear, dance and costume divisions are performing well. Home decor fabrics are also a strong category, Alba added.

"I think people are afraid to go out on a limb," he said. "It’s a feeling I get from the market as a whole. So we try to be diverse."

At IFFE, Alba said he expects to see many of his existing clients, especially from Canada, but said he hopes to meet new clients at the show. An increase in the amount of overseas mills doing direct business with branded wholesalers, rather than through importers, is a hurdle for his firm, Alba said, so keeping a diverse range of fabrics increases the opportunity for customers to find something different.

Alba said customer service is a key to remaining competitive.

"Customers will come to us looking for a certain type of product," he said. "We can go out and find it or have it made, and that helps."

New York-based silk importer International Fine Fabrics Inc., which recently changed its name from Bharat Silks, said its business has been bogged down by problems over the past year, including the weak economy and a reduction in imports from India, where Fine Fabrics gets most of its fabrics."We want to try the show and see if we can break through," said Gayatri Rao, vice president of marketing.

Rao said business has been consistent, but with small companies who do not put in large orders. Currently, the company’s main focus is to try and increase business with large-scale operations since its manufacturing capacity can accommodate big orders, Rao said.

"Our production capacity in India is huge," he said. "And serving small customers is more difficult than big customers. I hope this season will be good, but we don’t know. We want to serve all types of customers who can buy from 100 meters all the way up to 10,000 meters."

The company offers mainly silks and silk blends priced from $8 to $40 per yard. Rao said fabrics priced about $20 per yard are typically hand embroidered, which is one of the company’s specialties. The firm also offers jacquards, prints and printed embroidered fabrics from a vertically integrated factory in Bangalore, India. To further diversify the company’s capacity and take advantage of its vertical structure, International Fine Fabrics is in the process of making apparel samples for customers in the U.S. to offer full garment packages.

"We make our fabrics and we have the capacity to do the garments as well," said Rao. "We don’t have production yet, but we’re making a bunch of samples."

The company opened its office in New York about a year-and-a-half ago and expects to reach a sales volume of at least $5 million in the U.S. in 2003.

Overall, exhibitors at the upcoming IFFE said the fabric fair comes at a good time, since the New York, Milan and Paris fashion shows have already been produced. Although the runway shows are for the spring-summer season, industry insiders often claim the shows help designers narrow their focus for the following fall season to which IFFE is geared. For smaller companies that work closer to season, many IFFE exhibitors said they will have some fabrics from their spring collections for immediate shipments.

"I’m optimistic," said Michael Steiner of the New York-based print converter Michael Miller Fabrics. "I think we have great products and as long as people show up, we’ll make business."Currently, Michael Miller Fabrics is trying to beef up its women’s apparel presence since the company established itself in the nonapparel print business, according to Steiner. The October show marks Michael Miller’s first time exhibiting at IFFE.

Steiner established the company 3 years ago with his partner Kathy Miller and said sales volume for the business is expected to reach somewhere between $15 million and $20 million in 2003. Currently, it has about 3,000 accounts and outsources its manufacturing in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan, China or the U.S., depending on the product.

Meanwhile, Fabric Country Inc. is expecting a 20 percent increase in business in 2003, said Serban Milcu, international sales manager. While Fabric Country is based in New York, it owns a factory in South Carolina where a staff of six designers creates art that is printed on cotton and polyester-cotton blends. Milcu said the company sources its gray goods in the U.S. and overseas.

Likewise, business has picked up over the past few months at Keansburg, N.J.-based lace firm Accentex.

"It’s strictly supply and demand," said Richard Fetaya, president. "Fashion is cyclical."

Fetaya said his company is both an importer and a converter and that he uses IFFE to see visitors from the U.S., Canada and South America.

As for trend at the show, Fetaya said he plans on bringing laces in darker colors for clients making higher-priced goods and primary colors for less-expensive lines.

Cynthia Chand, who owns Cleveland-based REI Textiles, imports high-end embroidered and beaded silk fabrics geared at the bridal and eveningwear markets. Wholesale prices at the two-year-old company run between $50 and $100. All prices include import duties, Chand said.

"I have over 250 designs, but I will work with people to change things they may not like," said Chand. "I have new patterns every six months and my latest are even more expensive. They feature silver thread pounded flat onto silk, some with Swarovski crystals and some encrusted with semiprecious stones."

Chand also sells shawls priced between $50 and $300 to clothing boutiques, which she said is a nice addition to her wholesale fabric business. She also offers the shawl fabrics by the yard.Next week’s IFFE show will mark the first time Chand will participate in the New York show.

Currently, Chand travels to India twice yearly to meet with factories that make REI’s fabrics.

Middleton, Mass.-based Regal Fabrics Inc. also offers a diverse range of fabrics. The company entered the apparel fabrics industry about eight years ago when designers started using tapestry-like fabrics in clothing. Besides apparel, Regal gears its fabrics to the furniture, accessories, pillows and bedding and fabric retail markets.

According to Sue Patrolia, who heads product development and marketing at Regal, toile prints on jacquard fabrics have been key sellers to the apparel industry.

"We have such a broad range of clients and consumers that our business has been great," said Patrolia. "If it picks up in one sector, it drops off in another."

Patrolia said the company creates more than 400 fabrics every six months. Designs are created in-house and then manufactured by contracted factories in Italy. Wholesale prices range between $8.95 and $13.95 for fabrics targeted to end uses such as pants, jackets and vests.

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