MIAMI BEACH — Preparations for the coming phaseout of quotas among the 144 World Trade Organization nations in 2005 was on the minds of many attendees at last week’s Material World trade show.

While Asian apparel and textile producers — especially those in China — are seen as very likely to gain market share, attendees and exhibitors at the three-day event, which wrapped up on Wednesday, said they expect local producers — particularly the nations of the Caribbean Basin — to continue to play an important role in the garment industry after quotas on apparel and textiles are lifted.

Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the show drew 3,200 attendees — about 30 percent of whom were from outside the U.S. — and 320 exhibitors, only half of which were fabric, trim and yarn makers, with the balance of exhibitors including full-package garment suppliers, freight forwarders and other players in the sourcing chain. Attendance was up markedly from last year’s crowd of 2,000, when attendance was light after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred on the morning of the show’s second day, shutting the nation’s air transportation system.

Pavilions and seminars by show organizers, and trade organizations, including Cotton Inc., forecasted fashion trends for fall-winter 2003-2004. They suggested: key fabrics for that season would emphasize technical blends, finishes and details; activewear and performance influences would be key; designers would pay close attention to details like buttons, cording, buckles and top-stitching; feminine styles with lace, ruffles and layers would remain strong, and global influences on the market would bring out print and patterns in exotic color combinations

New this year, the Corporate Council on Africa, brought 10 companies, to promote opportunities through the African Growth & Opportunity Act, a companion piece of trade legislation to the Caribbean Basin Trade Promotion Act, granting duty- and quota-free benefits to apparel made in the region.

Apparel still represents less than 1 percent of total African exports to the U.S., but is growing as a result of the AGOA benefits that have been extended to 36 sub-Saharan countries. Paul Wong, program coordinator for the Corporate Council on Africa said faster shipping routes than Asia gave Africa another edge."We have to change the U.S. perception of Africa, which still means ‘Tarzan of the jungle’ to many people," said Wong.

While looking at new opportunities, including African production, many attendees were scrambling for Asian strategies in preparation for quota elimination.

Peter J. Gabbe, executive vice president, chief operating officer of Carole Hochman, a New York sleepwear manufacturer of brands including Carole Hochman, Oscar de la Renta, Esprit and Jockey, was looking for sourcing opportunities and new technology to make worldwide operations flow smoothly.

Gabbe said Asia and Africa were growth opportunities, but would not take business away from the Western Hemisphere. He said partnerships would strengthen as future trade policies opened up more advantages here.

"Each area is relative to products, markets, time, distance, raw material and technology advancement," he said.

Gabbe expressed concern over retailers wanting more product for less money, in a time of eroding margins. Acknowledging chargebacks as a business reality, he called for manufacturers to work with retailers to solve problems together, rather than acting as adversaries

Finding full-package sourcing was the goal of Ken Marcus, director of sourcing for Fort Worth, Tex.-based Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co. Over 90 percent of Dickie’s products are produced in the Western Hemisphere, through company-owned factories in Mexico and Central America and contractors in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. Asia and Africa, now only 10 percent of production, may grow as production centers, but not at the expense of Western Hemisphere programs, he contended.

"Quotas are only part of it," he said. "The Americas have proximity and shorter lead times."

Marcus noted that Caribbean Basin countries have gained ground as their makers have stepped up their efforts to provide full-package production services. They’ve pulled ahead of many Mexican producers on that front, he noted.

"The CBI countries are changing from sewing facilities to full-package producers. They know that’s the future," he said. "Asia, a sophisticated production area, also offers the full-package advantage, but business won’t be swept away to Asia."

Attendees also expressed concern over the dwindling U.S. textile industry."We’re losing our textile base, as companies are going under, unable to compete on price with offshore suppliers," said Charles Gilbert, president, Charles Gilbert Associates Inc., a management and engineering consulting firm in Marietta, Ga. "U.S. companies are too rigid."

Exhibitor Asheboro Elastics, an elastic producer in Asheboro, N.C., a surviving U.S. manufacturer, is trying to grow sales by gaining international distribution, said Keith Crisco, president. He met with domestic buyers and Honduran plant managers at the show.

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