BARCELONA — “The apparel industry, as we know it, will be dead and gone in five years,” Bob Zane, senior vice president of manufacturing and sourcing at Liz Claiborne Inc., warned industry leaders at the International Apparel Federation’s 20th World Apparel Convention here.

The impact of quota-free sourcing on the U.S. market should not be underestimated, he said.“Because of quota, we source our goods in more locations than we would like to; we pay outrageous penalties that add zero value, and we delay the manufacturing process as fabric and trim travel to faraway places where quota is either available or affordable.

“Soon this nonsense will stop and we will manufacture our goods more directly and more quickly, in factories that will offer more services and more flexibility, all for less money.This change, in due course, will revolutionize the American apparel industry,” Zane concluded.

On the other hand, Hasan Arat, chief executive officer of Arat Tekstil, based in Istanbul said, “I don’t see China as a global threat. I see it as an opportunity to develop Turkey’s position as the geographical hub of the European market.”

Turkey is the third-largest textile exporter in the world, Arat said, adding, “It’s high time the global industry develops strategies with fair and equal rules to meet the challenges and demands of our chosen markets.”

The two executives were among 34 industry leaders and officials from the U.S., Europe, China, Middle East, Africa and South America who spoke at the convention, held May 31 to June 1 at the Palau de Congressos here.The U.K.-based IAF is made up of 150,000 apparel-related companies worldwide.

Key topics at the convention dealt with the complexities and uncertainties of a new trade game resulting from next year’s phaseout of quotas on apparel and textiles by member nations of the World Trade Organization.An IAF official said 500 professionals from 30 countries attended the convention.

Panelists ticked off a series of problems facing today’s industry, such as terrorism and increased geopolitical tensions; a fragile financial system; raw material drain; lower-priced competition, and more specifically, the inability to find solutions to any of the above in recent years.“Technology and communication have shrunk the world and intensified competition.It’s a new game plan,” said Enric Casi, managing director of Mango, Spain’s second-largest apparel exporter after Inditex-owned Zara.With 720 stores in 72 countries, Mango plans an inaugural rollout in the U.S. early next year.As yet, no definite contracts have been signed for store sites, but New York and Miami are potential markets, he said.

How has Mango done it?“A well-defined product, a well-defined brand and a well-defined sales target with our own technology, engineers and analysts, and the human factor, a flexible — and open — workforce,” Casi explained.

In 1995, Mango, with revenues of 48 million euros, or $58.1 million at current exchange, began courting foreign markets.Last year’s turnover reached upward of one billion euros, or $1.21 billion. “You have to build on your abilities,” Casi advised.“The choice of how to globalize [your product] depends on what you do best.”

The world’s largest player, VF Corp., follows a five-step strategy to strengthen its brand relationships with the consumer, said Mackey McDonald, chairman and ceo of the Greensboro, N.C.-based firm. VF brands include Earl Jean, Wrangler and Lee jeans, Vanity Fair intimate apparel, Nautica, The North Face, Jansport outdoor gear and Vans sport shoes.

According to McDonald, VF’s strategy is to adopt a personal, consumer-centric approach that goes far beyond available data; bring new and innovative solutions to the consumer; forge retail partnerships; create a demand with a product consumers don’t have, and nurture talent that can deliver the emotional and functional benefits of products and align the right people with the right opportunities.

José Maria Castellano, president and ceo of Inditex, the La Coruña, Spain-based parent company of fast-fashion chain Zara, said the group’s retail roster will climb to a staggering 2,200 stores in 50 countries by year’s end, “and they are all profitable,” he claimed.

The phenomenon of Zara, which accounts for 70 percent of total sales, is due to the speed of product deliveries; excellent locations with consumer-friendly interiors and a well-established international presence, Castellano said.He pointed out the company’s policy of no advertising.Instead, Inditex invests 480 million euros, or about $582 million at current exchange, annually in establishing new locales.A recent project, Castellano said, is an offshore production center in Morocco consisting of 61 leased workshops, mainly in Tangier. Inditex is sensitive to its social responsibilities, he added, noting that benefits, including childcare and schooling, are provided to 1,300 employees and their families.

“The building of a brand is the linchpin of a healthy future, but for committed players only and there are less and less of them,” said moderator José Luis Nueno, professor of marketing management at IESE, a local business school, and a member of the American Marketing Association. “Nobody is immune to the virus of competition.”

In other words, “be yourself and stop copying rivals.The key to the future of the apparel industry is innovation,” said Bill Ghitis, president, apparel, of Invista.“As an industry, we have failed to stimulate our relationship with the consumer.

“Fashion alone no longer creates the level of commercial sales it once did,” Ghitis said. “Consumers may like cheaper prices, but they are not necessarily excited by them.The industry must exploit the high-tech potential of advanced textile science in new forms of apparel creativity that combine fashion and function. It must also streamline the supply chain to improve responsiveness to consumer demand.”

Daniel Harari, ceo of Lectra, a Paris-based leader in advanced technology services, called innovation “an engine of growth; it’s the heart of our business.The company that innovates today will still be around tomorrow.Technology is not innovation. It is a tool [toward achieving it]. Innovation means inventing the future, rather than just reacting to it. It’s about turning threats into opportunities.If you don’t review your business model now, you’re in trouble,” he concluded.

Harari said the apparel industry’s main challenges are cutting costs, reducing time to market, globalization and the development of a consistent brand and image.

In summary, “a smart executive should be planning for the reality of China gobbling up additional market share,” said IFA president Pere Prat. He predicted a fourfold jump in China’s export capacity by 2020. “Cheaper prices are not the answer. Further investment in domestic rather than foreign industry is,” he maintained.“The only solution to the Asian threat is an integrated Mediterranean offensive based on an interdependent industry and a recomposition of distribution channels,” added Salah Eddine Mezquar, president of AMITH (the Moroccan Association of Textile and Apparel Industries). “Europe’s textile industry has to unite in order to keep our customers within our geographical sphere.”

Moderator Nueno had the last word — and it was a warning. “Get ready for vertical integration of Chinese and Indian companies in European countries,” he said. “It will happen faster than you think. If Eastern producers have the production, they’ll want the distribution, too.”

IAF’s 21st World Apparel Convention will be held Oct. 20-23, 2005, in Cancún, Mexico.

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