HONG KONG — The staggering global economy cast a shadow over Interstoff Asia last week. Exhibitors across the board noted a lack of U.S. and European buyers and a preference for low prices over high quality at the three-day event, which ended Friday.

Mozart Tseng, President of Mozartex, a Taiwan-based company that specializes in denim made with Tencel lyocell, said that buyers, "are really looking carefully at quality and price right now. There are lots of people here, but they’re just looking. I think everyone is going directly to China to do their buying."

This price consciousness was certainly on the minds of relatively high-end suppliers like Trimtex Co. of Williamsport, Pa. William Henderson, president, said that to keep up, his business needs to be in Asia where all of the wholesalers and manufacturers are.

"We decided to test the waters in Asia and our reception was, ‘Oh, USA? Great quality, but high prices,’ he said. "Still, we found that while lower-priced, lower-quality products are great for the domestic Chinese market, they’re not to be exported to the U.S. and Europe. Most products headed to the U.S. are made with Japanese materials and our prices certainly compare with the Japanese."

Indeed Trimtex/Carolace’s lace trimmings drew a crowd, as did other components specialists like Swarovski and JinJin Art, makers of sequins, beads, patches and crystals.

"I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to count visitors or think about anything," said Park Jin, a sales representative with JinJin. "There seems to be more Asians than Europeans, but business is good."

While Asian visitors, particularly from Hong Kong, have always made up the majority of Interstoff traffic, a growing number of buyers from China also turned up. Unlike previous years, however, some vendors cast a wary eye over the potential business.

For example, J. W. Yoo of Seoul’s Dansol International closed his booth to deal with American buyers, but didn’t agree to sell to an eager Chinese retailer.

"Most of our customers are from the U.S., but we are seeing buyers from the mainland [China]," Yoo said. "The problem is we’re afraid of their payment system."Yoo’s comments were echoed at sourcing agent Charles Parsons’ booth. Said T. K. Lam, assistant sales manager, "With the slowdown in the U.S. and Europe, we really appreciate the growing China market. But there are difficulties in working with China. Most clients don’t have foreign currency — only local renminbi [China’s yuan]. They can get Hong Kong dollars on the black market, but we all want U.S. dollars. To work with these smaller companies, we have to give them credit and deal in cash — it’s very high risk."

Pakistani exhibitor Omar Adam of Adam Pakistan Limited voiced other concerns. The company, which specializes in cottons, skipped last year’s fair after the Sept. 11 attacks but doesn’t blame those events for slow business.

"Pakistan has its own problems right now — the inflated currency makes our products more expensive than they should be and quotas are a big issue in Turkey," he said. "We have to pay 50, 60 or 70 cents per meter because of the quotas. And even though the floods damaged their cotton crops this year, China is very competitive. They will have to get raw fiber from Pakistan, but we will have to import dyes from them — there’s no benefit."

On the other side of the equation, Chinese vendors were looking to develop their global business, reflecting China’s status as a World Trade Organization member. Jin Hui Xian, general manager of first-time exhibitors Jin Kai Textiles of Zhejiang, said, "After the WTO it will be important to become more international. We want to make ourselves well known and to have our products on the market. For now, we’re happy to develop contacts."

While the majority of this year’s 11,877 visitors also seemed happy to develop contacts, those buyers who did turn up seemed pleased with what they found. Renee Jurgeit, designer for Comma, a German women’s wear company, said, "Our customers are modern women who are over 35. We are really looking for corduroy, outdoor fabrics and fake fur. We’ll definitely be back because we’re finding what we want."

Agreeing with her was Luiz da Silva, senior graphic artist for Computer Expressions, a Philadelphia-based maker of media storage accessories, such as CD cases."We’re always looking for different materials, colors and textures," she said. "They have to be light but durable because our products are mobile — they get thrown around."

She added that besides finding fabrics and trims, the fair provided creative inspiration. "We get different ideas by being here than we would just sitting at a desk."

Other significant trends for fall-winter 2003-2004 at Interstoff Asia were:

Sugar pink, powder blue and lilac were key colors. Buyers were eager to use these for ladies’ tops, skirts and lingerie. Vendors commented that tie-dye and embroidered fabrics in these colors sold well.

Reds were also important, but not fiery Eighties reds. Rust, berries and grape were popular. Also noticeable were brown, beige and ecru. One vendor called brown "next year’s basic color."

Gold was back in force, used as an embroidered trim to add sheen to silk, or to make metallic prints. It replaced the domination of animal prints last year.

Texture over print. While retro florals and plaids proved popular, texture was key. Case in point — Dansol’s hot "crinkled" knit in a tie-dyed baby blue.

Black, especially in men’s wear fabrics, will be big. But it’s not solid or funereal — look for black glen plaids, pinstripes, dark denims and even faux crocodile skins to make their mark.

This staging of Interstoff featured 357 exhibitors, down from last year’s 475. While this year’s 11,877 attendees were roughly on line with last year’s turnout of 11,906, the show enjoyed a sharp spike in attendance its last day, Oct. 4, which overlapped with the Asia Pacific Leather Fair.

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