By  on March 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Textile mills are trying to overcome challenges created by rising costs, tepid consumer sales and a shrinking customer base as they prepare to show their latest offerings at the upcoming Los Angeles International Textile Show.

Highlighting fabrics for the spring-summer 2012 season, the semiannual expo will be held March 28 to 30 at the California Market Center, featuring mills that hail from such diverse locales as California, North Carolina, Canada, Australia and Spain.

Lenzing, the Austrian-based fiber producer, is hosting a pavilion for the second time at the event. Spotlighting mills such as Vernon, Calif.-based Shara-Tex, Italy’s Miroglio and Canada’s Manoir Inc., the Lenzing Innovation Pavilion will display the company’s various fibers and assist designers with technical support, product development and global supply chain management.

“It is an exciting time for the L.A. market as [American] manufacturers seek local suppliers due to the challenges in China and raw material challenges,” said Tricia Carey, a merchandising manager at Lenzing.

Vendors noted the price of cotton has more than doubled in the past year, while wool has jumped about 40 percent. The costs of polyester yarns, gas and freight shipping have also escalated. As such, some vendors have had to lower their profit margins while others increased prices by as much as 15 percent.

“We have to raise prices and people are accepting it because they understand,” said Teddy Atlas, president of Atlas International Textiles Inc. in Middletown, N.Y.

Of all the challenges that textile suppliers face, Mike Tolouee, chief executive officer of Pacific Coast Knitting in Huntington Park, Calif., said the biggest of all is the economy.

“People are not buying,” he said. “Manufacturers don’t have orders. Retailers are not placing orders. A lot of retailers are going out of business.”

For the designers and manufacturers who are ready to shop at the textile fair, the trends point toward texture, lightweight fabrics, softness and a muted palette. Los Angeles-based B. Black & Sons is displaying wool with depth, like cavalry twill and a tropical-weight fabric. From France, AB Creations is emphasizing brown and blue this season, whereas Bel Maille is displaying its array of engineered stripes that can be custom-colored; for instance, pastel for seersucker and neutral tints in double-face jacquards. Pacific Coast Knitting is detecting strength in double knits and double-faced fabrics with a wrinkled texture. In trims, the move is toward a more polished look, as seen in the polyester chiffon flowers covered in sequins and beads from Monterey Park, Calif.-based Ria Design.

Textile vendors said they have noticed an improvement in business compared with last year.

“The business is slowly growing and we are optimistic that sales will increase for this new upcoming season with affordable price points and lower minimums,” said John Marshall, founder of Los Angeles-based JM International Group, which represents foreign textile companies such as France’s Darquer, Austria’s Hoh and Confetti from Turkey.

Textile vendors are trying a number of ways to grow their businesses.

Westminster Lifestyle Fabrics, a first-time exhibitor from Charlotte, N.C., is striving to attract a younger customer between the ages of 18 and 34 who subscribes to the do-it-yourself philosophy of making her own clothes and home decor. In addition to holding the fabric license for celebrity decorator Ty Pennington, Westminster wants to attract a youthful clientele with bright, bold, trendy designs made by its stable of designers, including Kaffe Fassett and Amy Butler. Westminster specializes in quilting and home decor, but it also offers voile, corduroy, knits and sateen substrates for the DIY doyenne.

“She’s calling her own shots and making her own things,” said Nancy Jewell, consumer marketing manager at Westminster.

Atlas International Textiles is targeting Los Angeles’ contemporary designers during its debut at the trade fair. Mirroring the contemporary shopper’s approach to “buy now, wear now” is Atlas’ strategy to cater to emerging designers who want to “buy now, make now.” Unlike other exhibitors who are displaying products for spring-summer 2012, Atlas is planning to exhibit fabrics for spring 2011, including silk from Valentino and double-faced wool from Botto Giuseppe.

“We introduce things as they become available on the market from the major houses,” said Atlas, adding that he posts no minimum amounts for sales. “We’re the kind of company that you can pick up now for the smaller designer. I’m a company that stocks fabric. I don’t like to make big mistakes, if I can put it that way. I make small mistakes so it doesn’t hurt us.”

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