The global textile industry is adopting a survival mentality.

Europe’s largest and most influential textile fairs, including Première Vision, Texworld and Milano Unica, will kick off this month with the specter of worsening global economic conditions looming. Production and exports are down in Italy, France, China, India and Japan, and more pain is expected. As textile executives and trade show organizers prepare to face a smaller pool of buyers with dwindling budgets, the measure of success is now being judged simply by the ability to stay in business.

“It’s going to be a really tough year, and until the horse comes back to drink, there is little you can do, aside from reducing costs and preventing unemployment,” said Paolo Zegna, Milano Unica’s president, calling job preservation the industry’s aim for 2009. “Once the crisis is over, it will be hard to get the industry going again with less workers.”

Curd Hahnbück, chief executive officer at German mill Becker & Führen Tuche, which will be exhibiting at Munich Fabric Start, Ideabiella in Milan and PV in Paris, said, “Buyers are very reserved at the moment and everyone’s very noncommittal.”

The biggest challenge for European mills in particular, said Hahnbück, is that designers and manufacturers are looking for the cheapest possible fabrics.

“There is a small group ready to pay for high-quality fabrics, but the vast majority is looking to save money,” he said. “We haven’t lost any customers. The problem is that our customers don’t have any customers.”

Trade show organizers anticipate fewer exhibitors and weaker order-taking for those that do show.

Première Vision, which runs Feb. 10 to 13, has confirmed 684 exhibitors, a marked decline from the as many as 800 companies that filled the halls of the Parc d’Expositions north of Paris in years past.

“We anticipate fewer visitors this year but, in spite of the difficulty, we will not be reducing the sorts of services we provide or the promotion of the fair,” said Philippe Pasquet, PV’s ceo.

The event, which courts leading textile manufacturers, about 85 percent from Italy, has 24 new companies, Pasquet said.

“Even if the volume of sales is hit in the short term and there is a lull in the market, people still need to make clothes and collections,” said Pasquet.

Organizers of Texworld, which runs Feb. 9 to 12 in Paris, expects 650 exhibitors. However, there has been a noticeable decrease in the presence of Asian mills.

“Certain exhibitors from China have pulled out due to economic and financial reasons,” said Stephanie Keukert, director of textile fairs worldwide at Texworld.

The trade show is promoting eco-friendly fabrics, cotton, linens and wools, and Keuker said prices will be competitive.

“What we do is we prepare our customers to be prepared for tough times,” said Keukert.

Until demand revives in key Western countries, labor-intensive sectors like textiles and handicrafts, specifically in Asia and India, are expected to be among the hardest hit. Japan’s textile production in 2008 slumped 8.9 percent, according to preliminary data from the Ministry of Economy & Industry. Since Aug. 1, the yen has appreciated about 29 percent against the euro and almost 16 percent against the dollar.

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