By  on April 1, 2008

HONG KONG — Organizers of Interstoff Asia Essential began repositioning the fair toward eco-friendly textiles last year and this edition saw the results of those moves.

For the 8,000 attendees and 2,000 exhibitors at the show, which ended its three-day run on March 14, the highlight was the introduction of a new eco-labeling system that clearly identifies fabrics that have eco-friendly raw materials, manufacturing techniques and finishing processes.

Lewis Briggs, general manager of California-based start-up brand Bumboo, said the new labels and an array of organic textiles fit the bill.

"We're looking for reliable sources and partners for bamboo and organic fabrics," Briggs said. "I like these eco labels. It seems there is a lot of recycled stuff, which isn't what we're looking for, but is good to see."

Bumboo, which plans to enter the spa market and to make lifestyle clothing for men, women and children, is in the process of developing prototypes.

"Bamboo is really our inspiration," Briggs said. "It provides shelter and food, and now clothing, too. It's quite remarkable."

Hong Kong-based freelance designer Jessica Mitchell, who has worked for Triumph, Wacoal and Topshop, said, "It's all about eco at the moment. But buying eco-fabrics and sorting out who is really organic can be a minefield. I would really like to support fair trade, too, but it's a concept that isn't really understood in this part of the world."

Messe Frankfurt, which organizes the fair, did its best to help retailers and vendors with a series of seminars on the organic theme. Hong Lee, a representative for Asia Pacific of Control Union Certifications, told a crowd about the complexities of certification for retailers looking to add "organic" to their hangtags.

"Organic is not a gimmick anymore; it has become a strategy for a lot of retailers," said Lee.

Beyond the overriding importance of eco, three major fashion trends emerged for spring 2009:

l Clarity: Includes sorbet-inspired colors and an array of floral prints and micro-stripes.

l Patina: More romantic, earthy shades and subtle additions of silver or gold.l Orientalism: Featuring bright rich hues of the Middle East, India and Africa, and luxurious fabrics like shantung, taffeta and velvet.

The fair also included the first-time participation of Japan Fashion Week-Japan Creation. Akira Kawashima, director of JFW-JC, said promoting expensive Japanese products is not easy in the current economic environment, domestically and abroad.

"Maybe we have to think more seriously about 'work share' in Asia," he said about finding regional partners. "I don't think we'll have integrated manufacturing in one place, but perhaps processing in Shanghai and planning and finishing in Japan."

Kawashima added that in order to attract more buyers, "We need to enhance the trend aspect and the quality aspects — like the multifunctional and eco-friendly qualities of our fabrics."

Taiwanese companies such as Shiuan Jia Industrial Co. are already working with the Japanese to make advanced textiles like Tenmous, which features such permanent functional aspects as deodorization, antibacterial properties and moisture repellency.

"Our market is usually Japan, but right now buyers are concerned about price," said Jerry Long, sales representative from Shiuan Jia Industrial. "We have to focus on quality and delivery to compete and to look toward new markets like China."

Soo Hoon Chae, director of the Korean Textile Trade Association, said, "Because we just cannot compete with China and India, the Korean industry changed its emphasis from making low- to midpriced fabrics to making mid- to high-priced textiles. Now the decrease in the U.S. economic situation means that most Koreans think they have to put [emphasis] on value and on looking at other markets. So, we're going to Europe, to Russia and so on."

Besides looking for eco-friendly textiles, buyers were in the market for paler colors and understated patterns.

Ashutosh Kumar, a representative of Banaras Silk, one of two Indian exhibitors at Interstoff, said, "Buyers are looking for subtle colors and Oriental patterns, not like the heavy embroidery we had two years back."

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