By  on April 5, 2011

HONG KONG — Buyers and vendors at the Interstoff fair here lamented the escalating cost of raw materials such as cotton and silk, as well as higher manufacturing and shipping costs brought on by the steep price of oil.

Visitors to the three-day fair that ended March 18 increased 3 percent to 7,062, but the number of exhibitors dropped to 210 from 250 in the fall edition.

With prices on raw materials 40 to 100 percent higher than a year ago, exhibitors showed a wide variety of blends and synthetics to appeal to buyers who have been looking for alternatives to offset some of the price hikes. Synthetic blends and eco-minded products featured prominently in the show, which took place at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center. However, some pointed out that cotton blends need to be dyed twice, which adds cost.

Clothing makers have been experimenting with faded or “vintage’ looking designs that only need to dyed once. Companies have also tried moving some manufacturing out of China to lower-cost centers such as Indonesia or India, but with limited success because manufacturing costs have risen everywhere. The escalating prices of cotton, silk and other materials have also stoked interest in recycled fabrics, which can be cheaper.

Vendors said they were getting a lot of interest in “natural” colors, as well as floral prints and jacquard with a bit of metallic. Color themes tended to run toward a lighter palette, with textures. Digital prints were also getting increased interest.

Kowen Tam, a sales executive at Yagi, said he’s seeing increased demand for recycled cotton, the price of which has remained stable. Yagi has been offering recycled cotton textiles for three years now and the demand has doubled every year, he said. Most of the demand is coming from European buyers. U.S. buyers are interested, but haven’t been buying much as of yet, Tam said.

Organic cotton has also gotten popular as the price has stayed relatively steady and now costs only slightly more than conventional cotton. Tam noted that some Indian textile companies have pushed the price down to be on par with conventional cotton.

Another vendor at the fair, James Nam of Seoul-based NK Fabric, said he has seen strong initial demand for his new recycled polyester made from used PET bottles, even though the recycled material is about 20 percent more expensive than regular polyester.

Nam noted that Nike and H&M have started using recycled fabrics in some of their products. NK Fabric, which sells Tencel, cotton, spandex, nylon jacquard and other knits to companies such as H&M, Forever 21, Benetton and Victoria’s Secret, has seen a big increase in business this year, namely because of an increase in synthetic knits.

“Some buyers have dropped orders elsewhere” in favor of synthetics, said Nam.

But increased interest in blends and synthetics has not diminished demand for cottons or silks, vendors said, with the price of blends up, as well.

Meng Fei Xu of Huayan Digital Printing in China, which specializes in floral and patterned silk and silk blends, said prices for silk products are up 100 percent from a year ago and that the price of blends has gone up almost as much. Even with the price increases, Meng said business has been steady because demand has rebounded.

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