By  on April 12, 2005

NEW YORK — Textile firms preparing for the International Fashion Fabric Exhibition next week are trying to cope with intensifying competition from abroad and retail consolidation at home.

These pressures have made for tough choices for smaller textiles firms, which make up much of IFFE’s exhibitor base. Some have decided to stay in tight market sectors, such as making goods for the shrinking base of domestic manufacturers, while others are aligning themselves internationally.

Melissa Gibbs, president of M&M Industries Inc., based here, said domestic manufacturers are “dying by the droves....Because we’ve had to diversify more from the domestic end of the business, we’ve made an alliance with a mill in China, and we’ve been doing a lot of corduroy and cotton fabrics from them.”

The alliance has allowed M&M to approach larger manufacturers and trade in completed garments, as well as just fabrics. The move was forced by the continuing consolidation at retail, such as the merger of Sears and Kmart, and the Federated Department Stores planned acquisition of the May Department Stores Co.

“These big chains, they keep consolidating and they keep getting bigger, and they keep demanding more from the manufacturer,” she said.

On the other end of the supply chain, the quotas that restricted global trade in apparel and textiles for decades among nations of the World Trade Organization were eliminated Jan. 1, creating an onslaught of merchandise from China and bringing sweeping change to textile and apparel sourcing, even if temporary safeguard restraints are placed on Chinese imports.

“We’re buying a lot of goods overseas,” said Bernie Gardner, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Impala Industries. “We buy a lot of fabric from [South] Korea, Taiwan and now from China.”

Impala sells a range of fabrics, including cotton and rayon.

“I really held back on major purchases of Chinese goods because there have been some horrendous problems at the docks,” Gardner said.

Even while getting some lower-priced materials from China, Impala has kept its focus on start-up apparel companies, many of which make smaller orders.

“There’s always some new innovative [manufacturer] coming up and they come to us because we’re not going to stick them with a 5,000-yard minimum,” Gardner said. “Our life’s blood is new customers.”Silk Safari Inc. also concentrates on domestic manufacturers.

“The big people can go and do anything they want, the small ones, they cannot afford to,” said manager Paul Raphael. “We stock all the fabric here, so if people want 50 yards, 100 yards, we have it.”

Exhibitors selling other services and products will also be vying for the attention of IFFE attendees.

Faraj Inc., based in Fairview, N.J., specializes in embellishments such as embroidery, glitter, beading and laser cutting.

“We developed a new beading technique where all the beading can be done domestically,” said Zackary Faraj, president.

Since it has traditionally been a labor-intensive process, beading is usually done overseas, often in India and China. Faraj’s new process involves a glue that bonds the fabric to the beads that can be placed with computerized precision.

“We are competing…with a lot of Chinese production,” Faraj said. “It’s quick and looks very rich, and its affordable for domestic production.”

Recent trends have helped business. Faraj said, “As far as embellishment, it’s been a very strong year.”

IFFE, which will feature about 300 exhibitors, kicks off its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here on Monday. About 5,000 buyers are expected to attend the show, which is produced by Advanstar Communications Inc.

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