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.”

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