By  on April 15, 2008

MIAMI BEACH — Fabrics on display at Material World focused on fashion, performance and the environment, often in one package.

"Innovation drives business," said Walter Tkach, director of sales at United Knitting, a fabric supplier in Cleveland, Tenn. "U.S. factories can't compete on price, but they can out-create the competitors."

Offering recycled consumer and postindustrial materials, United Knitting also is developing new combinations. One of the mill's latest products is Chitosan, which combines stretch, compression and antibacterial performance qualities with organic materials made from snow crabs.

Interest in organic fabrics led to a 50 percent sales increase for Los Angeles-based Hemp Traders. The company projects 50 percent gains for each of the next two years.

"The downside is cost," said Lawrence Serbin, president. "Midtier and high-end stores are interested and testing the fabric, but you won't find hemp in discounters."

"Reinvention" was the theme in the show's trend area, which included 15 exhibitors of 100 percent organic fabrics. Performance and fashion were emphasized equally. New applications ranged from Sommers Plastics' heat-sensitive fabric that changes color when exposed to body heat and Swarovski's Crystallized, which involves applying Xilion transfers onto leather and is used in fashion handbags, belts and jackets.

April Booth, national sales manager of Eclat, a Los Angeles-based fabric producer, said the weak economy had been a catalyst for product development. Although orders and sales are down 10 to 20 percent since December, performance, fashion and eco-friendly fabrics continue to drive business.

"New, exciting and different is what everybody wants now," she said.

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