By  on February 10, 2009

NEW YORK — A withering economic outlook and a day of inclement weather left mills exhibiting at a pair of international textile shows here last week with a diminished pool of buyers coming to their booths.

Mills exhibiting at Texworld USA, which ran Feb. 3 to 5 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, said foot traffic had been decent throughout the show’s run, but most acknowledged seeing fewer total buyers perusing fabric racks and less representatives from the big-name brands and retailers. A scheduling conflict at the convention center forced the show’s organizer, Messe Frankfurt, to host Texworld USA two weeks later than the traditional New York textile week. Organizers have said future editions will return to running concurrently with PV Preview and Prefab: The Supima Premium Fabric Show.

However, the date change, coupled with the current economic environment, seems to have taken a toll on the show. Texworld USA featured 96 exhibitors, representing an almost 40 percent decline compared with the 158 exhibitors who presented collections during the January 2008 edition. The show’s organizers said their unaudited attendance figures showed only a slight decline in visitors.

Tina Lee, assistant general manager of overseas sales and marketing at Huafu, China’s largest mélange yarn company, said buyers were focused on finding special materials to lure reluctant buyers.

“In their minds, to reduce price is not the way to encourage consumption by the consumers,” said Lee. “But, if you have something neat or something special, it will be a better way to encourage them.”

Huafu is pushing environmentally friendly products for spring, including organic and recycled cotton, and recycled polyester.

“For organic cotton, yes, the price will be a little bit higher than a normal cotton,” said Lee. “But we also have recycled cotton and poly, which is priced the same as normal.”

Victor Almeida, a textile engineer and sales representative with Buhler Quality Yarns Corp., said he’s seen a noticeable drop in buyer interest in organic or environmentally friendly products.

“I would say maybe a year or a year-and-a-half ago we were hearing a lot of requests for organic,” said Almeida. “This year, I just had one person mention it.”

David Sasso, vice president of sales at Buhler, said he anticipates that 2009 will be a “horrible year, but there are pockets of opportunity.”

One of those opportunities is for brands and retailers to look at bringing their sourcing operations closer to their home markets. Sasso said he’s seen renewed interest from buyers looking to place smaller orders or reorders with quick turnaround. It’s a trend that works to Buhler’s benefit, since its U.S. facilities are located outside the Atlanta area. But brands and retailers aren’t as familiar with their sourcing options in the Western Hemisphere.

“That’s the biggest problem. People have not focused on this region at all and they don’t know who the players are,” said Sasso. “I would challenge every retailer and brand to reengineer their products and look at their true costs.”

A full day of snow kept buyers away from the first day of Korean Preview, which had a two-day run that ended Wednesday at the Metropolitan Pavilion. The pace of foot traffic did not pick up significantly on the show’s second day, according to the mills. Still, most expressed a commitment to making inroads in the American market.

“The U.S. market is the biggest market in the world, so we can not stop — we keep trying,” said Andy Kim, a manager with Startex.

While some buyers searched for special items, most were focused on price.

“They just want the lower-price thing,” Kim said. “That’s the most important thing we see.”

Gang-Suk Suh, executive director of the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency, said the South Korean textile industry is pushing to distinguish itself from lower-cost Chinese goods by stressing quality and better environmental performance.

“[South] Korean companies are developing new items of similar qualities as European companies,” said Suh. “We’re targeting the high end. We cannot compete with Chinese goods anymore. I think we have big hope for the future.”

According to World Trade Organization figures, South Korea falls behind the U.S. in textile exports, but is ahead of places such as India, Turkey and Pakistan. For 2007, South Korea exported $10.37 billion in textiles and claimed a global market share of 4.4 percent, down from an 8.1 global market share in 2000.

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