By  on October 25, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Textile and trim vendors responded to the recession-influenced demands of designers and manufacturers at the Los Angeles International Textile Show by offering lower-priced fabrics, and novelty and trendy items that could answer the value-added equation.

At the three-day expo that ended Oct. 12 at the California Market Center, designers from fashion brands including Trina Turk, Rory Beca, BCBG Max Azria, Vince, Citizens of Humanity, Black Halo and Hudson Jeans perused textile offerings for the fall-winter 2012 collection. Among the top trends were neon colors, crochet, Navajo-inspired prints, texture and fur.

Pricing was more important than ever.

“Since the onslaught of imports, we’ve been on a price diet,” said Kathy Fee, merchandiser for G&G Multitex Inc. in Los Angeles. “Even better-priced designers are sensitive [to pricing]. To attract the middle class business, they have to be price-sensitive, too.”

Los Angeles’ Spirit Lace Enterprise, which sells lace made in China, said the price spectrum is getting weighted in the extremes so that customers want either the lowest price or the highest for the best quality.

“The middle price people don’t want,” said Iris Hsieh, Spirit Lace’s office manager. “It’s either high or low.”

Some attendees were willing to pay for quality. Panalink Co. said 20 percent of the people it saw would shell out $20 a yard for sequined mesh and silk digitally printed with images of photorealistic flowers and watercolor sea plants. Ro Han Fabric received positive responses to its pleated foil made of polyester and spandex that costs $8 a yard.

“They need quality and design and service,” said Ro Han president B.H. Roh.

Panalink and Ro Han Fabric were among some 20 South Korean exhibitors in the pavilion sponsored by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency, or KOTRA. One prominent topic of discussion was the recent passage of the free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea. According to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, South Korea is currently the fourth largest market for U.S.-made finished apparel, behind Canada, the U.K. and Japan. From 2000 to 2010, U.S. apparel exports to South Korea have increased five times over, the AAFA said.

Premy Tex Ltd. has already experienced the aftermath of the South Korean Free Trade Agreement, which was signed by President Obama on Friday. Two New York customers that had placed orders two days before the trade pact’s passage later asked the Seoul-based company to delay the shipment of their products to next January.

“They want to get some benefit from the FTA,” said Premy Tex president Premy Eom. “People are willing to wait two months [for a delivery] instead of getting it immediately.”

At the trade fair, novelty trim and fabrics were popular. Los Angeles’ Trim Expo offered mesh embellished with sequins, beads and fake fur for $4 to $7.50 a yard. G&G Multitex knitted cotton, rayon and polyester into Navajo-style jacquards and Missoni-inspired stripes selling for $1.95 to $5 a yard. London’s Liberty Art Fabrics digitally printed its signature floral drawings on silk chiffon, satin and crepe de chine that cost $30 a meter for sampling. France’s Solstiss tinted polyamide lace in neon yellow, pink and orange for $44 a yard. Hong Kong’s Wai Hung Weaving Factory Ltd. made its debut at the show with 15-millimeter silver Lurex rope priced up to $3 a yard. Los Angeles-based United Leather, which exhibited at the expo for the first time in more than 10 years, offered woven leather priced around $6 a square foot.

Even with the novelty items, designers were buying conservatively.

“Four years ago, people were sampling five prints. Now, people are being really conservative, sampling one or two,” said Gina Valdez, West Coast representative for Liberty Art Fabrics.

As designers modified the way they conceived and produced clothes, so did Los Angeles’ New Line Trim. It appealed to manufacturers by providing extra pieces that can give value to a garment. For instance, it displayed skinny neon belts and braided fake leather belts that average $2 apiece.

“People want to save money everywhere they can,” said Mathias Ruiz, a representative for New Line Trim. “Where do they cut? They cut in trims. Designers like to put little details on the garment, so they use belts. Belts are doing really well.”

In response to designers and manufacturers who wanted lower prices, textile vendors cut costs by replacing silk with polyester. This strategy didn’t sit well with Los Angeles-based designer Yotam Solomon, who was searching for natural fibers.

“There’s polyester everywhere,” he lamented. “It’s really hard to avoid synthetics.”

Michelle Jonas, founder of Michelle Jonas Travelwear in Los Angeles, took several factors into consideration when she shopped for stretch velvet, cashmere and printed paisley on silk. Aside from quality and pricing, which she budgets at less than $30 a yard, the first question she asks vendors is how long it will take to get fabrics for sampling. Having textiles in stock is “so important,” she said. She even chose a Los Angeles-based vendor over a South Korean competitor because the former had the matte jersey she coveted in stock.

“We can cut pretty close to the deadline for the samples we do because we do everything in-house [at our factory],” she said.

Keeping inventory in stock has been a good strategy for Los Angeles’ R.C. International Fabrics, which caters to designers and manufacturers that produce clothes ordered by retailers at the last minute. Its warehouse stores more than 3 million yards of fabric, ranging from slub denim to dobby chambray to lace.

“That’s a key part of my business: in stock,” said Ray Gabbay, a principal at R.C. International. “People don’t want to order and wait two months for fabric to arrive. They need immediate goods right now.”

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