By  on March 8, 2005

NEW YORK — Manufacturers in South Korea, faced with the prospect of increased competition with China, are focusing their efforts on high-tech products for which they won’t have to go head-to-head with their larger neighbor.

That was a key theme at the Korea Preview show, which ran Feb. 23-24 at the Metropolitan Pavilion here.

Jay Abel, director of Jungwoo Biotecs, a Seoul-based knitter, said his company was focusing on fabrics made of cellulosic fibers, such as rayon, acetate, lyocell and bamboo-based strands. These fibers are derived from natural materials.

“Bamboo is naturally odor-resistant…shirts can be worn for three or four days and no odor,” he said, adding that bamboo fibers also produce fabrics with a smooth, cool hand.

Only a few species of bamboo can be processed into fibers, which means the supply of the fibers is “very limited, so it’s well-suited for a luxury product,” Abel said.

The specter of increased competition with China now that textile and apparel quotas have been dropped by the World Trade Organization has his company focused on higher-end goods, he said.

“China is a big competitor, everyone is concerned about that,” Abel said. “Our approach is to do things that you can’t get in China.”

Charles Noh, director of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, which is also known as KOTRA and which organized the show, said, “In the long run, China may be dominant in textiles in the U.S.…That’s why Korean companies are focusing more on their technical advantage and research and development.”

Several of the 54 exhibitors at the show also noted they had invested heavily in automation, which made their plants cost-efficient.

Sung-Rae Cho, general manager of Beak Woo Co., said his weaving facility in Daegu produces about 100,000 yards of wool and silk fabric a month with only 12 staffers. Similarly, Abel said Biotecs produces a comparable amount of fabric with eight employees.

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