By  on April 22, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Designers and apparel manufacturers combing the booths at the Los Angeles International Textile Show last week were on the hunt for novelty fabrics to help their product stand out as spending tightens.

"It works at retail when you can surprise your customer with something fresh and fun," said Beth McTavish, a principal in Vancouver-based manufacturer Halfmoon, who liked novel prints of abstract florals and monkeys on linens from Japan's Seven Islands.

McTavish was among the designers and manufacturers who traveled from as far as Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, New York and Washington to attend the trade expo here from April 14 to 16 at the California Market Center. A total of 225 exhibitors from countries including Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Switzerland and South Korea showed their spring 2009 collections.

Although metallics maintained their popularity, Marilyn Dinsmore, a manufacturer who owns Comet Clothing in Studio City, Calif., said she saw a lot of rich colors like electric blue in next spring's palette.

Agnes Yang, apparel product manager for Los Angeles-based footwear firm Keep Co., which introduced its contemporary clothing line for this fall, said she searched for sporty fabrics like cotton fleece and eye-catching patterns such as stripes and polkadots.

International exhibitors included 22 members of the Korea Textile Trade Association. Soo Hoon Chae, director of the government-sponsored organization, said he has been closely following the proposed free trade agreement between South Korea and the U.S., which requires approval by Congress. If the agreement were to pass, Korean textile companies would realize a reduction in their tariff rate that now ranges from 18 to 36 percent, he said.

"Korean manufacturers want to increase exports to the U.S., especially on the textile side," he said.

Some of the Korean high-tech offerings included Paka Textile Co. Ltd.'s two-tone chambray, fabrics with memory shape and cotton blends displaying a shiny leather finish. To maintain its sales with the dollar being weak, Paka Textile kept prices for spring 2009 fabrics consistent with a year ago, said brand manager Jay Jung.

"That's the only way to keep the business volume," he said.Switzerland's Schoeller Textil AG also emphasized technology in its Shape Group that included stretch blends of synthetic and natural fibers ideal for form-fitting clothes, and Spirit Group, which integrated metallics for bold and expressive optical effects. Making its first visit to the trade expo, Schoeller received a positive reception from designers of lifestyle apparel brands to Spirit Group's aluminum-coated polyester that resembled a metal screen as well as a ribbed nylon-metal blend that was transparent and reflective.

Despite the price, novel fabrics such as a Japanese tie-dye called shibori proved to be big sellers for Chesler & Associates. The most popular style was a burgundy silk dotted with irregularly edged circles at $40 a yard. Also getting attention was organic cotton shirting at about $7 a yard. Underscoring the growing sophistication of organic materials, the shirting fabric featured details such as raised pinstripes from French mill Siat & Lang.

Italy's Mectex took the weak dollar into consideration by tailoring its collection for the local market. Its double-face fabric that featured a different color on each side was a viable option for emerging designers on a budget because they essentially received two fabrics in one, said export area manager Simona Febbi. A version called Domaso Double is a polyester that's pink on one side and gray on the other at $11.50 a yard. Febbi said Mectex also brought less expensive alternatives. A customer who liked a cotton, silk and elastic blend that cost $12.80 a yard could opt for a similar-looking cotton and elastic blend for $8.60 a yard, sans the silk.

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