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NEW YORK — Fabric suppliers exhibiting at last week’s round of international textile fairs here have seen buyers slash the size of their orders, but sense the worst may have passed.
While few mills are seeing a spike in order writing from buyers, they have adjusted to the realities of doing business in an environment of prolonged global economic downturn. The expectation is that brands and retailers will play it safe with smaller orders in a bid to keep costs low and avoid excess inventory. Buyers also have been quick to reorder once they see a product working, and innovative, creative fabrics that can help an item stand out and entice customers continue to drive buyers.
At Première Vision Preview, which took place at the Metropolitan Pavilion July 15 and 16, exhibitors reported consistent traffic at their booths. The show featured 97 exhibitors, compared with 116 during last year’s edition, and attracted about 3,000 visitors.
Exhibitors said buyers continued to grapple with constrained budgets but seemed more upbeat about the future.
“I think the feeling in general is that it’s slow out there,” said Scott Henkus, account executive with Prosperity Denim. “But buyers still want to see something new and different.”
The show’s organizers are looking to boost the profile of both the New York and Paris editions through a new partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg was on hand to unveil the beginning of a relationship aimed at improving the show and helping designers. One of the biggest issues facing the Paris edition of Première Vision is its conflicting dates with New York Fashion Week.
“We all think Première Vision is very important and feel that we should all work together so we do not miss it, and that we are committed to making it a must,” said von Furstenberg. “It’s very much in the heart of every designer and it’s very much in the habit of every designer.”
Phillipe Pasquet, chief executive officer of Première Vision, said the overlapping dates will be a problem through 2010. In addition to tackling scheduling issues, Pasquet said the organizers also are working with the CFDA to develop special services for young designers.
“At the end of the day, we have the same objective: making the world of fashion and creativity as efficient as possible,” said Pasquet. “We have to find a way of having as many designers comfortable with the dates and our services.”
Pasquet acknowledged that the summer season had been “very tough” and that many in the industry had put their hopes on a recovery for winter collections. He was viewing last week’s show as a barometer for the upcoming Paris show.
“The outcome of this event will be very important on the kind of expectation we can have for the coming months,” he said. “Companies are still investing a lot in product development, so I’m still very impressed by that.”
At the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Texworld USA hosted 139 mills from July 14 to 16.
Richard Yuster, a sales representative with Huntington Park, Calif.-based Pacific Coast Knitting, said his company was having a strong show.
“There’s still a little pessimism,” said Yuster. “They’re being much more cautious. The first question is always ‘What’s the minimum?’ — even from big stores.”
Beas Cheekhooree, general manger of RS Denim, was part of a contingent of six mills from Mauritius looking to entice major labels back to manufacturing on the island.
“We are now trying to assemble a critical mass of garment manufacturers and bring them back to the region,” said Cheekhooree.
Many of the mills are touting new environmentally friendly facilities and manufacturing processes as a key component to their future success.
“I think Mauritius’ future lies in selling eco-friendly products,” said Cheekhooree.
Mauritius was hard hit by the lifting of global quotas this year. According to a World Trade Organization study released in spring 2008, between 2001 and 2006, the island’s apparel and textile industry shed 27,000 jobs. Apparel manufacturing fell to 49,373 jobs from 75,766 and textile positions declined to 6,826 from 8,180, the report said. The country’s apparel exports fell to $745 million in 2005 from $938 million in 2004, but rebounded to $772 million in 2006, accounting for more than one-third of overall export revenues.
Kingpins, the boutique show targeting the premium denim segment, ran at Skyline Studios July 14 and 15 and featured 23 mills.
Brian Meck, vice president of sales and marketing and co-owner of Pennsylvania-based FesslerUSA, said while his company had experienced difficulties, buyers’ attitudes seemed to be improving. In order to ride out the downturn, the company went to a four-day work week in June and its managers and owners took voluntary pay cuts. However, large brands and retailers looking to place smaller orders and get them faster have presented an opportunity for the firm, which makes private label tops, tanks, shorts, skirts and leggings in the contemporary, junior, misses’ and children’s markets for customers such as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Urban Outfitters.
“Stores that might have been too big for a U.S. supplier before now are here,” said Meck. “Small orders for them are great for us.”
The broader business seems to be returning as well, according to Meck.
“So far it seems like people are a lot more optimistic than they were two or three months ago,” he said. “July will be the strongest it’s been since January. We’ve seen a steady decrease in business throughout the year and now we’re on the way back up where both July and August are going to be good months for us.”
Exhibitors at Kingpins offered a range of products designed to lower denim’s overall environmental impact. For most, these products tended to represent a small portion of their business. Suppliers have embraced the idea of sustainability, but educating buyers and consumers remains an issue.
“Two years ago, organic was a big thing,” said Banu Akgun Acun, senior sales representative with Turkey’s Denim Village. “These days, sustainable is the new thing, although still some people don’t understand this idea. But sustainable is growing [in momentum].”