SHANGHAI — Chinese buyers came to the fall editions of Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics and Chic Shanghai, which ran concurrently earlier this month, to find quality and eco-friendly products.

Intertextile Shanghai is a giant fair, attracting exhibitors from around the world because of both its size and proximity to Chinese manufacturing. This year’s fall edition featured 4,538 exhibitors from 32 countries and regions, with the gross area of the fair increasing 6 percent compared with 2016.

“This show is more like looking for a specific thing and going to find it. You see more innovation at Première Vision or Milano Unica. The prices are higher but it’s more elevated. Here, some of the functional fabrics are interesting, but not groundbreaking,” said Michelle Klein, who works in fabric R&D for American Eagle Outfitters and has visited Intertextile about half a dozen times.

“I source for multiple product categories so the fair is good to see a broad scope of what’s going on in the market. There’s a lot here — sometimes a little too much.”

The consensus has always been that Intertextile wasn’t necessarily the place for international buyers to come for inspiration, or for international exhibitors to expect a lot of orders — Chinese culture means trade fairs here are more often relationship-building exercises than overt opportunities for commerce — but the shift in China’s economy from investment-driven to consumption led is shifting the nature of the fashion and textiles industry and, in turn, shifting the nature of fair’s such as Intertextile and Chic Shanghai.

Increasingly, it’s Chinese brands and buyers drawing exhibitor interest.

“It’s true that Intertextile has a stronger focus on sourcing than other similar fairs in Europe. However, in particular, the Chinese buyers we meet here have bigger potential than the European brands or European sourcing offices located in China because the local market here is much stronger,” explained Omer Murat Sozeri, sales manager ORTA Anadolu, a Turkish denim manufacturer exhibiting at Intertextile.

“Brands like Semir, Me & City, Meters/bonwe and Yishion have 2,000 to 5,000 stores in China, which the international brands don’t have. Therefore, they are very strong and there are many brands like this in China. They all come to Intertextile for design, inspiration and sourcing while overseas brands come here mainly for sourcing.”

Karel Páral, commercial development director of exhibitor Preciosa Components, noted that while international brands such as Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana all had sourcing managers at the show, the real excitement for them was the increase in quality of domestic buyers, who were willing to pay a premium for high-quality products.

“Every year we can see that more of our target customers are coming. They are the customers we want to see, which are the high-fashion brands from both local and international. After two days, we’ve met more than 200 buyers including fashion brands, garment producers, OEM / ODM partners, overseas brands, or sourcing managers of the overseas brands,” he said.

“We’ve been through some very big challenges in the past few years, but now we see that the trend is coming back and also the customers are focusing more in the quality. They are more willing to invest more money for the better quality which is good. Right now in China, we can see the positive changes. People are investing more money, buying better quality products.”

Sustainability was a buzzword at both fairs. According to Wendy Wen, senior general manager of Intertextile organizer, Messe Frankfurt (HK) Ltd., innovation and eco-friendly fabrics will continue to be a focus moving forward.

“Walking the halls this year, I was encouraged to see an increasing number of innovative products and solutions. A noticeable trend, too, was the large number of companies offering eco-friendly products and technologies. Innovation and sustainability in particular will continue to be a strong focus of both our spring and autumn editions next year.”

This trend is largely being driven in China by the government’s desire to take a world-leading role in environmental stewardship, as evidenced by President Xi Jinping’s vocal support for the Paris agreement to curb climate change in May this year.

This stance has led to genuine and, to this point, sustained pressure on manufacturers to clean up their act to reign in China’s air, soil and water pollution. For textile and garment manufacturers in particular, this has meant a crackdown on dirty dyeing practices and regular inspections from government teams to ensure compliance.

According to Omer Murat Sozeri, there was also a huge rise in interest from visitors, in particular those from Hong China and China.

“This trend was here last year, but it was just about 10 percent of the customers requesting sustainable products, and now, it’s about 50 percent of the customers requesting more sustainable products such as the water, energy and the chemical saving, BCI, organic cotton,” he said.

At Chic Shanghai too, the desire for sustainability was felt, alongside a broader desire for quality fashion that, according to Chen Dapeng, head of Chic and executive vice president of the China National Garment Association, is the product of China’s much touted “consumer upgrade” as higher living standards and evolving lifestyles and demographic factors drive desire for different and more varied fashion.

“Demographic change has made the post-Eighties and post-Nineties generations the core consumption force in the market. They have a broad vision and a high level of aesthetics with a desire for individual expression, which provided a tremendous impetus for the consumption upgrade,” he said.

“This consumption upgrade has had an impact on the fashion industry and poses a huge challenge to traditional apparel enterprises who are based on the conventional way of supply, while [allowing] innovative enterprises to thrive. This consumption change will encourage more pioneering brands to enter the market [and] is the driving force for the development of the industry, which in turn will promote consumption to upgrade even further.”

In total, the fall edition of Chic Shanghai welcomed a total of 65,722 visitors (pass-holders to Chic Shanghai and Intertextile are free to visit both fairs, which are both held concurrently at Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center) and featured 783 exhibitors from 16 countries and regions, presenting 815 fashion brands.

China’s nationwide burgeoning of multibrand stores and e-commerce has opened the door for many smaller fashion brands to enter the China market without the level of investment required for a stand-alone brick and mortar roll-out, but even with all the talk about the potential this trend, along with the “consumer upgrade” might have for local and regional designers, for the buyers at Chic, European brands were still top of their wish list.

“This year we have built a team specifically dealing with the cooperation with European brands. At Chic we want to introduce ourselves and get in touch with European brands,” Mu Nan, director of Tmall’s Fashion Channel said.

Likewise, Jiang Mingming, managing director of Waterstone Showroom, one of China’s longest-running showrooms, was in the market for European brands.

“Every year at Chic we are looking for European designer brands. We used to fly all the way to the fashion shows in Paris to place orders, but now we have discovered many excellent designer brands at Chic with whom we can directly establish a closer relationship,” he said.

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