MAKERS TARGET L.A.’S RICH POTENTIAL

Byline: Stuart Chirls

NEW YORK — Don’t call Los Angeles the “other” U.S. fabric market.
The way many domestic textile suppliers see it, Southern California is a pastiche of apparel manufacturing that teems with business possibilities far from Seventh Avenue.
That’s why more than 300 exhibitors will once again pack the California Mart from May 5 to 7 for the spring edition of the Los Angeles International Textile Show, the fabric fair that twice a year acts as a magnet for apparel companies in most of the western U.S.
“It’s a good show,” said Jeffrey White, president of S. Shamash & Sons, a silk importer based in New York. “We see lots of executives and designers of apparel companies there.”
White, whose company is also a stalwart at Manhattan’s International Fashion Fabric Exhibition, pointed out that California has several built-in advantages over other shows that make it appealing to textile executives.
“The growth of the apparel manufacturing industry in California has been greater, I think, than the growth of the overall U.S. market,” he said. “There are far more start-up companies here and more manufacturing growing because of the bigger labor pool. The mix of Mexican and Asian labor has worked out well, so there are more sewing factories. We sell more into the California market than into the New York market… Business has been very, very good in California for the past four to five years.”
Form-fitting, sexy looks are on tap in Shamash’s spring 1998 line. “We will be showing a lot of sheer fabrics,” said White, “including 10 different georgettes, Lycra spandex and polyester blends and silk blends.” Shamash will also be showing a collection of cotton suiting fabrics for the first time. “We are expanding into cottons. It looks fresh. There has been a lot of cotton shown in Europe, and white is going to be a big color for next spring.”
As uncertain as apparel retailing can be, White can see the advantages of a trade show. “Our position has always been, if you make one sale, it’s been worth it. Customers don’t have time to see individual suppliers. The L.A. show centralizes a decentralized industry. I love going out to California.”
That opinion was echoed at Lida Stretch.
“Our regular customers know us and know what we do, but some [manufacturers] go off into different markets, and when that happens it can be easy to lose touch with certain industry segments,” said Jon Adelman, president. “The show is a good way to acquainted, meet new accounts and see if you can find some common ground in a business with so many diverse contributors.”
Adelman said the changing dynamics of the apparel supply chain are rapidly making trade shows like L.A. a key piece in the business puzzle. “If you are an inventory house, than you can sell a lot of goods to anyone, anywhere,” Adelman said. “But if you’re a make-to-order manufacturer, as we are, then you have to get acquainted with people and try to build relationships.”
Lida has been a regular exhibitor since the show started in 1993. “It [the region] is a large part of the market. A lot of business is done in L.A.,” Adelman said. “You see people from the West Coast, from Mexico… It’s a good way to see a lot of people.”
Lida will lead its offerings with synthetic fibers in microdeniers, structured doubleknits and top weight styles in nylon and polyester Lycra blends as well as textured constructions of crepe, pique and jersey. “There is also an assortment of new prints we are working on that work off the well-known geometric and floral themes,” said Adelman, adding that Lida will push fabrics featuring flocking, puff printing and heat transfers aimed at the junior market. “We hope the women’s contemporary people will find something to like, too,” he said.
Adelman, like other executives, is hoping sales will get a jumpstart in L.A. “There has been a little bit of a lull in sales the past several weeks. I’m not worried; there always seems to be a dip in April sales. It’s an in-between period when everyone is waiting for [retailers’] open-to-buy to open up. But our shipments are still strong.”
One cause for concern is the timing of the show, which coincides with market week in New York. “The principals of many apparel companies are going to be in New York at the same time as the L.A. show,” noted Pearl Ann Marco, principal of de Marco California Fabrics, a New York converter, “but I don’t think that the fabric people will all necessarily be here.” She said, “They don’t all go to New York.”
Moreover, Marco said, the ever-changing needs of the California market, particularly in juniors, tend to keep things hopping no matter what. “The timing is always right in L.A. They could have a fabric show there once a month. There are a lot of factories, and the junior market always has to have something new. They don’t work six months ahead, they work right up to the minute. They don’t sample — they buy. When we get an order we deliver it in two weeks, and it’s in the stores in three weeks. We must be there.”
De Marco will show prints on sheers such as georgette, chiffon, and organza. Said Marco, “The sheer look continues to be important, and organza is coming on strong.” She added that her line will also lean heavily on brocades for both pants and jackets, a nod to the increasingly popular unisex look.
A West Coast converter noted the Los Angeles show offers an opportunity to work more closely with established accounts. “For us, going to New York is more about getting new customers and trying to grow our business exponentially,” said Elizabeth Gogola, a designer for Shara-Tex, a converter based in Vernon, Calif. “Here, we see L.A. as an established show and we tend to see more of our current customers. So I do a lot more work on a one-to-one basis, something that can’t be done in New York because the city is more hectic.”
Shara-Tex will feed the growing interest in nylon with a Tactel group with Lycra that includes jacquards, pointelles and other sheer, feminine styles rendered in bright, spring-like colors. While nylon and other synthetics are pacing sales, Gogola noted that more and more customers are requesting a switch back to cotton fabrics. “It’s sort of a break in the trend,” she said, “but it’s an item-based business rather than a whole group: jacquards, stripes, and other fun patterns. We’re just beginning to see more blends by request.”
While nylon is helping make what’s old new again, Shara-Tex is looking to give an edge to existing styles. Said Gogola, “We have been updating fabrics we are already doing, such as ribs and jacquards, by adding Lycra to give the fabrics a little more life and recovery. Since I’m only adding a very little Lycra, we can still keep the price in the middle range.”

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