SUPPLIERS EYE ORDERS AND INSPIRATION AT WEST COAST EXPO
Byline: Stuart Chirls
NEW YORK — Since its start 4 1/2 years ago, the semiannual Los Angeles International Textile Show has become a nerve center for the far-flung ranks of West Coast apparel makers who from Oct. 27 to 29 will again help turn the California Mart into the country’s biggest fabric showroom.
Approximately 300 exhibitors — about the same number as last year — and 6,000 visitors from the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Asia and Europe are expected to fill four floors of the Mart for the upcoming edition.
Stretch constructions and novelties will take the spotlight, turned out in deep, rich palettes or with high tech treatments that add much-needed value in a hyper-competitive market.
“Because it is the nature of Los Angeles and the West Coast, where the manufacturing business is so spread out, people generally will not come to your showroom,” said Debra Cobb, director of merchandising for Ge-Ray, a major producer of stretch fabrics based in New York. “But they will come for this show, it is that important.”
“There is a terrific amount of talent in California, and it gives us an opportunity not only to sell, but to learn so much,” said Amber Brookman, president of the Brookwood Cos., also with its headquarters here. “They are definitely on the edge of what’s new. If it’s in L.A., then it’s different.”
Executives said that the free-spirited nature of many West Coast apparel manufacturers has been a boon to their business. Indeed, they pointed out that the origins of trends and themes that show up in mainstream collections across the country can often be traced to the region’s raft of designers who serve the fashion-forward contemporary and junior markets.
“It’s a different kind of show than some of the other events held in this country,” Brookman said. “It’s the only one we bring our development people to. The West Coast manufacturers comprise a very creative and directional market, and you get that California ‘feeling,’ for want of a better description.”
Brookwood will show an assortment of high tech fabrics in L.A. “What we have really seen take off are the microdenier concepts,” Brookman said. Those include new, dull Cordura nylon products in 500 denier for bottomweight goods and 1000 denier for jackets and other outerwear. Both are priced from $4.50 to $5. “We are also doing a ripstop nylon and polyester blend,” added Brookman, with prices starting at $3.50.
Brookwood’s West Coast customer list includes manufacturers in the women’s sportswear, surf and junior market segments. “The market there seems to be in really good shape,” she said. “Our sales there have been growing every year.”
Heading to L.A., Brookman was confident that business would only continue to improve. “I would say that as far as the cycle of retail apparel sales is concerned, there are at least a couple of strong years still to come. I might be going out on a limb, but I think we are only in the first year of a really strong market. But the reasons are often less exact than we would like to believe. If people are happy and feel like buying an extra swimsuit, then they will do it. As the world goes, so goes our business.”
Performance fabrics remain a vital part of the West Coast apparel manufacturers’ assortment, where hard-core activewear continues to cross over into mainstream categories.
“L.A. is always a strong market for us,” said Richard Azeff, director of sales for Agmont, a large Canadian mill. “There are a lot of key activewear players from Northern California and up into the Pacific Northwest who shop the L.A. show. Their influence is increasingly felt in nonactive categories. We also sell into the intimate apparel and swim areas, as well as better men’s and golf. Even in the areas that aren’t particularly large for us, we still offer a lot of different fabrics.”
Among the new products Agmont will offer in L.A. are mercerized fabrics for the better women’s market. “It is a process for all-cotton fabrics that gives an exceptionally ‘clean’ face, very intense colors and a silky hand,” said Azeff. “We spent the money to install the equipment knowing that the process would add value to our product line. There is always pressure to be competitive on prices, and I expect that margins will stay about the same as they have been in ’97. There will be no dramatic change in prices either,”
In Los Angeles, Agmont will show about 30 percent of the 2,000 styles it manufactures, ranging from plain cotton fabrics starting from $1.40, up to microfiber Intera moisture management-treated styles, priced to $11.
“If you want to develop economies of scale that will help you compete effectively, then you have to offer customers a diverse product line,” Azeff said. “Our niche has always been to turn out high-quality fabrics in any volume that we deliver on time. What we go after are the long-term programs and relationships with apparel manufacturers.” He added that Agmont is projecting a repeat of the double-digit sales growth that it posted in ’97.
“It’s just as important for us to talk with the West Coast accounts, see what’s going on in their minds, as it is to sell to them,” said Cobb of Ge-Ray, which maintains an office in Los Angeles. “Our California accounts are very important to us. They have a great flair for what’s going on in fashion. Our creative staff travels to the West Coast several times a year.”
A vertical stretch specialist, Ge-Ray will show an array of newly developed products. Narrow microdenier matte-finish nylon has been added to its Chamoni group targeted at the better-and-up rtw, swim, intimate apparel and active segments, in ribs, stripes, jersey and dozens of other constructions.
Les Pyrenees is a collection built around Lenzing Fibers’ Modal brand high wet modulus rayon. “I saw a lot of Modal with Lycra spandex in Europe, especially for intimate apparel. Intimate is a huge market that we are targeting. There is a swing back to fabrics with a spun or natural hand, and Modal has a silky feel. I think the time is right.” Ge-Ray will initially offer Modal in Lycra and cotton blends, in jerseys, ribs and piques, all priced for the better and higher markets.
The mill is holding prices steady, “although yarn suppliers are trying to raise the prices on some of our key components,” said Cobb, referring to DuPont’s planned hikes on Lycra. “We are a Lycra house, and we do a great deal of business there. Even so, we won’t try to make things difficult for our customers. The bottom line is, we want to work with people. Costs are never going to go down.”
Ge-Ray is just one of several fabric suppliers either offering products or developing programs using Modal rayon. It will be joined by Horizon Textiles, Shamrod and Rock International at the Los Angeles show.
“L.A. is an innovative market, and trends begin out there,” said Karen Puffer, Modal product manager for Lenzing in the U.S. “There are specific situations in both the knitted and woven areas where fabric makers are looking for specific performance qualities, such as a very soft hand, fine yarn counts, or extra strength for washability. Modal offers all of those.”
Stretch and novelty styles will highlight the presentation of Etnix New York, a converter that is marking its third year at the show.
“We are doing acetate stretch, nylon stretch and novelties in solids, prints, stripes and jacquards,” said Rami Hahitti, principal. “Velour in cross-dyed and burnouts will also be key for us.”
Etnix is opening a new division called Odeal that will target the mass market, with fabrics priced at $4 and under. “We will show yarn-dyed stripes, cotton, cotton and polyester, and nylon,” Hahitti said. “But there will be no stretch, in order to keep the price under $4.”
Hahitti said that he liked the show’s format, which utilizes showroom-like closed booths. “That helps you represent your line in a more normal way than at some shows,” he said. “You can show to four or five people, but if you want to talk with someone privately, there is space to do that, too. It’s a sizable space and a quality facility.”
Trend forecasting has become as big a business as the fabrics themselves, and several well-known services will exhibit in Los Angeles. “California is so trend-driven that they are always looking for the most important directions and new ‘handles’ to merchandise,” said Patricia Brandt, president of the company that bears her name, which is based in Los Angeles. The firm serves as a West Coast agent for trend forecasters D Cubed and the Fashion Dossier, and as a sales representative for color services Huepoint and Pantone. The latter recently announced an agreement with BASF that keys Pantone’s color chips to the fiber and chemical maker’s extensive range of dyes.
“Apparel manufacturers have to make so many replenishment deliveries to stores, that there is a constant need for new color groups and designs,” said Brandt. “The days of creating two or three collections are over.”