Byline: Stuart Chirls

NEW YORK — After several seasons of fighting to find its identity in the jungle of industry trade shows, the International Fashion Fabric Exhibition is gaining a reputation as a soup-to-nuts event where designers and retailers can find everything they need to create and market an apparel collection.
The expo runs Oct. 21-23 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here.
Six hundred and twenty-eight exhibitors have signed for booth space for IFFE’s fall 1998 edition, up 7 percent from the year-ago show. That number includes approximately 20 firms in the Custom Manufacturing Marketplace, a separate area at IFFE devoted to private label sourcing that made its debut at IFFE in March.
The roster of companies scheduled to exhibit includes industry stalwarts such as Milliken & Co., Symphony Fabrics, Cranston Apparel Fabrics, Balson-Hercules Group and Gerber Garment Technology.
Strong trends in velvet and other pile fabrics continue to lead the offerings of many fabric suppliers that are updating traditional styles with burnouts, reverse prints and flocking.
The stretch constructions that have paced sales for some time show no sign of weakening. Textile companies at IFFE, from converters to fiber makers, will catalog a growing number of products to suit apparel designers who are putting stretch into more and more garments.
Tandler Textile, a converter, is increasing the size of its stretch inventory to keep pace.
“Stretch woven yarn-dyes are hot for fall ’98,” said Martin Tandler, president.
“Having goods in stock is important for us. The risk-reward relationship of holding so much inventory can be scary, but the business is big for us,” he pointed out.
Prints in romantic and floral themes also will be important for Tandler’s fall plan. “They are softer, watercolored, to contemporize them for the market,” Tandler said.
“By exhibiting at IFFE, we are able to make contacts with customers that we would otherwise never even know about,” said Seymour Schneiderman, president of Symphony Fabrics, a large converter. “Even if you have a New York showroom, which is the excuse some people give for not taking a booth at IFFE, it still gives you a face-to-face ‘hook’ that will give you the chance to open up your line to a whole new range of potential customers. After you have had a chance to talk with them and get an idea of what they are interested in, then you can eventually get them to come into your showroom where they can get a better idea of what you do. People like to come to New York, and that is a strong reason why IFFE will eventually be the world’s number-one textile show.”
Symphony will offer an assortment of velvets. Cut velvet, panne, burnouts, prints and flocks all figure to be important parts designers’ lines. “From what I saw at Premiere Vision [in Paris], we are right in step with what they were doing over there,” Schneiderman said. “We will also be showing all types of animal skin prints, as well as metallic jacquards, which we are just touching on now.”
Schneiderman said that a growing shift in the young novelty segment could bring even more business to fabric companies showing at IFFE.
“One thing that I have noticed recently,” said Schneiderman, “is that the novelty apparel business we used to think was the sole province of West Coast manufacturers is now coming from our East Coast customers. It seems that many of the retail buyers have more confidence in the ‘conservative’ Eastern manufacturers.”
Majestic Mills is another fabric maker that hopes to increase its client list via the show.
“We see IFFE as an excellent opportunity to showcase our entire product line to a broader base of customers than we are accustomed to getting during a normal market week in our showroom,” said president Fred Baumgarten. “And seeing more and different people there who are looking for intriguing styles will also provide impetus for us to broaden our product line as well.”
Majestic will show a new range of polyester and rayon blended fabrics developed as part of its acquisition of the Northpoint synthetics business from Cone Mills earlier this year.
“The thinking behind that purchase was that it would help us broaden our synthetics line that we offer to our core customer and get new customers too,” Baumgarten said. “It doesn’t offer better margins and is as highly competitive as the rest of the apparel textile business, but this is just a chance for us to take advantage of changes that are occurring in the market, to move this company ahead aggressively. We are a long-term player here.”
The synthetic collection will feature polyester and rayon blends in a linen-type basic slub weave at less than $3 a yard.
Corduroy is still king at Majestic, which will bring more than 20 styles to the Javits Center. “From what we have seen at retail over the past year, we know that corduroy is turning in a strong performance both on a national and international basis,” said Baumgarten. “The line we plan to show at IFFE is composed of novelties that are designed to work with commodity fabrics, targeted at creatively engineered garments using a blend of styles such as weaves and yarn-dyes.” All are in the $5 range.
With buyers representing everything from craft shops and competitive ballroom dancing dressmakers to global mega-brands prowling the aisles, IFFE has also become a place where niche fabric suppliers profitably can pursue their marketing strategies right alongside big mills.
“There are only three reasons to manufacture apparel domestically,” said Gail Strickler, president of Saxon Textiles, a converter. “One, you need the goods immediately; two, you need it in the same quantities you import, or three, the product is so hot that price doesn’t matter.”
For those who want fabrics fast, she said, “we have established our niche as a supplier who can turn orders around quickly. We stock close to 2 million yards of finished goods at any one time, and we work on the basis of quick response to what the market likes.”
Strickler said the abundance of IFFE buyers looking for immediate goods has been a boon to domestic suppliers.
“It’s all about cash flow for a retailer or manufacturer,” she said. “Suppose a store only sells 80 percent of what they budgeted for, and another color gets hot. With us, they can reorder the hot color and have it in time to sell it at full markup, and close out the slow-selling color. If they can source domestically, then they don’t have to worry about placing the whole order in advance and getting stuck with goods they’ll have to dump to the mass marketers. This way, they are seeing a return on hot styles in the same season.
“And manufacturers will pay a premium for these goods if you can turn it around in time. I sell to a jacket manufacturer who just placed an order for Christmas, and I’ll get the goods to him by Oct. 30. It’s a niche for the domestic fabric supplier.”
Among the styles Saxon will offer are all-cotton jet-dyed twills, including one with a microsanded finish that gives it a soft hand. “We also offer fiber-reactive dyeing for better color intensity,” Strickler said, “because with brushed fabrics, the colors are sometimes muted.” Prices range from $3.50 to $4.50.
Other hot items are twills with cotton backs and nylon faces for outerwear from $4.50, and H2-Out, a wicking treatment that uses a hydrophilic spreading action to disperse the moisture over the entire surface of a fabric for faster evaporation. It is priced from $4.75 to $5.25. Strickler said such treatments are aimed at activewear, but the influence of casual dressing has increased demand for this kind of technology in everyday garments.
Special treatments are being applied to fashion as well as function. Sommers Plastics Products offers ChromaFlair dyestuffs with microscopic faceted crystals that bend light to change the color of fabric.
Fiber companies will have a presence at IFFE, and the ongoing popularity of stretch fabrics is one focus of their attention.
“One of the key things I will be curious to see is what is going on with stretch wovens,” said William Girrier, director of marketing and business development for Globe Manufacturing, an exhibitor.
“That’s a developing trend. Wovens are a highly technical issue, and there is a lot to learn as far as finding out what avenues we are going to be comfortable with for our products. We will see exporters and importers there, which is important, because European mills have been doing stretch wovens for years and have the kind of expertise we want to learn from. There are a lot of people out there that we don’t know about.”
“What we will be working most hard to do at IFFE is incorporate stretch into the full range of existing fabric styles,” he noted. “Maintaining our current business and making inroads into the wovens market make the business of stretch very dynamic.”
This will be the third IFFE show for Globe, and Girrier explained that establishing a regular presence there is an important element of its marketing strategy.
“Since we began ‘projecting’ our new image to the market, IFFE has become an important venue in which to do that,” he said.
DuPont will hold down a booth here to promote, among other things, an assortment of nylon-based stretch fabrics using its Tactel brand fiber.
The group includes MicroTouch, a microfiber tricot knit with 79 percent Tactel and 21 percent Lycra spandex; Diabolo, a stretch woven made of 90 percent Tactel and 10 percent Lycra, and Aquator, a moisture-management fabric for performance applications.
“Nylon is finding more and more acceptance for apparel,” said David Rea, vice president of nylon technology for DuPont. “These are innovative constructions that make it appropriate for both the fashion and performance categories.”

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