FABRIC SUPPLIERS GO GLOBAL

Byline: Stuart Chirls

NEW YORK — Hit by slow sales in the U.S. and looking forward to a surge in the number of foreign buyers, apparel fabric suppliers headed for the International Fashion Fabric Exhibition here are in a global mood.
While IFFE runs a distant third to its larger and more glamorous European cousins, Interstoff and Premiere Vision, the show remains a billboard for promoting the American fabrics market, attracting domestic buyers while helping companies develop opportunities with business partners from foreign markets like South and Central America, the Middle East and even Europe.
“It’s important to have a major fabric show in the United States,” asserted Samson Bitensky, chairman and president of Fab Industries. “The U.S. is a major fabric supplier, and being at IFFE helps us make a statement that we can offer the customer a good selection at competitive prices. We can create some excitement.”
Kevin Federico, president of the apparel fabrics division of Cranston Print Works, said, “If you’re going to be a leader in the industry, it’s important to have a presence there. It gives us added exposure and helps us reinforce what we’re trying to do.”
The three-day show of fabrics, trimmings, and services begins its eighth twice-yearly run March 18 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. It is sponsored by the Larkin Group.
Fabric executives said the difficult business atmosphere has made events such as IFFE vitally important in creating new opportunities.
“Business has been okay, but it’s been tough,” said Jeffrey White, president, S. Shamash & Sons, a large silk fabric supplier. “Stores and manufacturers are looking for new, novel fabrics, and this is an excellent venue to show them.”
White noted that for many manufacturer, especially smaller ones, traveling to New York to check the latest trends is a cost-effective alternative to breaking the budget for a trip to France or Germany.
“We get a lot of customers who didn’t go to Premiere Vision or Interstoff, and they can get a good picture here of what’s happening,” he said.
Dick Davis, director of merchandising at Ge-Ray Fabrics, said even though IFFE isn’t a high-profile event, it still provides important exposure for some of the firm’s new products.
“In that way, you get feedback from people and know whether what you’re trying to do is headed in the right direction,” Davis said. “There’s enough traffic in New York that we’re able to walk out of there with one or two new customers.”
Others agreed, saying IFFE gives the industry a much-needed chance to polish its image.
“We need a show where buyers and sellers can meet,” said Peter Russell, marketing and sales manager of Gem Urethane. “It’s all about getting the word out. You mention textiles to people and all they think of is T-shirts from Taiwan. The public doesn’t have a clue that there’s a viable industry here. Then, you get to New York, you see the show banners flying from the streetlights, and it’s exciting.”
Gem, a division of Fab that produces polyurethane simulated leather fabric, will mark its third IFFE show in March.
“We came in last March at the last possible minute and got the last possible booth space, back near the loading dock,” recalled Russell. “Things started slowly the first day, so I went to lunch. By the time I came back, I couldn’t get near the booth. We were making 100 leads a day for three days. Our apparel fabric sales doubled in 1995, and at least half of that increase was directly attributable to the contacts we made at IFFE.”
At Cranston, Federico said he has reason to be optimistic as he heads into the show.
“I believe there’s a bit of a printed-fabrics cycle going on right now,” he said. “We’ve had eight weeks of very good print business. I think we’re looking at at least a year of an increased print cycle. There’s been some excitement in the print segment at our retail customers, and that makes me feel upbeat about IFFE.”
Despite the recent uptick in retail sales, the slowdown in the domestic market has put exports squarely on the IFFE spotlight, and many exhibitors are Continued on page 20
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looking to the show as a means to increase their share of overseas business.
“As far as exports are concerned, we’ll take all we can get,” said Fab’s Bitensky. “The domestic market hasn’t been so hot, so we have to look at exports to try and grow our business.”
For Fab and other large companies that have established export programs in other countries, IFFE will be a time of making new contacts while renewing old friendships.
“Exports are very much on our minds,” said Federico, adding that overseas orders total nearly 16 percent of Cranston’s total sales. “We would like to double that over the next few years, and IFFE is an important event in terms of opening channels with buyers. We’ll be booking multimillions worth of orders at IFFE across several of our divisions.”
Said White, “Exports are very important [at IFFE]. We see a lot of customers from South America and Latin America.”
Even companies that don’t do a large export business have found foreign buyers to be a welcome change from the price-influenced shopping of some domestic accounts.
“The interesting thing is, when a domestic buyer makes a sample order, he takes maybe five yards,” said Russell. “I had a buyer from Brazil who took 500 yards! The foreign buyers tend to take more on an initial order. I like that kind of sampling.”
All of which is good news to Jonathan Larkin, president of the Larkin Group which sponsors IFFE.
“We’ve been working hard to attract buyers and exhibitors from outside the U.S.,” said Larkin, who said 10 percent of the buyers attending IFFE this year will be from abroad. “New York is the center of the garment industry, and it deserves a first-class fabric show that will enable people to maximize their sales opportunities.”
According to Larkin, more than 14,000 fabric buyers had preregistered for IFFE, up from 12,000 from last October’s show. A total of 530 exhibitors will show their wares. IFFE will also offer an extensive schedule of seminars (see story, this page).

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