Byline: Michael McNamara

NEW YORK — With rising prices for raw materials, shrinking margins and a generally tough selling climate, exhibitors are looking at next week’s International Fashion Fabric Exhibition here as a place to show off creativity and strengthen customer relationships.
Mill and converter executives said the increase in prices, most of which they haven’t been able to pass along to their customers, is forcing them to be more innovative and efficient than ever.
Said Seymour Schneiderman, chairman of Symphony Fabrics Corp., a first-time IFFE exhibitor: “I think when business gets tough, you can’t afford not to show at fabric shows. You need to meet new people and reacquaint yourselves with your tried-and-true customer. We’re also using this show as a vehicle to promote visits to our [New York] showroom.”
“If you can prove to your customers that you can supply them with good products on time, you can get better prices,” added Ed Wollman, a partner in Carna Mills, an established exhibitor, noting that service and styling are as important to many of his firm’s customers as price is.
“It is, however, a constant fight,” Wollman said. “People have a certain price range they must stay within. But the key word is ‘range.’ “
And the price hikes haven’t been felt solely by domestic firms. Several foreign exhibitors said they too are being hit with tremendous price increases, especially in cotton, polyester, nylon and rayon. Luxury fibers haven’t been spared the price hikes either, as silk, linen and cashmere have also seen dramatic increases over the past 12 months.
“We’ve seen fiber prices jump tremendously, and it’s going to have a dramatic impact on the market,” said Nick Savoye, president of Savoye Fabrics, Eastchester, N.Y., the U.S. agent for Lagae Linens, Meulebeke, Belgium. “Prices are not rising just in the U.S.; it’s a global phenomenon.”
Savoye said Lagae has been able to absorb most of the price increases through the installation of new, efficient machinery at its Belgium plant.
“It gets tougher and tougher to keep prices down,” Savoye said. “You can cut corners only so much.”
The three-day IFFE showcase of fabrics, trimmings and services begins its seventh twice-yearly stand March 20 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here. The event is sponsored by The Larkin Group.
Next week’s IFFE will be the biggest ever and will further entrench the show as the top domestic fabric show in the U.S.
Jonathan Larkin, president of The Larkin Group, said next week’s show should draw nearly 450 exhibitors, up from the 380 at the last IFFE, in October. In addition to Symphony, among leading companies exhibiting for the first time are Texollini, DuPont, Monsanto and Ge-Ray Fabrics.
In addition, Tandler Textile is returning, following a one-show absence. Several companies have also expanded the sizes of their booths, including Pressman-Gutman, which is doubling its space; Milliken & Co. and Majestic Mills, which have each increased the size of their areas by 50 percent, and Cranston Print Works Co., which added about 40 percent more space.
“This represents a big market,” said Kevin Federico, president of Cranston’s apparel fabrics division. “We had a great show last time, and we’d like to show even more fabrics at this show. In spite of it being a very tough business climate, we feel showing here is a key way to market ourselves.”
Larkin said about 9,000 apparel manufacturers from 20 countries will be attending. The October stand drew about 8,000.
Due to the current economic climate in Mexico, exhibitors are concerned that some Mexican buyers, who usually make up a significant share of the foreign contingent, may decide to stay away.
“Despite the fact that this show is attracting more buyers from around the world every year, I’d be very surprised if we got a lot of buyers from Mexico this year,” said Pearl Ann Marco, principal of de Marco California Fabrics, a converter here that’s exhibited at every IFFE.
“But that’s a problem we will all be faced with,” Marco said. “We do some business in Mexico, but it has slowed considerably since the peso fell.”
“We are not going,” said Benito Perez, a marketing director for Elan Ayala, a children’s wear and women’s sportswear manufacturer in Parras, Mexico. “We are having a very tough time of it, and we are going to Los Angeles [International Textile Show, which takes place next month]. We can’t do both.”
Larkin agreed that with the peso devaluation, Mexican attendance will “probably be down.”
“But,” he added, “we are still getting good numbers from Colombia and Brazil.”