Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — Finally, textile executives have a smidgen of breathing room.
Exhibitors preparing for the Los Angeles International Textile Show, which opens at the CaliforniaMart next week, expressed relief that sales came in better than expected for the first quarter. Several said the current momentum may even be enough to recoup some of last year’s losses.
“I absolutely see good signs of business turning around,” said Ann Davis, a sales rep with Eclat Textiles and president of the Textile Association of Los Angeles, one of the show’s sponsors. Davis said TALA membership is up and local apparel production has been in overdrive in recent months, leading to frenzied demand for in-stock fabrics.
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in buying local fabrics and local stocking for immediate sale,” she said. “I’d love to believe it’s patriotic, but the fact is it’s expediency — retailers need goods.”
The show, which draws roughly 300 exhibitors and 6,000 buyers, runs April 29-May 1. Bernie Gardner, chief executive officer of Impala Industries, a Los Angeles-based stretch-fabrics importer that keeps large inventories, said during last year’s slump he felt “fortunate” to be able to hold revenues steady. This year, he’s expecting a 5 percent increase.
“We’ve seen tremendous fiscal improvement in the first six months,” Gardner said, citing a partial rebound in the swim market as tourism improves.
The company raised prices 3 percent during the energy crisis, but Gardner plans to remove the surcharge, partly because the energy situation has stabilized and partly to remain competitive with overseas suppliers who have also lowered prices.
At AmeriCo International, a full-package garment supplier, sales executive Lynne Kasch-Gordon said customers are placing narrow and deep orders.
“Our fabric division took the biggest hit post-Sept. 11, but it’s also had the largest recovery in the first quarter,” said Kasch-Gordon. “Overall, we’ve seen a substantial upswing in the first quarter.”
Ken Cohen, owner of New York-based converter Kenco, said bottom-weight fabrics have performed well, particularly denim and washable linen blends. Bucking the general industry trend, the company has grown 20 percent in the last 18 months. But that doesn’t mean Cohen has relaxed his tight grip on inventory.
“We work on an insecurity basis,” he said. “We’re always looking over our shoulder. The minute you get complacent and don’t use caution in terms of inventory, you get killed.”
Several exhibitors said being flexible with minimums and being willing to do custom orders is the key to working with the diverse base of small and midsized manufacturers around Los Angeles.
Catering to the up-and-coming designer in hopes they become the next Laundry or Lucky Brand is “what you do here, if you’re good at your job,” explained Andrew Volk, sales manager at local woolen supplier B. Black & Sons.
The family-owned company will offer English cashmere, wool-spandex blends and tweeds with metallic threading at the show.
“The little design companies are the big draw,” concurred Ron Kaufman, a sales associate at family-owned Robert Kaufman Co., a converted with a large in-stock program. “In many ways, what’s coming out of L.A. is leading fashion right now.”
To that end, the Gardena, Calif.-based company is launching a custom program capable of printing as little as 200 yards for sample production. Kaufman, who said the company is positioned for growth this year, estimated the custom program could add $1 million in revenues its first year.
“We’re really trying to be more flexible for the smaller companies,” Kaufman said. “We want to use the show to get them acquainted with what we can do.”
Hot Kiss design director Michael Aguirre, who travels to major domestic and European fabric shows, said he attends his hometown market to get California’s more youthful interpretation of major trends, as well as to discuss custom programs with suppliers. The company buys about 30 to 40 percent of its fabric through custom projects with mills, according to Aguirre.
Aguirre said he’ll also use the show to scout trims, which he believes are “really driving the mood of garments right now.”
This show edition boasts 10 percent more trim vendors than past shows, according to organizers.
Among them, J. Max Co. Inc. is offering banded rhinestone trims, organza laces, beaded appliques and satin flowers.
“Our pieces are high-end, so it’s very important to be able to take a custom order,” said Judy Chen, office manager of the Floral Park, N.Y.-based importer.
At the other end of the price spectrum, Frank Gizatullin, president and owner of Wildside, a supplier of heat-transfer print sheets, said he’s been able to grow revenues by supplying cheap, cost-effective designs to junior manufacturers. Gizatullin said Seventies-inspired airbrushed transfers rank among the company’s bestsellers.
“It’s an airbrushed look with totally flat colors, very soft, so you can’t tell if it’s a transfer or a silk screen,” he said.
At the show, he plans to promote heat transfer as a cost-effective way of embellishing a T-shirt.
“It’s much more efficient than directprinting garments because you don’t have to apply them all at once,” he explained. “You can literally match them on an order-by-order basis on a blank garment.”

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