Byline: Constance Haisma-Kwok

HONG KONG — Concerns about the slowdown in the global economy and a debate about Hong Kong’s changing role as a commercial gateway to mainland China made for a charged mood at last month’s Interstoff Asia show.
Still, exhibitors at the show, which focused on fabrics for spring-summer 2003, were pleased to see a pickup in buyer attendance, since traffic at the fall edition of the show had been off substantially in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We’ve had more than 60 companies visit us, which is certainly much better that last fall,” said Cody Choi, trade department manager at Korean knitwear supplier Shinhwa Plus.
After skipping the October show because of September’s terrorist attacks in the U.S., U.K. high-performance fabric producer Cloverbrook returned to Asia. Stuart Wetton, sales and development manager, said that Cloverbrook had “30 quality visitors on the first day alone. We’ve seen lots of Americans.”
The soft apparel business in the U.S. had some exhibitors rethinking their market focus.
“After 9/11 our business was quiet,” said Mabel Koo, sales representative for Hong Kong-based trading company Charles Parsons Asia Fabrics, which trades fabric from Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
That has led her to look for more sales closer to home.
“We’ll try to focus on the China market to sell our own fashions,” she said. “And we’ll spend more time working with our customers to understand their needs.”
Some U.S. buyers at the fair said they were satisfied with the spring looks mills were offering.
Julia Poling, senior designer of the Players Collection for golfwear maker Bobby Jones, walked the aisles with her local agent.
“We want our agents to have a better understanding of what we want, so I came here with them,” said Poling. She said her company, which is a division of Hartmarx, is looking for “true chambray, waterproof sealing and performance outerwear. It’s just good to see new variations or trends in fabrics.”
Carol Umbs, merchandising manger for the women’s division of Jockey International, took a similar approach in her first visit to the fair.
“We’re looking for lace, cotton and microfibers plus some print inspiration,” she said. “I have already found a couple of good fabrics.”
Other buyers noted that soft demand seemed to be taking its toll on textile mills around the world.
“Some mills were desperate to take any order — no matter what the price,” said John Drake, owner of Drake Clothing, a Hong Kong company that produces women’s garments for the South African market.
He said he was dissatisfied with the fabric offering, noting that the predominance of lace and denim, “is not what one is looking for in a textile show. I found it very quiet and felt a bit sorry for the Pakistan suppliers.”
A contingent of eight Pakistani companies exhibited at the fair, in an effort to drum up interest in their fabrics after sales fell off last fall as a result of the U.S. military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.
Muhammad Farooq Afzal, marketing agent of Integrated Textiles Network, represented cotton producer Moonlight Industries at the fair.
“We’re all hoping that the situation will be better than last year and indeed everyone is saying that things are better,” he said. He added that when U.S. buyers stopped seeking out Pakistani mills, he and his countrymen journeyed to the U.S. to see buyers. “I was in the U.S. just two weeks ago,” he said. “The buyers all seem to want new finishes on the fabrics, so we’re constantly doing research and development in this area.”
Organizers introduced a new section at the show: A lingerie pavilion. It featured trend displays and lingerie designs by students of the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnical University. Organizers included only companies for which lingerie fabrics represented 70 percent or more of the assortment.
One of the exhibitors at the pavilion was Taiwan’s Johnson Lace. Emmy Lin, the company’s sales representative, said she liked the setup: “It’s nice to be separate from the main hall and the traffic has been good.”
In the Lingerie Pavilion the strongest trend was the continuing influence of the film “Moulin Rouge.” In terms of color, black dominated and was accented by chocolate brown, dark purple and teal. Texture was also important, with an emphasis on lace, embroidery, sequins and even feathers.
In the main hall, other trends dominated:
Denim — washed, tie-dyed and with stretch properties — remained important. Asif Moosa of Siddiqsons Group, Pakistan’s largest denim producer, noted that “blue-black and darker shades of indigo are especially popular.”
Floral prints — from intricate designs to Pop Art patterns — were everywhere. Chun Ju Tsai of Texway said buyers were looking for “big florals and digital floral prints.”
Stripes — including pinstripes for men’s wear and shimmering retro stripes on stretch knits — were also everywhere. “This season we’re finding that it’s not about colors, but patterns. And stripes are big,” said Shinhwa Plus’ Choi.
Color — or the lack of it — was also significant. Texway’s Chun described the hues as “two extremes — spicy or pastel.” She also noted that natural tones were selling well.
Hong Kong’s Novario International attracted a crowd to see its flock-finished denims for fall-winter 2002-2003 and flocked-on prints in cotton, linen and knits for spring-summer 2003.
“We try to give the buyers as much flexibility as possible. They can choose the color, print and finish,” said Adam Jack, sales director. “We have such long lead times that we can do whatever is needed, but we’re really pushing the flocking. We call it a ‘deerskin’ finish and it’s really moving.”
An overriding concern at Interstoff was Hong Kong’s relevance. While exhibitors have not given up on the territory, many, including Cloverbrook, are considering adding a mainland Chinese city such as Shanghai to their itinerary.
Michael von Zitzewitz, chairman of show organizers Messe Frankfurt GmbH, said, “Hong Kong’s position as the place to meet Chinese suppliers is changing. The importance of Shanghai, Guangzhou and even of Beijing is growing. We are looking at a very different environment and it’s not easy. A lot of exhibitors are trying to decide if they really have to be here. And why should American buyers go to Hong Kong when they can meet the supplier in the Mainland? These are some of the challenges Hong Kong is facing.”
Exhibitor and buyer attendance moved in opposite directions this show, which closed its three-day run at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on March 21. A total of 250 exhibitors participated, down from 333 at last year’s exhibition, while the number of buyers rose to 9,457, from 9,035.
General manager Katy Lam said she thought the size of the show reflected the weakness in the economy, but held out hope the apparent beginnings of a recovery will make for a larger fall event.

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