Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
That’s the approach a number of exhibitors preparing for the upcoming Los Angeles International Textile Show said they’re taking to business these days, fine-tuning their strategies and staying light on their feet in shaky economic times.
Converter Emser International, for instance, is using the show to reinvent itself, moving out of the novelty fabrics business and putting its focus on basics.
First on the company’s agenda for the show is clearing out 500,000 yards of novelty fabric priced at $1.50 to $2.50 per yard, said Shawn Ghodsian, who oversees the apparel division of the West Hollywood, Calif.-based business.
“The margins we were making on novelty [fabrics] wasn’t cost effective,” he said. “We didn’t want to hold onto goods for that long for the margin we were getting.”
Emser’s new strategy revolves around importing large quantities of stretch denim, twill, poplin and bengaline and tapping local printers for quick-turn work.
“We will take the stretch fabrics and emboss them or flock them or print on them domestically for a two- or three-week turnaround,” Ghodsian said.
Ghodsian said he is not worried about the health of the local printing base because printers don’t require the large amounts of natural gas that dyers and finishers do.
But many companies that print also have divisions focusing on dyeing and finishing, which have been hit with massive price increases, jeopardizing the enterprise as a whole. Some large California textile suppliers that house multiple functions under one roof, including L.A. Print and Dye, have shuttered their operations as a result of rising costs.
“The economy is definitely difficult. That’s why we’re spreading our business” into new areas, said Howard Bobis, president of Friday Fabrics. The New York-based importer, which primarily carries Italian lines, recently diversified its offerings to include a yarn-dyed cotton line produced in Lyon, France.
“Usually with spring, the Italian fabrics are too expensive. The French line is lower end, so I think I’ll be looking at a lot of activity there,” said Bobis, adding that in less than six months, the French line has grown to generate 40 percent of his business.
Acker & Jablow, a New York-based converter, has taken advantage of the recent U.S. extension of trade parity to Caribbean Basin Initiative nations to develop a small but growing business in Guatemala, where the company stocks acetate and polyester fabrics used for linings in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse.
“When CBI was just being talked about, we scooted down there and set up the warehouse,” said chief executive officer Mark Steinberg, who added that 50 percent of his Guatemala business is CBI work done with the domestic acetate. He also stocks Korean polyester for business done with local contractors.
Only fabrics woven from domestic yarns qualify to reenter the U.S. duty-free and quota-free under the new trade law; however, some Caribbean producers have found it cheaper to continue importing materials from Asia.
“From that warehouse, we can service Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” he said. “We’ve even had a customer in Colombia get a truck up to Guatemala in a pinch.”
California textile suppliers also continue to focus on opportunities in Mexico that have resulted from NAFTA.
At Huntington Beach, Calif.-based 58/60, owner Brian McLaughlin said: “I’m shipping more fabric to Mexico than ever before.”
He added that the surfwear companies that form his customer base often produce large lots of board shorts or dresses across the border when demand peaks and they need quick reorders.
“It allows them to react faster to major retailers,” he said.
However, in terms of current business, McLaughlin said he is concerned about the region’s recent unseasonably cool weather.
“It’s not shorts weather yet and that hurts the business,” he said, noting that a day or two of blazing sun and perfect surf can generate enormous demand for bikinis and board shorts.
Leslie Lesh, who represents a number of performance fabric lines, said he will be looking for customers interested in package programs for activewear.
He said he recently pulled back from the women’s swimwear market because the margins are too slender.
“The pricing on print vehicles is very, very tight, right now,” Lesh said. “In women’s swimwear, it’s a war to try to get some business.”