Byline: Constance Haisma-Kwok

HONG KONG — Worries over the world economy lent an air of uncertainty to Interstoff Asia’s spring-summer 2002 show.
Some vendors said that business is getting off to a slow start this year, a phenomenon they attribute to economic uncertainties. But nonetheless, they hoped that the trends they were pushing at the show, in particular high-performance bonded fabrics, would put some kick into the business.
Jennie Huang, of Taiwan-based knitwear manufacturer Hsin Hsen Industrial Co. sounded a note of caution.
“The cotton-poly blends are popular, especially in stripes, but we think woven is better than knit this year,” said Huang, who like many textile officials at the event did not use a title. “Things are looking up for next year, but normally by March, we have a lot of orders from the U.S. This year, we don’t. I don’t know why — maybe they’re going directly to China.”
Another Taiwanese manufacturer, Chia Zung Trading, a maker of embroidered lace that deals mostly with the European market, echoed those sentiments.
“Overall, the industry is slowing down,” said Tommy Huang. “I think that when people are worried about the economy, they’re very cautious.”
Franky Ng, sales manager for the fabric sales division of Wescot Co., makers of the sport-apparel material Dry-Tech, said: “I’m optimistic. Our business has grown more than three times because of market trends.”
Also upbeat were the people at Cloverbrook Ltd., a family-owned company based in the U.K., who were showing fabrics they said had antibacterial properties.
“People want fabrics that speak for them, not basic polyesters,” said Cloverbrook’s Mike Tiffney. “They have to breathe, wear well and not itch.”
Another big trend was bonded fabrics.
Patrick Cao, of Rich Tree Textile Hong Kong, said that “Europe’s buying power is less than the year before. Hong Kong has given us a lot of opportunities to meet with buyers and local agents. They all have factories in Canton, so it’s good for us.”
Rich Tree manufactures bonded fabrics, many with synthetic fur or imitation Tibetan wool on one side and jersey on the other.
“Buyers can just pick the colors and fabrics they want and we can put it together; many combinations are possible,” said Cao, pointing out a fake fur and polyester suede bond. Silhouettes, according to market researcher Yoon Soon-Hwang of the Korea Textile Converters Association, are seeing a revival of the soft colors and fluid lines of the Fifties as well as the one-button suits of the Eighties.
“There is a feminine ambiguity, with masculine patterns and wide shoulders coming back,” she said.
In terms of color and pattern, prints are beginning to lose some of their luster, a trend one industry analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity attributed to the economy, saying: “When people are serious, they wear black.”
For the younger market, however, there are still plenty of bright fabrics to choose from. “I’ve seen lots of bright colors, lots of stripes, geometric patterns and dog’s tooth in bright colors,” said Nichola Rodgers, buyer for Crew 2000, the U.K.-based innerwear company. For her young market, she was keen to find “wet looks, meshes, PVC.”
Rodgers said that she usually attends European shows, “but Asia provides better prices. I’ll place lots of orders here.”
Diane Wiener, a fabric buyer for the U.S. children’s wear company Baby Togs, said that she had seen “lots of pretty embroidery, which we need.”
She and her colleague, Lynell Nassetta, expressed delight with the size of the show, calling it more manageable than some of the European fairs, like Premiere Vision.
“It’s much easier to work than PV. You can really cover it in 2 1/2 days, and you don’t get lost in the halls,” said Nassetta.
She voiced one disappointment that was one shared by other buyers.
“I just wish they’d organize by fabric and not by country,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where it’s from, we just want to see what we need.”
Katy Lam, project manager for Interstoff Asia, said she understands the sentiment, but can’t do much about it.
“I also prefer to categorize by fabric,” she said. “However, this show is also supported by government associations, like Korea’s and Taiwan’s. The companies cannot support themselves, they come in a group and ask to adhere to a group.”
While Lam may not be able to reorganize the show, she is busy with other changes. Instead of fashion shows, the twice-yearly Interstoff fairs now have seminars on professional topics. The autumn-winter edition will also feature the results of the Hong Kong Textile Print Design Competition, a new contest designed to encourage original design in the region.
“We know from experience that there is no association with original design in Hong Kong. European and U.S. companies are always worrying about Asia’s copying of their designs,” remarked Lam. “But we want to play a major role in encouraging design in the region.”
Overall, Lam said she was happy with the turnout, which saw a slight increase in exhibitors, to 333 from 320, but a decline in buyers, to 9,035 from 9,681.