L.A. FIRMS TOUT HOME-FIELD EDGE
Byline: Katherine Bowers
LOS ANGELES — Along with most of the apparel industry, textile companies got the wind knocked out of them in September. Orders for new goods fell off steeply as retailers canceled fall orders and manufacturers retrenched.
Despite a grim month, companies preparing to attend the Los Angeles International Textile Show, which kicks off next week, said they’re hoping a number of factors will lead to a profitable and productive market.
Among the factors exhibitors said may work in their favor:
Patriotic sentiment and fears about international shipping delays may propel buyers toward domestic suppliers.
Relatively bare retail shelves — a result of cancellations and promotional activity — may spur immediate orders as retailers place orders for holiday goods.
American buyers, who largely skipped Premiere Vision, may come to Los Angeles with a greater sense of urgency about writing orders.
At press time, the show size was consistent with previous editions: 360 exhibitors had taken space and several thousand buyers are expected Oct. 22-24, according to a CaliforniaMart spokeswoman.
The show boasts a couple of new features: a French textile pavilion sponsored by trade association Espace Textile Lyon with roughly a dozen lines and an open floor plan on a portion of the 13th floor.
Still, many said the Sept. 11 events compounded what had already been a rough year.
At least one exhibitor, New York-based E.T.C., dropped out of the show, citing unfavorable business conditions.
“I don’t think it makes sense to try to sell product right now,” said Ed Boselli, the firm’s vice president of sales. “Manufacturers’ heads aren’t in it. I think it makes sense to wait 30 to 60 days until the dust settles.”
The Textile Association of Los Angeles, which founded the show 50 years ago, issued a statement earlier this month saying it was nearing “a financial crisis” and calling on its membership and the manufacturing community for support of its activities and of domestic production in general.
“Most organizations are walking a thin line between have and have-not financially,” said Ann Davis, TALA’s president. “We are in a period of downsizing of membership because of declining manufacturing in this area and we are struggling to maintain the quality of services.”
TALA executive director Len Horowitz pointed out that the organization’s membership has been cut in half, to 400, since the mid-Nineties because of consolidation, closures and globalization of sourcing.
Dermot Murphy, vice president for New York-based Wimpfheimer, said he’s “very curious” to see if there is “any sentiment about moving more manufacturing back into the U.S.A. and helping domestic mills.” The company produces velvet at a mill in Virginia, but recently has diversified by importing fake furs from Germany.
There are small signs that the aftermath of Sept. 11 has precipitated new approaches.
Jim Jakubecy, head of the textured knits division for Gastonia, N.C.-based Wales Fabrics, said he’s had several phone calls in recent weeks asking how quickly he can ship.
“People have seen goods hung up in customs, canceled garments sitting on boats and visions of bare shelves for Christmas,” he said. “All of this in the wind is a good sign for domestic producers.”
Debra Johnston Cobb, merchandising director for Morganville, N.J.-based Ge-Ray Fabrics, said some of the company’s major accounts have been “feeling things out, looking at the fall line one more time and thinking about placing more domestically to cover their bets.” Although she declined to give names, Cobb said a pair of large retailers that have not done business with the company in several years have expressed strong interest since Sept. 11.
Even small players, like local converter Alen Lahiji, are retooling. A specialist in surf prints, Lahiji said he’s systematically reducing his reliance on international fabrics, because his customers are worried about delays on imports.
Raj Parikh, manager for Los Angeles importer Jay Ann Fabrics, said he feels at a slight disadvantage, given higher air freight prices and shipping delays of three to five days.
“I think it will get better, but at this moment it’s hard to say when,” he said.
Other importers said they’ve had only minor hiccups. Eclat Textiles Co. Ltd., which offers stretch knits, had several deliveries pushed back, said national sales manager April Booth. But most of the company’s customer base has resumed product development conversations typically done this time of year.
Several larger exhibitors said they planned to promote finished garment capabilities at the show.
Burt Shank, who heads up the Los Angeles office of Turkish fabric importer AmeriCo International, said revenues for finished garments cut and sewn in Turkey will hit $2 million this year and are projected to double in 2002. The company has not had cancellations since Sept. 11, but is watching its lead times closely, Shank said.
“Before, it was six weeks and now, it’s eight weeks, but you can build around that,” he said. Of greater concern, he added, was tightening retail budgets, which means buyers traveling to fewer fabric shows.
Montreal-based Decopap Inc., a fake leather and denim importer, which also offers full-package production out of China, has added a month to its lead time on finished garments.
“It’s definitely become more difficult with courier services getting samples back and forth,” said Brian Sackman, Decopap’s vice president of sales. He said since Sept. 11, roughly one in five of his boxes arrive to his Los Angeles warehouse with U.S. Customs Service tape on them, versus 1 in 25 before the attack.
His customers are junior and streetwear manufacturers, he said. Although the bulk of goods had already shipped for back-to-school, Sackman said customers have been “skittish” in recent weeks.
“Comments from customers are that retailers are looking for any excuse to cancel,” he said. “If it’s a day late — forget about it. We have to make sure we’re not on time, but ahead of time.”