IFFE MANS THE HOME FRONT

Byline: Joshua Greene

NEW YORK — With many executives wary of traveling overseas to European textile shows, mill officials, converters and buyers alike are looking to next week’s International Fashion Fabric Exposition as an opportunity to come together and try to get business back to normal.
Some suggested that U.S. textile shows may gain wider appeal as buyers reevaluate the need to shop overseas after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the weeks following the destruction of the World Trade Center, about 15 new exhibitors signed on for the event, which show manager Amy Bonomi described as unusual.
The show is set to run Oct. 15-17 at Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which in the first weeks after the attacks was used as a staging area for rescue workers, but has since resumed normal operations.
“Maybe New York will be the place to come,” said Gail Strickler of New York’s Saxon Textiles Corp., who said she feels a fear of traveling may give stateside business a boost. “It may be really great.”
Buyers remain reluctant to travel abroad.
“We’re definitely not going to Premiere Vision, but we’re still going to buy European fabrics,” said Barbara Cavanagh, vice president of product development for Real Clothes, Saks Fifth Avenue’s private label, in an interview prior to that show, which ran in Paris Oct. 4 to 7.
“Most people have reps in New York, and they’ll just show us [their fabrics] here,” she said. “People are thinking of any way to help us, and the American market is very important, so they can’t afford to not cooperate.”
However, many exhibitors are not convinced that this year’s show will be on a par with the past.
“We won’t get as many people from out of town,” said Pearl Ann Marco, of New York-based De Marco California Fabrics. “Nobody wants to be stuck somewhere if a war is going to start. It won’t be a complete washout, but mainly a lot of New Yorkers that we might not have seen otherwise because, normally, the New Yorkers go to Europe.”
Shelley Hendler, a partner at Los Angeles-based converter Hyman Hendler & Sons Inc., said he believes business must continue despite the tragedy. Hendler said he was confident about traveling cross-country and added that IFFE remains important to his business.
“I have taken three trips by plane since the terrorist attacks, and we remain very positive about this show,” he said. “It’s very important in drawing our East Coast, South American, European and Canadian clientele.”
“Because of recent events, our expectations have become a little muted,” said Raymond Hill of Union City, N.J.-based Haymoss Industries, who noticed an opportunity for domestic business.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk about local manufacturers coming back to buy domestically, as opposed to internationally. I think people want to start buying at home just for on-time deliveries,” he said. Hill also noticed a slight softening in the orders he has received, but said it’s not enough to cause a sense of panic at this point. “I think people are just trying to tread water and rely on their traditional customer base,” he added.
Even prior to the slowdown in consumer spending that followed last month’s attacks, the textile business had been slow.
Ron Rieders of Keansburg, N.J.-based Accentex Inc., which specializes in bridal lace, said business has been soft since the beginning of the year, but noted that overseas prices have stabilized.
Converters said they have been responding to the current wave of demand for fabrics with a patriotic flair.
“We’re in an Americana frenzy, unfortunately because of recent circumstances” said Haymoss’s Hill. “We’re a capitalist society, and we tend to take advantage of every opportunity. If there’s a demand for it, there has to be a supplier for it.”
“We just did two containers of red, white and blue,” added Rajiv Khatau, president of Ashro, a vertically integrated Indian textile and garment market with its U.S. headquarters near Chicago. “After this tragedy, we increased our buys on patriotic prints, flags and eagles.”
Many converters said they believe the demand for Americana-inspired fabrics would be a short-lived one and took up the question of what long-term shifts might result in the fashion industry.
Jeffrey White, president of New York importer Shamash & Sons Inc., predicted the suit will make a comeback and said consumer spending is down, but not for good.
“I don’t think Americans can stay away from stores for very long. You can see it already in New York,” he said. “But [shortly after the tragedy] you could have rolled a bowling ball through the stores.”
Shafik Fam, of Westborough, Mass.-based Future Textile Group, said he believes shopping may pick up despite both a down mood and economy.
“There’s a general malaise in the market, but I’m optimistic it will pick up,” Fam said. “In a down economy, fashion items, whether clothes, shoes or bags, serve as feel-good items. In a soft economy, sometimes the fashion industry will surge.”
While current events leave their short-term mark on fashion through trends, they may help boost the textile industry, which also supplies the military.
“We have been working with the Army,” Saxon Textiles’ Strickler said, adding that some of her defense projects are now on the fast track.
Strickler also said that innovations in performance textiles, most notably wicking fabrics, are of special interest to the military.
“The Army is working on some amazing things, like really smart fabrics that monitor heart rates, generate and reduce heat and keep body temperatures regulated. If there’s one person you want to keep comfortable, it’s the soldier,” she said. “Whether they’re in the field, in a tank, enduring G-forces in a fighter plane or on a submarine, it makes sense that the military is the most advanced in terms of performance fabrics.”
In terms of civilian fabrics, several exhibitors said they expected prints to remain a strong trend at the show.
“We’re bringing a lot of silks and silk blends,” said Ashro’s Khatau. “We’re also doing a lot of geometric and animal prints on silk, and I don’t mean your classic beige, but a lime-green giraffe print or a burnt-orange dalmatian print.”
Florence Perkins, North American sales director for the French companies European Stretch Fabrics and CTL Nathan, said she believes textiles with a second-skin hand, stretch fabrics and jacquards will do well. As for patterns, she said checks and houndstooth, as well as fabrics with discreet iridescent aspects will be popular.
She added that she expects Asian flowers to be a popular theme for prints.
“Another theme is clouded and blurred patterns with a big emphasis on the play between dull and luminous,” she added.
Colorwise for fall 2002, Perkins said natural vegetation is an inspiration, with palettes including green, khaki, oak, bronzed camel and glazed brown. A second theme she cited is volcanic colors like orange fire and rich red tones, as well as very dark colors.
Despite a soft economy and an uncertain future, converters said they would not pass along any increased prices to their customers, and while they said they are not yet planning layoffs or changes in production, they didn’t rule out taking such steps in the future.