Byline: Kavita Daswani

HONG KONG — With exhibitors reporting that business in Asia is picking up, and all indicators suggesting the region has overcome its financial downturn, the recent Interstoff Asia fabric fair was hopping.
There were 320 exhibitors and 9,681 visitors, up from last year’s 283 and 8,828, respectively, and organizer Messe Frankfurt said it was confident it had achieved its objective of showing that Asia was well on its way to economic recovery. The show ran April 11 to 13 at the Hong Kong Exhibition Center in Wanchai.
“European visitors are down, but the fair is still growing at a high rate,” said a spokeswoman for Messe Frankfurt.
The largest groups were from China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong. European exhibitors, who made up about 10 percent of the total, were housed in a special pavilion under the banner European Creation, along with Hong Kong agents representing European companies.
The Messe Frankfurt spokeswoman said she believed two factors had led to that drop. One was lingering fears about the Asian crisis. However, she suggested, the decline also may have been a result of the increasing number of business alliances formed between European fabric suppliers and Hong Kong companies, which mount a sole exhibit by the local partner.
Some buyers working the show said they were looking more for an overall sense of where the market is headed than to place immediate business.
“I’m here more to see trends; to pick up interesting ideas,” said Jocey Davidson, manager of the Austin Group Ltd. in Melbourne, an Australian company importing fabrics for manufacturing men’s, women’s and children’s garments. Most of its production is done in Southeast Asia. “I’m not looking for anything in particular, or even necessarily to buy right away. But I do feel there are plenty of interesting things to see here.”
Window-shoppers aside, exhibitors reported generally brisk business, despite the increase in synthetic fiber prices.
“That may have affected our polyester range, and yes, we have had to adjust prices for some knitted products,” said Laurent Rioual, manager for the Asia-Pacific region at Deveaux SA, based in Thizy, France. “But still, our women’s apparel fabrics have been selling well, especially materials for jeans, color-woven knits, dot prints, border designs, cotton combined with Lycra [spandex], polyester and viscose.”
Rioual said his company had been exhibiting at Interstoff Asia for five years, and while business did fall during the Asian recession, he believes conditions have improved considerably.
“Most of the region’s economies are now picking up, although we do find Hong Kong to be slower than the rest,” he said. “We are trying to keep our price levels relatively stable.”
Other exhibitors said the end of the recession had compelled them to be more competitive.
“Buyers seem to be looking for cheaper products, and the industry has become much more competitive,” said Ted Liao, general manager of Full Blossom, a manufacturer based in Taipei, Taiwan. “But certain things are selling well, such as fancy and techno designs, and anything with Lycra.”
With the U.S as his company’s main market, and all production done in Asia, Liao said business had remained relatively stable.
“We’ve been affected slightly by the increase in synthetic fiber prices,” he said, “but we feel the pressure not to pass on those increases to our customers.”
Other exhibitors took a gloomier view.
“I still believe business conditions in Asia are not that good,” said Jacques Lefebvre, export manager of polyester fabrics specialist Voiced Connection BV, based in Heteren, the Netherlands.
Selling moderately well, he said, were feminine designs and strong colors.
“We’ve been showing here for five years, but our business has remained stable throughout,” he said. “Every year, we get a few more customers from the fair, but we still feel a little disappointed. We expected more business and better conditions.”
One area of the fair that attracted a lot of attention was Directions, a trend forum featuring predictions on fabric trends for spring-summer 2001.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design also offered a forecast, giving an unusual take on the predictions of the professional forecasters.
Janice Tang, an associate with Smart Shirts Ltd., a Hong Kong manufacturer of woven and knitted shirts and blouses, said she enjoyed the trends section .
“The Directions event, as well as the Hong Kong Polytechnic sections, were extremely interesting,” she said. “It gives me a wide view of everything on offer at the fair, and then I can especially pinpoint those that are interesting.”
This view was shared by Andy Chan, general manager of The Knits Channel Ltd., a Hong Kong manufacturer of men’s and women’s garments.
“Looking at future trends and new ideas for fabrics is the only way we can make suggestions to our customers,” he said. “Textiles are getting very creative these days, and we have to focus less on the design of the garment and concentrate more on the different colors and textures. I found Directions to be very inspirational.”
The trend forecasters, Ornella Bignami from Elementi Moda in Milan, Nelly Rodi of the Nelly Rodi Agency in Paris, Sachiko Inoue from Tokyo, and representatives from Here & There in New York, outlined the key looks for next summer in four broad categories.
“Emotions” put the focus on vibrant designs and colors, and a fusion of kitsch and modernity, with graphics, prints, stripes and checks.
“Traditions” gave the nod to natural fibers in earthy, dark shades, incorporating some ethnic prints and warm and spicy colors.
“Serenity” concentrated on pastel shades, delicate textures and romantic patterns, often on ethereal, translucent fabrics.
“Mobility” offered pure and natural-looking fabrics, leaning to shades of green and blue.