Byline: Scott Malone

NEW YORK — As they prepare for next week’s Los Angeles International Textile Show, converters and fabric manufacturers expect the recent strong demand for prints to make for a lively market.
The three-day event — set to kick off Monday at the California Mart — expects to feature about 350 exhibitors, more or less the same as recent editions of the show.
Fabric suppliers preparing for the event are in a more positive frame of mind than they have been over the past year or so.
“Business has picked up noticeably in the last few months, particularly in the print area,” said Fred Wunderlich, president of New York converter Nu-Image Fabrics. “Prints are back, particularly in the juniors market. There are a lot of different types of prints on a lot of different fabrics.”
That resurgence in demand for prints boosted Nu-Image’s sales 25 to 30 percent in the first quarter, Wunderlich said.
He said animal prints are still strong, as are scarf prints, and conversationals in the junior market are always good. Paisleys, plaids and dots should also bring interest, he added.
However, the increased demand is partly offset by continued margin pressures, as synthetic-fiber prices continue to rise.
“We’ve raised prices somewhat, but not nearly as much as some of the increases we’ve gotten at the yarn level,” said Wunderlich. “Margins are not what they were a year ago.”
Similarly, Fred Baumgarten, president of New York converter Majestic Mills, reported an uptick in volume, though he acknowledged that margins remain stressed.
“Business has been picking up,” he said. “It is stronger, more directional. There is a craving for new product, and there is a demand for service that is extraordinary. And we walk around with a microscope so we can look at our margins.”
In terms of direction, he said that demand for skin-patterned prints is strong, as well as demand for narrow-wale corduroy.
Pearl Ann Marco, a principal at New York converter De Marco California Fabrics, also said business had been strong lately, though she said there are no clear trends.
“It’s hard to say which one thing is in demand. We’re still doing meshes, but we’re also doing a lot of other things,” she said. “In this market, you can’t rely on what you did a season ago. You have to have new, new, new all the time. If you want to be in domestic goods, you have two things to worry about: having things that are new, and having them fast.”
She also commented that, as the calendar that apparel makers work on becomes more fragmented, fabric suppliers need to show a wider array of products at any given time.
“They’re buying everything, every season,” she said. “We’ll have stores come up here, and literally, the garment with our fabric in it will be in the store in three weeks. The little stores, where the young people go, can’t show the same thing. It has to be new every couple of weeks.”
While Marco also said she was happy to see increased volume, she agreed that margins remain tight.
“We’re getting the business,” she said, “but the markups are the trick.”
Emser Apparel Fabric, a Los Angeles-based converter and importer specializing in stretch fabrics, has also experienced an increase in demand for prints, particularly animal looks, according to marketing director Shawn Ghodsian.
“The animal prints have been huge,” he said. “We’ll be bringing some brand-new glazed and embossed fabrics, as well as some flocked looks.”
While the show is to focus on spring 2001 looks, Ghodsian said he expects some action on fall goods, as well.
The demand for animal-skin prints has also resulted in picked-up interest in pleathers and fake skins, according to Fred Schechter, vice president at Sommers Plastics, a synthetic fabrics, coatings and trim supplier based in Clifton, N.J.
He said that fake python, boa and fur fabrics and trimmings are in demand. Schechter said he thinks demand for pleathers and fake skins is being driven by a desire to have a cruelty-free skin look.
Advances in fabric technology are also helping this, he added.
“There are now breathable pleathers that have much more comfort, in terms of perspiration management and breathability,” Schechter said. “There is a new technology in man-made fabrics that are made with cellulose and allow the permeation of vapor in a washable and dry-cleanable fabric.”
He also said the company’s signature products, which include holographic trims and color-changing, temperature-sensitive “living rubber,” continue to attract attention, though living rubber remains a niche product due to high prices of around $30 per yard.
In addition to the core group of U.S. converter and mill exhibitors, the show will once again feature the Texitalia group of 16 Italian fabric mills, according to show organizers.
The spring edition of the show is set to occupy 200,000 square feet of exhibit space.