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Last spring, Asia’s trade fair organizers professed optimism that 2003 would see continued growth. Then March came and with it the SARS outbreak that devastated the region economically and emotionally. In July, however, attendance at all the fairs in the region grew and exhibitor numbers were up, making optimism once again the watchword.

This story first appeared in the November 26, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Asia Pacific Leather Fair director Michael Duck said that those who didn’t attend the recent fairs missed a good opportunity. “I’m sorry for those who didn’t come out of fear of SARS or because of the retail market,” he said. “It has been poor for four to five years, but we’re seeing a turnaround in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan. It’s not at 1996 or 1997 levels, but it’s coming back.”

Indeed, the region’s fair organizers and government bodies are less concerned with what could happen in the spring if the SARS virus makes a comeback than they are with what might happen in December 2005 when China enters the World Trade Organization. To that end, Interstoff Asia (March 23-25) will see a very interesting development with Source It, which will run concurrently with the textile fair.

Source It is an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) event that will feature suppliers of fabrics, yarns, garments, specialized machinery and design services. About 70 percent of exhibitors will be from ASEAN countries.

“These participants seldom join trade shows — they just can’t afford to. So their governments will fund the trip, which in many cases will be their first time to Hong Kong,” explained Katy Lam, general manager of trade fairs for Messe Frankfurt, which is organizing both Interstoff Asia and Source It.

Lam said that governments are trying to help these medium-size companies to prepare for the inevitable. “In 2005 garment production will be very competitive; the governments want to help these companies get closer to buyers from the U.S. and Europe.” She added that because Hong Kong is home to sourcing offices for so many overseas companies, Source It should be well worth the trip for exhibitors. Visitors are likely to be pleased by an increased variety of suppliers.

Hong Kong’s Trade Develop-ment Council, in the meantime, is focusing less on competing with the mainland and more on capturing its lucrative market. For the second year, Hong Kong Fashion Week (HKFW) will run alongside World Boutique (Jan. 13-16), a fair that focuses on lifestyle brands. “Of course everyone wants to buy re-nowned European labels like Gucci, but not everyone can afford it. If you come down a [price point] level, Hong Kong’s designer labels are ideal,” says Anne Chick, senior exhibition manager for the Trade Develop-ment Council.

Chick’s team has been organizing road shows to promote World Boutique and Hong Kong design internationally, but especially in China, where Style Hong Kong has become an annual event. The World Boutique had 15,000 visitors in its inaugural appearance and expects to see at least as many again. “We’ve had a surge of buyers at our Watch and Clock fair and at our Electronics fair,” said Chick. “Unless SARS comes back — and I hope it doesn’t — things look good for next year.”

Here are some of the highlights for 2004:

Hong Kong Fashion Week/World Boutique (Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Jan. 13-16). Look for nearly 1,000 exhibitors to participate in HKFW and another 200 to take part in World Boutique. The growing fairs are capturing the attention of mainland Chinese buyers in a big way. There will also be 19 fashion shows displaying local and regional fashion designs and a range of seminars on trends, entering the China market and building brand recognition.

Interstoff Asia/Source It (Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, March 23-25). Added-value fabrics take center stage at Interstoff Asia, where buyers will be able to test materials in an extended demonstration area. Also, for the first time, Interstoff Asia will boast a functional fabric pavilion in spring. Under its five-year deal, Source It will make its first appearance in Hong Kong at Interstoff Asia. Look for new players in the increasingly competitive market to be willing to strike good deals.

Asia Pacific Leather Fair (Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, March 29-April 1). The APLF’s two shows have new names and a new focus. Raw Materials and Manufacturing is now Material, Manufacturing and Technology, while Fashion and Finished Products is Fashion Access. Both fairs will expand beyond leather to include man-made materials. Look for the return of European brands to the Top Style hall and for an increase in casual footwear suppliers.

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