NEW YORK — China’s rising share of the denim manufacturing market was evident at the seventh edition of the China Textile & Apparel trade show here last week.

Chinese denim manufacturing companies accounted for about 20 percent of the exhibitor list at the show, which ended its three-day run on Thursday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and included men’s and women’s textile and apparel manufacturers, as well as home textiles suppliers.

Mexico has remained one of the largest importers of women’s jeans, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. For the 12 months ended April 30, about $718.4 million of denim trousers and breeches were imported from Mexico. This represented a 19.1 percent decline from the same period a year ago.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong and China have made significant strides. Imports of jeans from Hong Kong reached $281.9 million for the 12 months through March 31, an increase of 87.2 percent. Imports from mainland China rose 54 percent to $116.3 million.

Robert Kong, a director with Laxon Industries, which bills itself as one of China’s largest vertical denim producers, said a fashion shift has helped to generate growth and expand use of the fabric.

“Denim has changed its image, and it’s getting stronger and stronger,” said Kong. “It’s more dressed up.”

While denim remains robust, Kong said Laxon faces challenges related to quotas. China quotas were eliminated in 2005, but the U.S. and China reached an agreement in November to institute fresh limits on certain imports after safeguard quotas were imposed following a surge in a range of categories. Kong believes quotas don’t necessarily result in the most competitive pricing. He points to Laxon’s business with Australia as an example.

“We supply the Australian market, because they don’t have quota,” said Kong. “It’s very good for us, because they released the quota, and the prices are very competitive.”

Other denim exhibitors found some hesitancy on the part of American buyers. Frank Liu, manager of the New York office for Lanyan Group, said the show had been slow partly because of a lack of traffic, but also because many buyers felt unsure about what the next trend would be in the denim market. As a result, they were holding off on placing orders. Lanyan is one of the 100 largest textile companies in China, according to its Web site, with almost 5,000 employees and producing 65 million yards of denim.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Landing major U.S. apparel brands and retailers remained a challenge for most exhibitors. Many buyers were small independent manufacturers and retailers. In many cases, buyers and exhibitors had to overcome significant language barriers, while a designer looking to launch his own denim line quickly found the size of the minimum order at one denim manufacturer to be too large.

Anglo China Co., a British-Chinese joint venture that produces garments for European stores such as Asda and Primark, exhibited at the show for the first time and hoped to gain a foothold in the U.S. market.

Darren Riordan, a sales representative with the company, said finding new markets was a priority, given a difficult retail market in Europe.

“It’s a ridiculously tough retail environment in Europe, and we see that continuing,” said Riordan. Targeting the U.S. was “an obvious move.”

Riordan had also found that many of the potential buyers entering the Anglo China booth were not the major U.S. buyer he had wanted.

“Getting one good customer, that’s the most important thing to come away from this show with,” said Riordan.

Signing a number of smaller independent retailers was not a strategy Riordan hoped to pursue.

“We don’t want to work with hundreds of people, because you can’t really give good service that way,” he said.

Riordan believes the fact that Anglo China is a joint venture and buyers have direct communication with an English-speaking contact in the company’s Shanghai office will attract buyers.

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