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NEW YORK — The possibility of war may have been on the minds of the exhibitors and fabric buyers at last week’s International Fashion Fabric Exhibition, but rarely did the topic interfere with business, according to textile executives.

This story first appeared in the March 18, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Instead, several mills and converters with inventory in the U.S. said they established contact with manufacturers looking for domestic fabric sources in case a U.S.-led strike on Iraq causes unexpected delays in the supply chain.

That’s a repeat of the pattern West Coast converters saw during the port lockout late last year.

“People are looking for a reliable domestic resource,” said Ron Kaufman of Robert Kaufman, which has over 10 million yards of inventory in California. “If retailers aren’t committing until later, that makes it difficult to do a quick turn overseas.”

Given the uncertainty of the economy, the issue of minimum-order sizes became a key topic at the show. Domestic converters and mills have tried to make a competitive advantage out of requiring smaller minimum-order sizes, while their Asian competitors often require minimum orders of 3,000 yards per color and style.

Several textile executives reported that small- and medium-sized apparel manufacturers have begun to place smaller orders since their customers, apparel retailers, are buying cautiously and closer to season.

Despite some timely reasons that favor working with domestic resources, however, foreign mills exhibiting at IFFE still had the advantage of lower-priced textiles — something apparel manufacturers said is key since retailers are making strong demands for price-competitive garments due to the downtrodden economy.

Dallas-based children’s wear brand Ingamia Inc. manufactures in the U.S., but met with a Taiwanese mill exhibiting at IFFE to discuss buying full-garment packages. Owner Susan Ingram said she hadn’t really thought of manufacturing overseas, but as she was browsing through fabrics, a mill representative offered to price out a package.

“It’s riskier to import because of Customs delays and other problems,” said Ingram. “But the lead times are actually about the same. And it’s only advantageous in certain segments of business, such as boys shirts.”

Ingram said outsourcing her production with an overseas resource would bring down the price by several dollars. Although she said her retail accounts are not pressing her to lower her prices, Ingram said she would consider producing overseas to take advantage of the cost savings. However, given the uncertainty about the possible Iraq war, she said she didn’t believe this is an ideal time to explore overseas manufacturing.

Price is the primary concern among customers at Link Textiles, according to Christine Strzalka, an associate for sales and design at the New York-based firm, which imports and manufactures silk and silk blends.

“Everyone’s asking how competitive we can be,” said Strzalka. “Our vendors aren’t concerned about the price of silk, but they’re concerned about the customer who’s spending the money for silk garments.”

IFFE’s new Turkish Pavilion, Turquality, made its debut with approximately 22 exhibitors. Turquality featured a mix of mills with fabrics ranging from cotton and linen to faux fur and synthetic leather. There were also about a dozen trim, button, label and hanger manufacturers.

Istanbul-based mill Depar showed fabrics ranging from faux furs to stiff piles priced at between $4 and $10 per yard with a 1,000-meter minimum. Fabrics at Denizli, Turkey-based Deba were mostly cotton twills used for pants ranging in price between $1.60 and $6.

Peter Ascher, president of New York-based print house Ascher Studios, said he is taking a trip to China to meet with potential fabric manufacturers this month. Currently, some of the firm’s production is outsourced to mills in South Korea, and Ascher said he was seeking supply alternatives in light of the current crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program. Plus, Ascher said he’s been shipping offshore to China in recent times and wants to establish relationships there.

Trendwise at IFFE, the return of prints, both retro and slightly Asian in feel, was one of the clearest fashion directions. A number of vendors, many from the domestic market, were showing colorful motifs on cotton, linen and silk.

At Noveltex, prints included both abstract geometrics mixed with florals and home furnishing-inspired florals on linen with either an antiqued or a crisp finish. Robert Kaufman showed strong prints as well, many with a retro touch. Looks there included florals, as well as patterns reminiscent of the Fifties tiki-lounge era.

“With everything that’s going on in the world today, I think people are appreciating prints more because they’re fun,” said Kaufman.

The past was very much on the minds of the design team at Alexander Henry, where vibrantly colored prints included organic wavy stripes, Pucci-like motifs and Art Deco florals inspired by the Thirties.

“It is retro but it’s more organic than that,” said Phillip De Leon, designer. “The Pucci looks, for instance, are from our 1962 archives, we just recolored them with a cleaner palette. And the wavy stripes are a riff on an awning stripe, just more organic in feel.”

At Exotic Silks, colorful florals were featured on silk charmeuse and chiffon, as were an abundance of butterflies.

“Buyers are sampling a lot of them again,” said Mary Carter, manager.

At Japan Creation, an export promotion group for Japanese fabrics, Olympus showed a variety of traditional prints on cotton grounds that included fans, flowers and abstract motifs in both neutral and more pastel colorations.

“We don’t really follow trends,” said Setsuko Krickl, director of Japan Creation. “We offer things that are crafted in a more traditional way.”

Some buyers said they were still sampling ethnic themes. Designer Lucy Barnes said the selections at Calcutta, India-based Boyd Imports fit into her ideas for spring 2004.

“They had amazing prints that were taken from old saris,” she said.

Also important were mesh-like fabrics in basic colors such as black and white. Executives at D&N Textiles and Malibu Textiles said they received a lot of requests for anything with holes and spaces. At Malibu, fishnet-like fabrics were key, especially with the addition of dots that were both tonal and two-tone. D&N, meanwhile, showed a hot pink floral embroidery that looked laser-cut.

IFFE closed its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on Thursday.

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