LOS ANGELES — Vendors exhibiting at the Los Angeles International Textile Show last week emphasized novel fabrics for spring 2007 and improved customer service in an effort to stand out in a competitive market.
Eco-friendly fibers such as organic cotton and bamboo gained momentum at the show, which ended a three-day run on Wednesday at the California Market Center. Stripes prevailed and gold was a key color for vendors, ranging from New York’s Nipkow & Kobelt to French firms Bel Maille and Solstiss.
Exhibiting at the semiannual trade show for the first time were a number of foreign companies seeking to establish a West Coast presence, some of which are also opening new offices in Southern California. The Korean Pavilion, sponsored by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, also known as KOTRA, bowed with more than 30 companies. Ellebi Italia, a vendor of linen blends used to make scarves, and Berto AG, an Italian denim specialist, both opened offices in Los Angeles in April.
Riccardo Mencarelli, who manages Berto’s office in New York, said the Italian denim vendor specializes in boutique fabrics such as lightweight stretch goods and gray and dark blue denim. Founded more than 100 years ago, Berto attributes 70 percent of its business to European customers and the remainder to American clients.
“We hope it will be the opposite soon,” Mencarelli said.
As part of its bigger play for the U.S. market, Berto invested 10 million euros, or about $12.6 million, to increase production in its spinning mill and acquire an indigo dye machine that uses 16 dips, instead of the usual nine to 12 dips, to produce a richer, darker blue tint.
Bel Maille, a 50-year-old, family-owned company specializing in knitting for cotton, viscose, silk and wool, made its debut at the show with the goal of expanding its customer base. Company president Veronique Renucci-Bel said U.S. companies make up 5 percent of Bel Maille’s business.
“We want to develop the market here,” said Renucci-Bel, adding that popular items at the trade event were jersey jacquard and striped fabrics, including white viscose accentuated with silver or gold Lurex stripes.
It was also the first West Coast showing for Italy’s Duemilagori. Emphasizing novel fabrics is the only way to survive against low-priced, high-volume competitors from China, said Matteo Mauri, U.S. manager for Duemilagori’s New York office. Among Duemilagori’s offerings were a cotton jacquard printed with muted green stripes and a cotton-linen denim accentuated with tiny argyles, dots or dots layered on stripes.
“Basic denim you can buy from China,” Mauri said. “This is something so new that you can find only in a few places.”
The Korea Textile Center exhorted its 40 members to stop believing that good business is based on big volume, said Ray Lee, West Coast regional manager for the trade organization.
“We’re telling them, ‘You need to have a niche, a specialty. You need to get special orders or we can’t survive in the global market,'” said Lee.
One development he said working in South Korean companies’ favor is what he referred to as the reverse order. Korean mills are fielding requests from U.S. buying offices that originally placed an order with a Chinese vendor, only to find the Chinese mill didn’t have expertise in any number of areas, from dyeing to adding performance functions such as breathable coatings. Korean companies have stepped in to complete the order for the buying office. In the first three months of 2006, Korean companies received $150,000 in reverse orders, Lee said.
Clothing designers are benefiting from textile makers’ attention to quality and customer service.
Biya Ramat searched for crisp-looking fabrics in pure and blended cotton to use for pants in her women’s sportswear line, 2 10 10 5.
Willing to pay more for finer quality, Ramat said, “I don’t want to look at fabrics that I have to process.”
Michele Janezic attended the show seeking lightweight voiles and cottons in earth tones and floral prints for her new vintage-inspired label, Janezic, and was surprised to have her needs easily met by several French mills. Bowing this fall with wholesale prices running from $200 to $350, the line sources an equal amount of fabrics from U.S. and European vendors. Yet, Janezic said, the French companies promised deliveries in three weeks and required only a minimum of 15 yards for trims and five yards for cotton wovens.
“That’s what I need,” Janezic said. “Pricing [with the high euro] is not as extreme as I thought it would be.”
Designers’ quest for novelty helped Ceda, which provides fabrics primarily to home-furnishing companies. The French subsidiary of Holding Textile Hermes received orders for its heavy silk with a 16th-century voyage print from clothing designers.
“We have some choice that doesn’t exist in the regular fashion industry,” said Laurence Jaillet, who was handling sales for Ceda.