LOS ANGELES — As vendors get ready for next week’s Los Angeles International Textile Show, some are preparing to deliver buyers unwelcome news: The continued weakness of the dollar compared with the euro and the high price of cotton are starting to translate into increased fabric prices.
At New York-based M&A Linens, which imports from Poland, Ireland, Italy and Russia, owner Lenny Bernstein said he has raised prices by 3 to 5 percent. But he noted that his firm has eaten a much greater cost increase in the past year, since the dollar has lost about 10 percent of its value compared with the euro.
“We ate a good chunk of the costs because we want to build relationships and not change prices mid-season,” Bernstein said. “We haven’t lost one customer because of the currency crunch, but we’ve taken out some loans. It’s been tough.”
His company imports linen in various weights, colors and prints, and will be introducing silk and linen blends, which he said wrinkle less and feature a finer weave, at the show, which is slated to run April 26-28 at the California Market Center.
Companies that import high-end fabrics from outside the euro zone are looking at currency fluctuations as an advantage.
At D&N Textiles in Beverly Hills, owner Michael Shapiro asserted that his Brazilian, South Korean and Indonesian fabrics compete with European goods.
“The European issue only works to my benefit,” he said.
It’s not only exchange rates that are pressuring vendors to raise prices. Cotton prices also have been high lately. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the end of March, the price of cotton was 25.2 percent higher than it had been a year earlier, though it had eased somewhat from the previous month.
Tim Roncone, West Coast sales rep for Greensboro, N.C.-based Crawford Textiles, said the continuing high cotton prices had caused the mill to increase prices by 10 cents a yard — its first price increase in a decade.
“We try to absorb as much as we can,” he said.
Roncone added that his high-end cotton knits in fine-gauge weights, along with pima and combed cotton looks, cater to contemporary clients who are less price sensitive.
“For most of our customers, price hasn’t been a big issue,” he said. “They’re still ordering consistently and the orders are strong.”
Many other vendors, like L.A.-based Robert Kaufman Co., have held off raising prices so far.
“At a certain stage, we will have to pass on the increase to customers, but for now, we seem to be able to keep prices in check,” said sales representative Ron Kaufman. “Our customers cater to specialty retail and that business is good. It’s still too early to tell, but we hope to see a reasonable increase this year.”
Despite the price concerns, textile executives said they were in the middle of a relatively strong season and held out hopes for good business at the show.
“We’re fairly optimistic,” said Gail Strickler, owner of importer Saxon Textile Corp. in New York, who said her business is ahead 8 percent year-to-date over last year. “L.A. has innovation and a nice young energy. People take initiative there, and we’re happy to see more interest in fashion, especially fashion that is driven by technology.”
Strickler said she plans to introduce a twill at the show that incorporates Invista’s T400 polyester-variant stretch fiber in a yarn that also wicks away moisture and adapts to dyeing.
Shapiro of D&N said continued interest in novelty is a boon for his sales. His booth will showcase lace, silk, velvet and spandex stretch knits in dots and stripes for the holiday season.
To strengthen relations with their clients, many exhibitors said they are expanding customization service. In the high-stakes fashion world, especially in the junior arena, differentiation is a requirement of survival for firms.
“The junior market is so fast and fickle, so to stay special…you do it by owning prints, making them your own,” said Michael Aguirre, vice president and design director at L.A.-based apparel company Hot Kiss.
To do that, he asks fabric vendors to change the color of a fabric or weave in a different yarn.
At this show, Aguirre plans to scout out dressier fabrics for the fall-holiday season, such as velvets in burnouts, discharges and prints.
Domestic textile producer Shara-Tex regards offering customers exclusive products as a key strategy, according to Sean Fahimian, president of the L.A.-based firm.
“It’s about creating partnerships,” said Fahimian, who estimated that about 20 to 25 percent of his customers request special orders.
About 45 percent of sales at San Francisco-based Ken Boyd Textile Sales involve special projects for clients, according to owner Ken Boyd, who represents Italian mill Tessile Fiorentina.
“My line has 400 items and each one comes in five different colorways, so we can mix and match as long as somebody is willing to buy a certain amount,” Boyd said.
At the L.A. show, he will exhibit fleece, pile and fake fur geared for outdoor sportswear. He said his firm’s higher-priced Italian novelty fabrics have continued to sell well despite the imbalance between the dollar and the euro.
Boyd explained that, if his European wares were less distinctive, he’d likely have more issues of customers turning to alternative, lower-cost suppliers.
“If it was more basic goods, the problem would be a lot more acute than it is,” he said.
Organizers said they’ve updated the branding and artwork for the show for the first time in five years. Gone is the gray background and in its place is an illustration of a collage of crafty-looking, colorful textiles laid over a wood background.
The event should attract about 310 exhibitors representing more than 500 lines, a 24 percent increase compared with last April, when the SARS outbreak effected attendance, officials said. Along with the 15 Texitalia exhibitors at the CMC’s Fashion Theatre and the dozen textile companies at the French Pavilion, about 20 high-end exhibitors from countries including Canada, Brazil and Turkey will showcase their wares at the new European & Designer Pavilion.
Also new to the show is a dedicated trend gallery displaying fabric vignettes in the main lobby, exhibit hall and 13th floor, as well as a presentation by Angelo Uslenghi, creative director of Milan fabric show Moda In. Educational seminars also will be held during the show.
Show manager Yvette Beltran said organizers also planned to provide more signage directing buyers to the permanent showrooms on the building’s sixth and seventh floors.
Steve Schoenholz, president of L.A.-based junior firm Tempted, welcomed that news, since a key mission at the show is to seek out new suppliers. He said he’ll be shopping for floral prints, stripes and more colors, such as fabrics in brown, rose, mauve and fuchsia.
“We have strong relationships with our fabric vendors and see them daily or weekly,” he said. “So, when we go to the fabric show, our hope is to see as much as we can and just maybe discover a new vendor.”