NEW YORK — The talk among exhibitors from about 15 countries represented at the recent NAMSB World Source show focused on preparing for the end of quotas on apparel and textiles in 2005.
The three-day event wrapped up at Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on June 3.
At Karachi, Pakistan-based sourcing agent Nexus International, vice president Khawaja Haroon Ahsan explained that his firm had set up marketing offices in Atlanta and Houston with the intent of making itself more accessible and appealing to U.S.-based clients who will have a wider array of sourcing options in 2005. The firm sources women’s and men’s shirts and jackets in Pakistan and is also looking to extend its buying operations outside of that country.
“We are building relationships,” he said, adding that business this year has been hurt by the weak economy in the U.S. and the sliding dollar, but said he held out hope that the economy would start to recover in the coming months. “I have a feeling that things are coming back this year.”
Mubashera Mukhi, a representative of Gujarat, India-based manufacturer Mukhi Apparels Pvt. Ltd., said her company has been selling in the U.S. for three years and is trying to position itself for 2005, when it sees an opportunity to expand its sales. India is widely viewed as one of the countries most likely to gain ground and remain competitive with China when the World Trade Organization nations drop quotas.
“That’s why we have come here,” she said. “To get in touch with new customers.”
The lingering effects of SARS were also evident at the show, which was markedly smaller than past editions because show managers disinvited many Asian exhibitors out of concern about spreading the disease.
“When the SARS thing happened, we told all the exhibitors from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan not to come,” said Jack Herschlag, director of the show. That move, he said, reduced the number of exhibitors to about 20 from about 100, a move he described as justified by safety concerns.
Given the large number of foreign companies that come to sourcing shows looking to establish new relationships, rather than to meet with established customers, show organizer Herschlag said management had somewhat changed the format of the show.
After the first two stagings of the event, he said that in many cases, “these companies don’t know how to evaluate who comes into the booth,” since some of the exhibitors were unfamiliar with major U.S. brand names and retail operations.
As a result, he said NAMSB staff at this edition of the show devoted more time to “match-making,” setting meetings between exhibitors and buyers who are likely to need their services.
“That has become the most important change we’ve made,” he said. “We’ve become business intermediaries.”
Many within the industry regard China as the country most likely to dominate after 2005. On the last day of the show, David Birnbaum, founder of the Hong Kong sourcing consultancy Third Horizon Ltd., offered a contrarian view of the post-2005 environment.
“The most important area of cost savings is going to come from quick response,” he said. That fact, he said, leads him to believe that Mexico will gain ground as a manufacturing mecca.
Birnbaum said that’s one reason he has been hired by the government of the Mexican state of Yúcatan to develop a manufacturing industry there.
“People will tell you it’s faster to get a garment from China than from Mexico,” despite the minimum 14-day period to cross the Pacific Ocean, he said. “It’s true today, but it won’t be true in three years.”
He said he initially hopes to lure Asian investors to build apparel and textile plants in the southern Mexican state, which today is home to a minimal apparel industry. He contended that shipping goods from Yúcatan by water to the U.S., rather than by truck from northern Mexican states, could result in faster deliveries.
Given the intense industry focus on faster inventory turn, he believes it’s logical for Mexico to regain ground as a manufacturing center. Last year, Mexico lost its leading position as a supplier of apparel and textiles to the U.S. when China reclaimed the number-one spot.
Nonetheless, Birnbaum claimed broader industry trends would reverse that phenomenon.
“In the future, 80 percent of garments sold in the U.S. will be quick response,” he added.