LAS VEGAS — The slowing economy cultivated a buyer’s market at sourcing shows here last month, pushing many foreign factories and textile vendors to seek new ways to offer quality materials and services at lower prices.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

At Sourcing at MAGIC and the ASAP Global Sourcing Show, held from Aug. 24 to 27 at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Venetian hotel, respectively, exhibitors tried to lure new customers with a variety of tactics, from substituting less expensive fabrics for silk to promoting their duty-free status.

The efforts helped Diane Fornari, owner of a three-door apparel retail chain called Flirty Fashions in Rochester, Mich., to decide to produce private label T-shirts and dresses for the first time.

“Finally, it’s more feasible,” she said.

Keeping costs low while maintaining high quality remained a key concern, whether the merchandise was colored denim stitched by Mauritius’ Palmar Group, gold evening bags hand-beaded by India’s Manish Imports or chunky sweaters knitted by Nepal’s Yetiland.

“They’re not willing to pay,” Vivek Choudhary, export executive at Manish Imports, said of budget-conscious customers.

For Timaka Wallace, chief executive officer of a unisex boutique called Chameleon Enterprise in Chicago, it was important to shop by price as she searched for a manufacturer to produce wool tweed coats, sweaters and hats under private label. She’s even flirting with the idea of creating a co-op with other importers who can share costs on a shipping container to transport goods from overseas.

“The economy is hard right now,” said Wallace. “[Consumers] are looking for deals. If they’re looking for them, I’m looking for deals.”

Meeting a minimum order was another issue for designers. While some factories promised that they could take 15-piece orders, Taiwan’s Universal Textiles Trading Ltd., which presented polo shirts that it made for Hollister at its ASAP booth, said it couldn’t go below 1,000 pieces for an order.

“The fabric is difficult to get” for a small order, said manager Rosa Chu.

Chinese factories are dealing with increased costs for materials and labor, along with a volatile exchange rate. As a result, they are also facing increased competition from manufacturers in regions such as Africa, which has duty-free status in the U.S. Even with that advantage, however, Palmar Group faces challenges with efforts to increase denim business with American clients. Though Palmar Group can offer a three- to six-week turnaround for orders, the firm must use only African-made fabrics to keep its duty-free status.

“Most premium denim uses Japanese or Italian fabric,” said Guillaume Heller, Palmar Group’s marketing director.

American textile companies also must contend with obstacles. Green Textile, which produces slub jersey in organic cotton, bamboo and polyester velour and other fabrics in Spartanburg, S.C., said the natural gas bill for its dye house tripled to $90,000 a month compared with three years ago. To increase business, Green Textile introduced woven fabric made in organic cotton.

“We saw there was more of a demand for domestic organic cotton wovens, more demand than there was people meeting that need,” said Phillip Glover, Green Textile’s director of sales.

Natural fabrics such as cotton, silk, linen and lightweight wool ranked high on the shopping list for Kristin Potenti, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based designer who plans to launch coordinated separates for Baby Boomer women under the Self Assured brand next year.

“The biggest priority is the hand,” she said.

With her retail price target of between $65 and $135, she also acknowledged the importance of the fabric’s cost, adding, “Of course, it has to be in my price range.”

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